Managing Dairy Cows For Profit


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  • For this presentation we need to agree on what makes a successful dairy manager. I believe that maximum profit should be the benchmark of choice and that is what I have based my comments toward. Maximum milk yield, milk components, cheapest feed and many other factors play a role in making a successful manager but each by them selves will not guarantee longevity in the business. For the remainder of this presentation, I have a series of questions that need to be asked. Some of them may not have an answer for your farm. Some of them may not appear to be relevant to your farm. However, by asking these questions I hope to stimulate some critical thinking about each of your farms.
  • As a nutritionist, my first inclination is to look at the nutrition program and I have several questions that I use to gauge a program. Are feeds sampled and analyzed for nutrient content? Does this list include things other than forages? Is the information gathered used? Does the farm monitor feed intake and DM content of that feed? There really are not right or wrong answers to these questions but they do provide some direction for all other aspects of the farm management.
  • After nutrition, I like to think about general herd health. Is there a plan for maintaining a healthy herd or is “fire engine” medicine used. Is there a person responsible for observing disease or is it everyone’s responsibility? Is there a vaccination protocol for the farm that has been customized by the herd vet? Is there a biosecurity plan in place to prevent disease before it becomes a problem?
  • Looking specifically at mastitis, start with the stall maintenance. There is an old saying “lay down with dogs and they will eat you alive.” This can be paraphrased for mastitis to “lay down with microorganisms and they will eat you alive.” Do you have a monitoring program that tracks more than bulk tank somatic cell counts? Do you take advantage of new technology such as mastitis vaccines? Do you segregate clinically infected cows from the herd and prevent spread of disease? Do you culture problem cows to determine what organisms are present? Do you culture your bulk tank to determine what organisms are present?
  • If you are large enough to need help, do you manage your labor or does it manage you? Do you have written job descriptions and a reporting and evaluation structure that uses them? Is your banker your friend or enemy? Do you have a record keeping system or a shoe box of receipts? Can you estimate production cost and break even points for a new enterprise before implementation?
  • Transition cows are getting a lot of attention from the research world and the popular press. How do your transition cows compare? Do you have a program for them? Do you have a clean and dry calving area? Do you monitor (and if so how) your close up and fresh cows?
  • After transition cow management, reproduction seems to be the second most important area for researchers and popular press. Some things to consider include: are you leaving genetic potential on the table by using natural service? Is there a person that is allowed time to simply watch for heats? Do you perform routine maintenance on the semen tank to protect your investment? Have you (or your inseminator) continued to refresh your education about insemination technique? Have you adopted the latest technology to aid in determining which cows are pregnant and which are open?
  • If we consider the facilities on the farm are they a limitation to profitability? Are the barns in “working order” or in need of repair? Has the milking equipment been serviced recently? Considering the amount of “weighing” on a dairy farm, when was the last time that you had your scales calibrated? Do you have a protocol that you use to evaluate your facilities to discover potential limitations before they become trouble points?
  • On today’s dairy farm, we all consider the impact that we have on the natural environment. However, we also need to think about what impact the environment has on the cow. In my opinion, water is the most neglected nutrient on any farm. Is your source of drinking water clean and adequately sized for your herd? Most of us provide as much shade as possible during periods of heat stress, but do we consider providing some kind of wind break during the cold stress periods of the year? We all know to move as much air as possible during heat stress but are we moving enough air through our barns during the cooler months to remove noxious odors?
  • Replacement heifers are the future of your herd. Have you set realistic goals for calf mortality and morbidity? When you choose feeds for your young calves, is the quality top of the line? Are your calves on a vaccination program specific to your herd? Is there a standard procedure for processing newborns? Finally, do you have records to monitor the growth of your heifers to insure adequate size at breeding and first calving?
  • Management of how you feed dairy cows is also important. Accurate weights of both feed offered and that refused is necessary to know if your cows are consuming enough nutrients to support maximal milk and milk component production. Have you ever cleaned the feed bunk? Do you make an effort to keep moldy and rotten feed out of your ration? Do you evaluate the feed refusals to determine how closely they match what you offered (and by extension how closely what was consumed matched what was offered)? Do you evaluate feed additives (even those currently in the diet) and only use them when necessary and proven to work?
  • If heifers are the future of your herd, the genetics behind them must also be excellent for maximal profit year in and year out. Accordingly, a genetic management plan needs to be in place. Do you have a plan for your genetic selection (and remember picking the cheapest bulls is not a plan). Do you truly understand a bull proof to allow selection on traits that are important to your herd. Once you have a genetic selection plan, do you have a breeding plan for how to use the bulls you have chosen? If pricing allows, are you willing to invest in improved genetics through your replacement heifers? Finally, have you considered using young sires for some of your breedings?
  • One factor of dairy management that seems to often get overlooked is producer health. As a representative of the feed company, many of you are wondering why I am worried about your health. Let me be blunt when I point out that if a dairy producer has a catastrophic illness, it may put them out of business and therefore have a direct impact on my business.
  • This slide and the one following are from the US center for disease control and provide some examples of why we all need to be concerned about dairy producer health. This slide shows the rates of fatal injury in agriculture vs other jobs in the US. You can clearly see that agriculture is a lot more deadly occupation than other jobs in the US.
  • If we turn our attention from death to simply injury, agriculture does not look quite as bad but still the incidence rate is higher than in the private sector.
  • Managing Dairy Cows For Profit

    1. 1. Managing Dairy Cows for Profit The devil is in the details Gale Bateman, Ph.D.
    2. 2. Goal of successful managers <ul><li>Maximal profit </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not maximum milk yield </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not maximum milk components </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not cheapest feed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not . . . </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Maximum profit is a function of all of the above factors plus many more! </li></ul>
    3. 3. Herd Nutrition Management <ul><li>How often do you sample feeds for nutrient content? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you sample things other than forages? </li></ul><ul><li>How often do you “tweak” your ration? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you monitor feed intake? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you monitor forage DM content? </li></ul>At $15/CWT, 1 lb of milk loss is $54/cow/year
    4. 4. Herd Health Management <ul><li>Are the cows enrolled on a herd health plan? </li></ul><ul><li>Is someone responsible for looking at the cows to observe disease? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you screen for mastitis? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you vaccinate? </li></ul><ul><li>DO YOU HAVE A BIOSECURITY PLAN IN PLACE TODAY? </li></ul>Cost of mastitis estimated at > $100 /case
    5. 5. Mastitis Management <ul><li>How is your stall maintenance? </li></ul><ul><li>What is your mastitis monitoring program? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you use mastitis vaccines </li></ul><ul><li>Do you segregate clinically infected cows? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you culture problem cows? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you routinely culture the bulk tank? </li></ul>
    6. 6. Labor and Economic Management <ul><li>Do you manage labor or do they manage you? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Job descriptions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reporting and evaluation structure </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Do you have comprehensive accounting procedures in place? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Record keeping system more than shoe box of receipts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Calculate production cost and break even points for new enterprises </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Transition Cow Management <ul><li>Is there a transition program? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the calving area clean and dry? </li></ul><ul><li>How are the close up cows monitored? </li></ul><ul><li>How are the fresh cows monitored? </li></ul>Milk fever estimated to cost > $300 / case
    8. 8. Reproduction Management <ul><li>Is there a bull on the farm that is more than 6 months old? </li></ul><ul><li>Who is responsible for checking heats? </li></ul><ul><li>Is semen tank maintenance up to date? </li></ul><ul><li>When was the last refresher for insemination technique? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you confirm pregnancy? </li></ul>Cost of 1 missed heat > $60
    9. 9. Facilities Management <ul><li>Are your barns in “working order”? </li></ul><ul><li>Has the milking equipment been serviced recently? </li></ul><ul><li>Have you had scales calibrated? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you routinely evaluate your facilities in terms of potential limitations? </li></ul>
    10. 10. Environmental Management <ul><li>Is the water source clean and adequately sized? </li></ul><ul><li>Is shade available during heat stress and wind breaks available during cold stress? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the ventilation in your barns adequate for both hot and cold times? </li></ul>Survey from Washington State University indicated that 45% of dairy farms have not cleaned their waters in > 12 months
    11. 11. Calf Management <ul><li>What is your level of calf mortality? </li></ul><ul><li>What is your level of calf morbidity? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the quality of your calf feeds at least as good as you would offer your own child? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you vaccinate your calves? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you follow a written procedure for processing newborns? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you monitor growth of the heifer? </li></ul>Errors in milk feeding result in > 5% loss in calf gains
    12. 12. Feeding Management <ul><li>Do you weigh feed into and out of the bunk? </li></ul><ul><li>How often do you clean your feed bunk? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you make an effort to exclude rotten/moldy feed? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you “push up” feed frequently? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you check to see how close the content of refusals are to what was offered? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you only use additives when necessary and proven to work? </li></ul>
    13. 13. Genetic Management <ul><li>Do you have a plan for your genetic selection? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you understand a bull proof? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you have a breeding plan? </li></ul><ul><li>Are you willing to purchase improved genetics when available? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you use young sires? </li></ul>
    14. 14. Producer Health Management
    15. 15. Annual rates of fatal occupational injury in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry and the private sector. Agriculture Private sector
    16. 16. Occupational injury rates in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry and the private sector. Agriculture Private sector
    17. 17. Producer Health Management <ul><li>When was your last physical? </li></ul><ul><li>When was your last vacation? </li></ul><ul><li>When was the last time you took your spouse on a date? </li></ul><ul><li>Do your children recognize you when you come home during the day because it is raining? </li></ul>
    18. 18. Managing Dairy Cows for Profit The devil is in the details