Archive for Management

Have you ever bought a new piece of equipment only to get less than 50% of what the sales person ‘promised’ it would provide? It is both sad and negative for agriculture when farmers get oversold on new technology. But, let’s be positive! Have you ever invested in new technology and got more than your money’s worth?  The Bullvine recently read about such a situation. It came to our attention via a series of scientific reports in the Journal of Dairy Science (JDS Vol. 99 No. 9, 2016) where a study was done at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York about the use of automated health-monitoring system (AHMS).

Study Hypothesis

By knowing the details from an automated health-monitoring system (AHMS), the researchers wanted to determine if, beyond heats (activity) and rumen health (rumination), predictions could be made on the presence of metabolic and digestive disorders including displaced abomasum, ketosis, indigestion, mastitis, and metritis.

Cornell Study

Researchers decided that one more research farm study was not what dairy farmers needed or wanted to hear about. So, they found a 1100 cow free stall commercial dairy where management and experienced workers were willing to take the time and effort to record digestive and health disorders. Farm workers were present 24 hours per day and went about their work without knowing what data the AHMS was capturing. This provided for the researches to have unbiased, independent data from two sources to use in their analysis. Cows were fitted with a neck-mounted electronic rumination and activity monitoring tag and rumination time and physical activity information was recorded from 21 days before expected calving until at least 80 days after calving. The study covered a year-long period with recording of performance in the parlor of this 3x herd. The herd’s 305-day performance was 13,036 kgs. (28,725 lbs), and it’s TMR diets were standards for New York State. Pre-calving heifers and cows were housed separately. For a month after calving all cows were housed together and from then on cows were grouped by lactation number.

Study Synopsis

The rumination and activity details were continually captured and uploaded to the central processor every two hours. The digestive and health disorder data, both observed and suspected, came from the workers’ recordings. The information from both sources was used to develop a dynamic ‘health index score’ (HIS).  Researchers created alert levels for the HIS when metabolic and/or digestive problems might be suspected. The researchers then tested these HIS alert levels against the herd’s people making a clinical diagnosis of one of the five disorders. Exact protocols were followed, and disorder descriptions were clearly defined. Blood was drawn, and testing was done on groups of animals in order to augment and verify the clinical diagnosis, as determined by the herd’s people.

End Objective

The end objective, from using the HIS, was to be able to predict, using activity and rumination data, a problem before it would have been clinically diagnosed. Knowing one day ahead is a start but knowing the possibility of a problem up to 3-5 days ahead has the potential to be a game-changer for managing to avoid metabolic and digestive disorders.

Health Disorder Incidence

A review of the scientific literature shows the following incidences of and facts about metabolic and digestive disorders:

  • Disease frequency (% of all disorders): Mastitis 35-45%; Metritis 12-15%; Retained Placenta 7-10%; Displaced Abomasum 4-6% and Ketosis 3-5%.
  • The majority of health and digestive diseases occur in the first month of lactation
  • The frequency of mastitis and high SCC increases with cow age
  • Milk Fever (4-5%), not included in this study, rarely occurs in first lactation and incidence is variable between herds.

Definitely, the disorders in this Cornell study are prevalent enough (70% of all disorders) that any avoidance of them could significantly impact the bottom line of farms.

Study Results

The key findings from the study are the rate of detection of a disorder and the days in advance that the HIS would have detected a possible disorder as compared to the farm staff making a clinical diagnosis. An interesting fact for this herd was that 58% of the cows had at least one of the five disorders and 42% had none. 70% of cows with a disorder had one, and 30% had more than one disorder.

Table 1 Study Disorders – Incidence, Occurance, Prediction Accuracy and Prediction before Diagnosis

Mastitis and metritis events occurred in 44% of the cows. However, the accuracy of prediction for these two was the lowest of the disorders. The half day ahead of clinical diagnosis for mastitis, lower that for three of the other disorders, is not surprising considering this was a well-managed herd, milked 3x daily.  Interesting to note was that for E Coli mastitis the accuracy of prediction was 81%, much higher than for overall mastitis at 58%. All disorders, except for mastitis, occurred very early in lactation. The results are very encouraging for the detection of the metabolic disorders, considering that they are much harder for herds people to detect than mastitis or sub-clinical metritis.

Is It Worth Knowing?

The short answer on whether or not to use the AHMS to monitor for metabolic and digestive disorders is yes. 

Greater ROI

Without doing a full simulation on extending the use made of an AHMS to included monitoring for health disorders has yet to be documented on a financial basis. Some facts that every herd manager knows to be true include:

  • Having a single health disorder can cost from $250 – $500 per incidence in treatment costs and lost income, all the way to early culling and even the death on-farm of the animal
  • Saleable milk is lost during the disorder, and the total lactation yield is decreased
  • Drugs are costly, and the drug bill can mount up depending on the disorder, and
  • It takes extra labor to care for sick animals.

However, those are only the start of the ways in which having your AHMS predict a disorder can pay back dividends. Here are points to include when considering the ROI of an AHMS:

  • The AHMS works 24 hours every day, takes no holidays and requires no weekly wage.
  • The AHMS can, at least partially, eliminate the need for staff to be continually monitoring dry, fresh and breeding pens. It could likely decrease the size of the workforce, or it could permit staff to put more effort into another area of the farming enterprise.
  • Experienced herds persons know that early detection of any abnormal condition can be a major advantage when it comes to minimizing severity or in increased speed of recovery.
  • As well as providing herd manager with information to catch heats and improve pregnancy rates, catching even 50% of the metabolic and digestive disorders before they get serious can add $200+ per cow per year to net yearly profit for the entire herd. That’s significant!
  • For information purposes, it should be noted that an AHMS cost is from $ $150-$175 USD per animal (collars + data system).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

This study shows that the information from an AHMS can reliably be used to predict metabolic and digestive disorders before they occur.  More information to enhance a herd’s management level and the bottom line is something progressive managers are always on the lookout for. Herd managers can thereby use all the tools, intuition, observation and data, to take their herd to higher profit.



Leading producers are always looking for ways to better monitor their animals.  The focus on developing solid SOPs for identifying sick cows has also resulted in increased lock up times.   What would be the value of knowing a cow was sick 1-2 days before you can see it? Dairies now can have precision animal monitoring that can integrate their SOP’s and provide imitate results for both health and reproduction.

Join Dr. Julio Giordano, Cornell University DVM, M.S., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Animal Science on Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 at 12 noon EST as we will be discussing their research using the ai24™/SCR HRLD technology and the exciting findings that will impact your business.
Click here to sign up for this free webinar.


Comments (0)
Categories : Management

There is no question that Robotic Milking Machines seem to be the hottest thing on the market. With over 35,000 robotic milking systems (RMS) operational on dairy farms around the world, it more than just a fad, it is an epidemic.   It seems almost daily you hear about another operation deciding to switch to Robots.  With many producers citing the improved lifestyle and the ability to expand or even stay in business without having to hire more labor.  And it’s not just the old dairy farmers with kids who don’t want to work hard, more and more it seems like even large dairies are considering the change.  But the Bullvine asks “At what cost?”. Are these farmers generating greater income and because of better results on the bottom line that they can justify the expense? With that in mind, we decided to look at the economics of investing in robotic milking and determine if these farmers are lazy or are they smart business people.

Labor is the second largest expense on the dairy farm. Considering the actual cost of hired labor and when an appropriate value for unpaid family help is included, investing in labor-saving automation may be the best way to improve your bottom line.

Are you cheap or wise?

First, let’s get one thing clear, most producers do not install robots because it is the lowest cost option for harvesting milk. Historically, for a 120-cow dairy, the total cost per cwt of milk of a robotic milking system was similar to a new modern parlor.

Tie stall (TS) – $35,400 labor/yr
Low cost parlor (LCP) – $25,000 capital ($4,250 annual), $14,600 labor
Medium cost parlor (MCP) – $50,000 capital ($8,500 annual), $14,600 labor
High cost parlor (HCP) – $100,000 capital ($17,000 annual), $14,600 labor
New parlor (NP) – $250,000 capital ($42,500 annual), $14,600 labor
Robot – (10% increase in milk) $59,600 annual

But how many decisions on the average dairy farm are made to be at the lowest cost?  Most of us decide not to live in the cheapest house or drive the cheapest car because we want a nicer lifestyle. But at the rate at which labor expenses are increasing, especially when the appropriate value for unpaid family help is included, not to mention the scarcity of labor, combined with the increased performance that is tied to the improved management, more and more Robots are beginning to make economic sense.

While coming up with hard numbers, which are applicable are specific to each situation, is almost impossible, one thing is clear is that robotic milking becomes more affordable every year as the cost of labor increases and the availability of labor decreases.  There is no question that robotic milking saves labor, and based on surveys done by the Progressive Dairy Operators group (PDO), dairy farm labor is going up in cost. In 2004 the average wage for dairy farm workers described as “milkers” was $12.65 per hour. By 2004 this had gone up 7% to $13.55. Then in 2010 117 herds reported an average wage of $14.21 per hour for milkers, up 5% again plus an additional $0.28 in non-monetary benefits. So in 6 years, the benefit of owning a robotic milking system has increased by roughly 12%. (Read more:  Robotic milking gets more affordable every year by Jack Rodenberg)

So how do you determine the ROI of an RMS?

To determine the real return of investing in a Robotic Milking System, you need to look at milk production per cow, milk produced per robot per day, labor savings, the length of useful life of the system. 

The main cost of robotic milking is the capital invested in the technology. From 2004-2010 the price for a new robot went from  $250,000 to about $220,000.  That is a 15% decrease in the cost while labor costs have typical gone up 12%.  That is a 27% swing in a six-year period.  And in the last six years, prices for a robot to milk 50-70 cows is about $150,000 to $200,000, another 20 decrease. In that same time, the cost of wages paid to livestock workers per USDA has increased 19%.  Researchers have reported up to 29% savings with RMS.

Another aspect that may be even more important, than the increased cost of labor for dairy farm workers, is the decreased availability.  A 2014 survey indicated that 51% of all farm labor was immigrant labor (Adcock et al., 2015). The future availability of immigrant workers may be reduced if less foreign workers choose to work on farms or if tighter immigration laws are passed in the US as the Trump administration seems to be leaning towards. And if Trump is successful at re-igniting the US economy revs up with reductions in regulations or the anticipation of that, the demand for labor is only going to increase in all industry, causes an even greater shortage of farm laborers.   This will force producers to either use new workers who are very inexperienced yet demand a high wage or use an aging workforce that is not as productive as it once was.  This already causing producers of all sizes to determine if they should either automate milking and eliminate task oriented positions, or increase productivity efficiencies to 180-200 cows per man with such technologies as teat spray robots in large rotaries.   

So does an RMS make economic sense for your operation?

To answer this question, the University of Minnesota developed a web application to compare the profitability of robots and parlors: This tool was used to compare the economics of RMS and parlor systems on farms with 120, 240 and 1,500 lactating cows over a 20-year payback time. Milking labor costs were set at $16/hr with a milk price of $17/cwt. They assumed milk production would increase 5 lb/day per cow with RMS compared to milking 2X and decrease 2 lb/day compared to 3X milking. The per cow barn investment is higher for the RMS, reflecting the additional cost to install labor savings features typical in RMS barns. We inflated labor costs at 1, 2, or 3% annually. Net annual impact refers to the net present value of projected differences in RMS cash flows converted to an annuity.

The 120 and 240 cow RMS systems had a higher net annual impact compared to a double 8-parlor system (Figure 1). Labor cost inflation and milk production per cow had a large impact on profit. For each pound change in daily production per cow, the net annual impact changed by $931.

The 1,500-cow parlor system was more profitable than RMS. A 1% annual wage inflation resulted in a $162,672 (3X milking) and $51,177 (2X milking) more profit for the parlor. The difference was $130,570 (3X milking) and $32,395 (2X milking) at 3% wage inflation. Using similar milk production and 3% wage inflation the parlor had $80,672 higher annual impact.

The primary reason for the differences in profit is the more intensive use of the milking system. The RMS assumed full utilization at 60 cows per robot across all herd sizes. The parlor was only being used four hours per day with the 120-cow system. In the 240-cow simulations, the parlor was being used 8 and 12 hr/day in the 2X and 3X respectively. For the 1,500-cow herd, both the robot and parlor were at near maximum utilization.

Milk production and labor assumptions between the systems significantly affect the profitability projections. More research is needed to understand the economics of how these systems perform with different herd sizes and management practices.

The University of Minnesota also determines just what are the breakeven rates for the Robotic system.

  • Breakeven labor rate.
    Since the 1,500-cow RMS was less profitable than the parlor system at $16/hr labor, they determined the breakeven labor rate at which the two systems would have similar annual incomes. At the wage inflation rate of 1% and a 2 lbs. lower milk production with the RMS, the breakeven labor rate is $32.30/hr. If similar milk production levels are assumed with a 3% annual wage inflation, the breakeven wage rate drops to $22.91/hr.
  • Breakeven milk production
    The University of Minnesota also examined how increased milk production per cow in RMS would affect the profit comparison (Figure 2). If the robot system achieves 3 lbs /cow per day higher milk production than the parlor with 3% annual wage inflation, the annual income is only $3256 higher for the parlor for the 1,500 cow herd. At 5 lbs./day more milk, the RMS is more profitable at all wage inflation rates. Current research indicates that RMS do not achieve milk production as high as 3X milking, but as RMS management and facility design improve, this may change. Another potential advantage is that cows in RMS can be managed and milked in stable groups within the pens. Cows have access to resources (feed, water, beds, and milking) at all times. More precise feeding management can potentially increase milk per cow.

Figure 2. Net annual impact of a 1,500-cow dairy with 25 robots compared to a double-24 parlor milking 3X at different increases in daily milk production and wage inflation rates

Maximizing the Robotic Impact

Maximizing daily milk per robot is important to maximize profit. In a four-robot system using 2% annual wage inflation and a 20-year time horizon, net annual income increases approximately $4,100 for every 500 lbs. increase in daily milk per robot. Currently, some US farms are consistently harvesting more than 6,000 lbs. of milk per robot daily. This is achieved by a combination of high daily milk per cow and a high number of cows per robot (often over 60). The most important factors to achieve this are:

  1. Milking permission settings and strategies that get the correct cows milked at the correct times
  2. Reduced box time per cow
  3. RMS in top working condition

Retrofit vs. New Barn

One question many producers must consider is it better to retrofit your current barn or build a new one?  The University of Minnesota also examined how the economic life, labor efficiency, and milk production change affects the profitability of RMS. They developed two scenarios using an 180-cow dairy: RMS replacing a parlor and retrofitted in an existing freestall barn and an RMS in combination with a new high technology freestall barn.  Here is what they found:

  • Robot retrofit
    For the retrofit scenario, they assumed that there was no remaining debt with the previous The increases in costs with the robots were payments for the three robots ($63,000) for ten years, higher insurance ($2,700) and higher maintenance ($9,000/robot per year). They examined profitability using milking labor of 45, 60 and 75 minutes per robot. They also varied daily milk per cow using a 2 lb decrease, no change, and 2 lb increase compared to the previous system. Their survey of producers indicated that well designed (automatic manure removal and split entry pens), well managed free flow barns average about 45 minutes of daily milking like labor per robot. In this scenario, if producers can get 2 lb/day more milk and robots last longer than ten years, the RMS system is more profitable than the parlor system. If there is no change in milk production, robots must last 13 (with 45 minutes of daily labor per robot) to 17 (with 75 minutes of daily labor per robot) years to break even. If milk production decreases 2 lb in the RMS system, it is never as profitable as the previous parlor system.
  • Robot with a New Barn
    To achieve the maximum benefit of robots, it is preferable to design them into a new, high technology, low labor requirement facility. This includes various upgrades, such as wider more frequent crossovers, automated manure removal, and automated feed pushers. The projected new facility resulted in annual payments of about $101,000 over 20 years for the 180-cow farm. A 10 lb/ day increase in milk production along with the anticipated labor savings is required before robots are consistently more profitable than the previous parlor system. A key factor is the benefit of a Cow Comfort Upgrade and its effect on performance with robotics. When cow comfort is done right (sand is the gold standard) 60% of the milk increase in robotics can be attributed to the updated free stall barn. These things matter. The key benefit of individual robots is the elimination of the holding pen and the extra hours per day that the cow gets to eat, lay down, and chew her cud.

There are Economic tools available to do the deep dive and evaluate the many factors that affect performance and economics in a robotic milking facility. Contact your Robotic Specialist to sit down and go over the numbers and conditions specific to your dairy. Also, talk to your local dealer, banker, nutritionist, veterinarian, and genetics supplier. It takes a team working together to cover all the bases and give you the honest feedback to understand your operations strengths and weakness. 0ver 40,000 robots milk over 2.2 million cows worldwide and robots put in 16 years ago, are still operating today. It may be new to you, but it is not new to the industry. My Grandfather milked cows by hand, and 90 years later we are milking cows with no hands….amazing progress with more to come.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While many producers look at income over feed to determine how their operation is doing.  I argue that given the fact that labor is your actual greatest non-feed expense on a dairy farm, and that it is also the resource that is typically in the shortest supply, we should be looking at income per full-time labor unit. When you look at your operation, and if there is the capital required to invest in an RMS unit, there is not question that Robotic Milking Systems make perfect sense for most dairy operations under 1,000 milking cows.  There is no doubt there will always be demand for high-quality people both immigrant and citizens. WE NEED COW PEOPLE!! Good people will always have a place in this industry, and they will have great value.   The best robot barn in the world with poor management is a failure in the making. As someone recently said “Management Makes Milk” and “Good People make Managers Look Good.” There are more career opportunities in dairy than ever before, and those that can operate robotic facilities and use technology will have a very bright future. Especially with rising labor rates and less supply, there are also scenarios where a robotic milking system makes sense even for larger operations.  Treat your cows with care, treat your employees with respect and develop them and the results can be predictable and positive.

Watch TRANSITIONING INTO THE ROBOTIC WORLD An increase in labour productivity is desired to ensure a healthy dairy business.  Achieving more litres of milk per worker in an animal‑friendly way is possible with a robotic milking system.  But you can not just rush out and buy a robotic milking system.  There are many factors that you need to consider. In this video the topic of transitioning into the robotic world and its influences on cow management will be covered. What things need to be considered? How do we ensure we have the most successful adaptation of the technology to optimize cow health and performance? Watch this video for a look into how robotics can improve the way we manage our cows. 

Listen to what other producers have to say: Top Producer Panel – Robotics conference. Join seven of the top DeLaval VMS producers from North America, Europe, Oceania and Latin America as they share and build knowledge around the DeLaval integrated robotic solution and best practices for robotic milking. 


Comments (0)
Categories : Robotic Milking

Why Successful Dairies Have More Pull

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

There are many half-truths out there about what makes some dairies significantly more successful than others. They range from “they’re lucky” to “they have a lot of money behind them. In our family, we have an old saying we haul out whenever we hear people using these truths.  We say, “Don’t believe everything you hear and only half of what you see.”  What this means is that, there are many ways to be successful and judging others on surface appearances or hearsay isn’t going to provide any insight into ways to move your own dairy forward. In our opinion, action is the ONLY way to forge ahead.  In the same way that exercise builds heart muscle, action builds the dairy success muscle.  Here are three take-action exercises that successful dairies actually use.

  1. They Pull out MORE Data
  2. They Pull for MORE Longevity
  3. They Pull for MORE Profitability

At first glance, those three directives may seem too vague to be of help.  But short and sweet is always easier to remember. If you want longer lists, you might be interested to find out that there are almost 100 measurable variables that contribute to the bottom line on operations.  Or, you could learn from the extensive experience of others. Our source for saying this is an eleven-year study conducted by Zoetis and AgStar of herds ranging from 500 to 4,715 cows, to look at 90 variables in the management and financial records of 90 Midwest herds starting in 2006. The herds are based in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Focus for Success

If you find that you are doing the six main things that separate top herds from their peers, then you will be a believer in the statement that,” Just six factors account for 85% of variation in farm profitability, says Mike Lormore, Director of Cattle Technical Services for Zoetis. “Herds which perform well in these factors are being propelled forward by healthier cows, higher profits and likely greater staying power in the industry.”

Everyone connected to the dairy industry has a vested interest in finding ways for dairy operations to make money.  Consultants, veterinarians, banks and consumers all lose when margins are too narrow to support everyone who draws on dairy success.

Walking into the barn every day with 90 variables on your mind isn’t likely to make your job easier, your herd healthier or your bottom line more profitable.  However, it is somewhat easier to use the idea of looking at the data (pulling out the stats) reducing the problems (pulling out the stops) and always improving (pulling ahead).

You have waited patiently long enough. Here are the six factors that the Zoetis study identified as separating those who perform best.

  1. Somatic Cell Counts
  2. Energy Corrected Milk Per Cow
  3. Death Losses
  4. Net Herd Replacement Costs
  5. Pregnancy Rates
  6. Heifer Survival

So, let’s look at the six factors in terms of our three simplified areas:


Progressive, successful dairy operators know that they are only as good as the data they use for decision making.  For some that may mean the cow-sense they were born with.  That is not a problem, if it’s working.  But how many times, have they called in a consultant or supplier to help them do some problem-solving.  If you’re unwilling to change your approach when results start to slide, you’re not recognizing that the dairy industry is continuing to become more complex in response to the huge number of issues that impact it.  So, keep an open mind and start with data on somatic cell counts and pregnancy rates.

Data on Somatic Cell Counts

You can’t help but love it as strategic dairy managers, when data and research come up with significant findings. In the case of this study, somatic cell scores showed that “for every 100,000 increase in bulk tank somatic cell count, milk yield declines 5.2 lb. per cow per day.” This is 3.9 lb. more than the results of the 1980s work done by George Shook at the University of Wisconsin.

In the 30 years between the two studies, milk production per cow has nearly doubled.  Furthermore, today it is recognized that SCC impacts several other areas, including health, reproduction and culling.  Lorimore makes another important point, “The death rate is much higher in high cell count herds and you get more lifetime milk production with lower cell counts because your cows live longer.”

Data on Pregnancy rates

Limited data in this area affects conclusions, however, preliminary results show higher pregnancy rates drive higher profits to the tune of about $50 dollars per cow per year.

Higher pregnancy rates equate to cows spending less time at lower production at the end of the lactation.  It means less time in the dry pen and older cows producing at a higher level.  This translates into owners being more willing to spend more money on higher merit semen which impacts the success of future generations.


The road to success doesn’t need more “STOP” signs.   As grim as it is, death is definitely a stopping point on the road to dairy success.  Heifer survival, herd replacement costs and death for any reason, are “Stops” that pull down the lifetime longevity of your dairy herd.

Successful Dairies Constantly Strive (and succeed) at Reducing Death Losses

This is another area where you want your numbers to be low.  Your animal health and husbandry skills will decide whether you are in the top one-third of herds or the lowest.

Successful Herds Go Beyond Good Calf Raising to Excellent Heifer Survival

Only 2% points separated the herds in the study, when it came to doing a good job of raising heifers. The highest profit group managed to achieve a score averaging 95%. Low profit herds had an average heifer survival rate of 93%.  Certainly, heifer survival is good but keeping them past their first and second lactation is even more desirable. “By culling cows early, farms are giving up tremendous volumes of milk each and every day.” says Mike Lormore.  Herds with high culling rates often have a higher proportion of first and second lactation animals. Lorimore points out, “These younger cows don’t produce nearly as much milk as mature animals. A second lactation cow will produce 15% more milk than a first lactation heifer, and third lactation cow will produce 10% more milk than a second lactation animal.”

Successful Herds Know Their Net Herd Replacement Cost

Finding effective ways to interpret data means we can find effective ways to take action. In the Zoetis-Ag Star study a formula is used to determine Net Herd Replacement Cost.  NHRC is defined in the study as number of cows removed from the herd times their replacement value minus the salvage value of culled cows (including dead cows) divided by the amount of milk shipped during this time period. As NHRC increases, profits decrease.

As already noted by Mike Lormore, “You’re making a ton more money if you have more aged cows in your herd,” He urges dairy managers to change. “As an industry, we need to move from an average age of 2 ½ lactations in herds to 3 ½ lactations to get to more optimal profitability levels.” It is tempting to get into a debate on this point, especially if cull cow prices are high. Some would reason that it doesn’t cost anything to replace cows because high beef prices offset heifer raising costs. “That’s wrong,” says Lormore. “Every time you cull an aged cow, it costs you a lot of money and time to get her replacement to the same point of production.”


As discussed throughout this article, actions taken are the drivers that put successful dairies out in front of the crowd.  Success needs to translate into profitability and here is what the study found, results that you can actually take to the bank.

Higher Profit from lower SCCs: 

Little things can make a big difference.  In the case of somatic cell scores, there were not big differences between top herds and the lowest herds and yet bulk tank SCCs were shown to be one of the greatest drivers of profitability. The top third profitability herds have bulk tank SCCs that average 196,000 cells/mL while the lowest one-third of profitability herds had SCCs that averaged 239,000 cells/mL. There is a difference of only 19 lbs. “But the high herds average 91 lb/cow/day of energy corrected milk versus 72 lb/cow/day for the low herds.” Here is where the numbers prove the profitability point. “On an annual basis, it translates to $1.14/cwt in more profit, or for the average size herd in the study, $115,000 more net income.”

Higher profit from lower NHRC: 

Once again dollars are available. “The herds with the lowest NHRC were seeing $2.04/cwt more profit than herds with the highest NHRC, or some $60,000 more profit per year. The herds with lowest NHRC were also seeing 10 lb. more milk per cow.”

Higher profit from lower Death Losses

Everyone can acknowledge that death losses have a direct affect on profitability, but perhaps it is surprising at how much this is. The study reports, “The top one-third of herds with the lowest death losses were 86¢/cwt more profitable than the lowest one-third of herds. That translates to $70,000 per year more income.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Use your data.  Don’t settle for roadblocks.  Target continuous improvement. Success isn’t a matter of luck, inheritance or entitlement. You must be willing to take action.  Don’t fear change. Never settle for the status quo.  Do this and you too will take your place with your peers at the top of the dairy industry and that is definitely worth pulling for!!

For a more detailed look at the results read Six Degrees of Separation



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

“NO ONE PLANS TO WASTE RESOURCES.”  A lot of planning and hard work goes into growing, purchasing, and formulating the best feed rations.  But then what do we do with it?  Are we throwing away all that hard work, before it has any opportunity to affect the health and production of our dairy herd?”

“It’s not what a few cows get fairly often, but what the whole herd gets consistently that shapes the success of a milking herd.”

#1 “You forget that the HOW can be as important as the WHAT.”

Simply placing feed in front of the cows and leaving the rest up to them, is a recipe for failure.

This is one of the most important places to use our knowledge of cows’ feeding behavior. We have lots of evidence to build on, using the particular conditions of our own herd.  Have you ever analyzed the difference in the feed from the first cattle to it until the last?

#2 “You’re okay with Survival of the Fittest!”

It could be that the first to the buffet have the pick of everything. The last ones have something quite different. The subordinate cows do not get the same feed. First cows mow down on what’s right in front of them. Like people, cows will eat the stuff they like first.  A knee-jerk solution might be to raise the energy of all rations.  But, once again, you could just be giving more to the boss cows.

#3 “You Don’t MAKE ROOM for ALL your Cows to Reach the Feed!”

Use observation to confirm that the second ones to the feed you are providing have a different selection to choose from.  You will probably be able to confirm that they are getting the sloppy leftovers. If animals are preventing other animals from getting to the best feed, you have to make some changes.  Or not. The goal is to provide enough bunk space to allow all animals to eat simultaneously. You might also decide to add a physical solution such as headlocks or a partition. These steps will limit the number of cows that can eat at one time, but they will also make it harder for one cow to push another one away from feed.

#4 You provide WAITING room, not EATING room!”

It may appear to be normal behavior for cows to be waiting to get to the feed bunk.  The only problem with this assessment of normal is that it is causing abnormal problems in other areas of the daily dairy cow routine.  While waiting, the cows lose resting time and, in turn, this will decrease milk production.

#5 “You WON’T sort the Cows! “

There are many reasons given for not sorting cows.  You can run through them in your head.  In reality, when cows are fed a TMR they have a natural tendency to sort through the feed.  They then toss it forward to where it is no longer in reach. This is the reason that shy cows have to reach and lick even to get “seconds.” This is particularly problematic when feed is delivered via a feed alley.

#6.  “You Let THE COWS SORT the Feed!”

When you are told about the benefits of grouping you prefer to follow a more familiar, but probably less effective, path. There are benefits to creating a first lactation group.  Older cows will not be able to push smaller ones away from the feed bunk. With specific grouping, the ration can be modified for the specific needs of these younger animals.

#7 “To save work, you accept the DOWNSIDE of Less Frequent PUSH UPS.”

When it comes to getting cows to make milk from the feed you put in front of them – it makes sense that the feed must actually get in front of them.  Frequent push ups stimulate cows to eat.  Adding more feed to push ups will attract cows that haven’t had enough feed intake for the day to get up and eat. When feeding dairy cows, it’s good to let push come to shove!

#8 “Your Cows are Lying Down, and Your Infections are Rising”

Okay, we are now behind the #8 ball.  Suffice it to say cows that are laying down are not merely contented especially if it occurs right after they’ve been milked.  Here is what research has proven. “Results suggest that management practices that discourage cows from lying down immediately after milking, such as providing fresh food frequently through the day (near the time of milking) may help decrease the risk of intramammary infection.  For robotic milked cows, which milk frequently throughout the day, ensuring continual access to feed in the bunk via frequent fresh feed delivery as well as feed push-up is important to promote standing time after milking and reduce the risk of intramammary infection (DeVries et al., 2011b).”

#9 “You Mistakenly believe that cows CAN make up for LOST TIME!”

It is important to understand that cows do not make up for lost time.  The idea that they will self-manage by coming back to the feed bunk is….bunk. What actually happens is that cows will eat 25 percent faster and eat larger meals. “This will lead to ruminal acidosis, which happens when the pH of the rumen drops drastically for an extended period of time.  Acidosis in dairy cows can result in lower milk yields, lower milk fat yield, and sole ulcers.”

#10 “Your cows need MORE WATER, and Your PROFITS are DRYING UP TOO! “

Another forgotten nutrient is water. Water is perhaps the most necessary nutrient (NRC, 2001), yet its quality and availability is often overlooked.  Interestingly, in a recent field study of free-stall herds in Eastern Ontario, Sova et al. (2013) found that that milk yield tended to increase by 0.77 kg/d for every 2 cm/cow increase in water trough space available in the study herds.

This result illustrates the importance of water availability for group housed cows and provides further evidence that resource availability has the potential to greatly impact productivity. (Read more: USING KNOWLEDGE OF DAIRY COW BEHAVIOUR TO IMPROVE NUTRITIONAL AND HOUSING MANAGEMENT)

#11 “Increased Frequency is too much for you to consider!”

No doubt you are aware that problems listed here for making better use of your feed dollars are repetitive.  We are aware of that, and we are striving to make the point — over and over again — that dairy cows need to be able to eat frequent, small meals when they want to.  Feed less feed more often.  (Read more: CALF FEEDING FREQUENCY: The more often, the merrier?)

#12 “Small Changes (see #’s 1-11) Make a BIG Difference! Do you care?”

We all would like someone to “Show me the money!” and “Show me the research” question too.  Because nothing will help if you aren’t willing to take action. Here’s some useful facts to start you planning your action strategy. The results are measurable. 

Bach et al. (2008) found in a cross-sectional study of 47 herds, fed the exact same ration, that 56% of the variation in observed milk production was explained by non-dietary factors (i.e. presence or absence of feed refusals, free stall stocking density, and whether feed was pushed up in the feed bunk).

Sova et al. (2013), found in a cross-sectional study of parlour-milked, free-stall herds that every 10 cm/cow increase in feed bunk space was associated with 0.06 percentage point increase in group average milk fat and a 13% decrease in group-average somatic cell count.  

Research suggests that feed push-up does not have the same stimulatory impact on feeding activity as does fresh feed delivery (DeVries et al.,2003); nonetheless, push up does play a vital role in ensuring that feed is accessible when cows want to eat.


Managing a profitable dairy isn’t about what you DON’T do.  It’s time to turn those negatives into positives.

  1. How you feed dairy cows is just as important as WHAT you feed them.
  2. Provide equal opportunity feed access for ALL dairy cows.
  3. Start by making room for ALL cows to reach the feed.
  4. Provide at least the recommended bunks space of 24 inches.
  5. Sort cows. Create a first lactation group.
  6. Find an effective way to prevent feed sorting
  7. Push feed up frequently.
  8. Prevent excessive lying down time right after milking.  Cut down on infections.
  9. Recognize that managing cow behavior also manages your profits.
  10. Provide clean, easily accessible water.
  11. Feeding frequency can positively affect milk production.
  12. Have an action plan so that the small things can actually make a BIG difference.


There are many steps from field to feed bunk.  Each small decision along the way can affect the outcome in the milking line. Profitable dairies don’t squander dairy feed dollars. The future of the herd depends on achieving the best results from all your feed all the time.

“It’s not what a few cows get fairly often, but what the whole herd gets consistently that shapes the success of a milking herd.”



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Even in the best of times, small farms struggle to remain profitable. Dairy producers have come through years of pressure from all sides of the industry – economic, political and environmental – to name only a few.  Many, regardless of size, are having serious concerns about the future of their dairy farm.

Before we look at this question, we have to set some parameters. Let’s begin with a look at what defines a small farm. Are we talking the romanticized version of dairy farming which non-dairy perception mostly pegs at 30 milking cows or less? Or are we closer to today’s reality? In the USA small now means herds with fewer than 100 milking cows. In Canada, the cross Canada numbers might peg small at 50 milkers.  

The second major question is, “Do we want small farms to merely survive? Or do we want them to thrive? The global and North American dairy community has been through almost a decade of economic crisis.  If you’re small and still here, you have figured out how to survive?  But is survival a benefit to our families, our communities or the dairy industry?

Popular advice would say that smaller farms should cut back during adverse periods. Others would say, focus on highly specific market segments. Both options assume that small dairy producers are willing to be proactive and aggressive even as the economic returns continue to shrink. At this point, either option seems somewhat ludicrous. 

In the worst of times, when waning consumer demand combined with falling milk prices is hitting their bottom line right beside rising labor and feed costs, small farms face an even steeper climb. Admittedly, some small businesses, usually outside of agriculture, adapt to adversity by turning to new products, services or processes.  Small dairy farms in survival mode are in no position to take these initiatives.  Like deer in the headlights they are almost frozen in place not thinking of aggressive strategies.

Reports to the National Milk Producers Federation recently stated that, “Its far more lucrative to operate large-scale dairy farms with 500 cows or more.”

At the same time that small dairy farms struggle, their larger dairy counterparts who produce larger volumes can take advantage of their greater income to consider automation of their milking operations. This means they have more strategic options despite economic downturns.

Some analysts still say that small farms have the advantage.  While large farms are hampered by their size, small farms can change their plan or tactics much faster. While the larger operations are studying options, small farms can make a quick turnaround.  This looks good in theory, but in actual fact all dairy farms are dealing with live animals, financial constraints, and the immediacy of providing the cash flow necessary for the maintenance of the operation and the day-to-day needs of the people and livestock depending upon it.

Larger farms, and particularly growing ones, are more competitive, invest more, offer better wages and benefits and are more likely to contribute to export markets.  Put simply, growing farms, not small ones, drive economic growth. Governments should want more growth but policies are sending exactly the opposite signal: “Stay small.  Don’t grow.”

Small may be beautiful but not when it gets to the point of recklessness.  We cheer when headlines announce that government plans to give small farms and small business in general a break.  Surely, they deserve special help – in order to survive in a world that is more and more dominated by everything big: big business, big box stores, big, big, big.  Ironically there may be farms that are consciously choosing to remain small to remain eligible for government assistance.

Small may be beautiful, but not if it becomes a roadblock. It’s unfortunate when popular politics doesn’t actually represent what is good for the economy. Handouts and tax breaks may even cause harm by creating a perverse discouragement for growth.  It takes growing companies to drive economic growth. For small farms that means that political and financial policies are sending exactly the opposite message: “Stay small. Don’t grow.”

It’s time for governments and lenders to encourage strategies that encourage growth.

For example, in 2013 the Canadian Federal Finance department pointed out that small businesses, which would include smaller farms, “play an important role in the economy,” and tax breaks help them “retain more of their earnings for investment, expansion and job creation.”  However, there is no evidence to support these objectives and one is left to conclude that the voting block represented by 600,00 voters is more of a political incentive than an economic one.

Will Political Agendas Backfire?  Further along this line of considering how political agendas diverge from farm reality, are the issues of international trade and protectionism.  On the one hand watching government leadership proclaim support for agriculture by making protectionist moves against trade agreements and foreign goods being blocked from competition, seems to support both small and large dairy operations.  In reality, in the US, when such barriers come into play, it merely allows other international competitors to scoop up markets that, before US withdrawal, saw themselves as too small to compete in. While North America goes into “I don’t wanna play in your yard” mode, the rest of the world greedily anticipates cherry picking in their former markets.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For small dairy farms, these continuing periods of financial turmoil and the competition from more and more large dairy farms, means that they face a unique set of challenges. Selecting a strategy for the future will directly impact whether small dairies thrive, survive or give up.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Every dairy needs to build a great team.  Building a great dairy team has two parts: making sure you put the right people on it and quickly getting the wrong people out!

Hiring and training are the fun parts of team building. (Read more: Great Dairy Employees Need Great Starts). Getting off to a great start is a necessity, but dairy managers sometimes overlook or downright ignore signs of trouble on their dairy staff (Read more: If You’re Staff is Negative Your Dairy Will Positively Suffer). That’s a problem because, while firing might be uncomfortable, it’s even more important than hiring and it needs to happen at all levels. (Read more: Fire Yourself! 8 Signs that your time has come.)

There are Always More Than Two Sides to Every Firing Story!

Even when you’re talking to your BFF and he’s telling you about a friend who was “let go (from an ag company) for no reason” or, even when you’re listening to a relative who heard from a friend of a friend that “they have unreal job expectations at that dairy operation and then they fire anybody who falls short”. Even then, there’s always another side to the story.

  • From The Employee Side: From the employee side, reasons for leaving a job might have to do with low morale, excessive work or low pay. These are problems which can be solved by open communication between both sides.  However, if an employee is unable to do the job or chooses to do it incorrectly, then it may be time for termination of employment.  It sometimes appears that an employee is, “Asking to be fired!”
  • From the Management Side: From management’s viewpoint, under-performing employees are toxic to your dairy team. Not only do they undermine productivity but, by not doing the job they are supposed to do, it means that others have to work twice as hard to pick up the slack. On top of all this, when the others see that underperforming is acceptable, they lose their motivation. Allowing poor performers to avoid responsibility, only serves to alienate and annoy your best people. Eventually, they will choose to leave, and all you will be left with are the people you shouldn’t have kept in the first place.

10 Telltale Signs That You’ve Reached the Firing Line

Sometimes you may have an employee who is finding that the dairy farm system is no longer a good fit. Times do come when a person’s season of contribution is over.  This can even happen to owners (See Fire Yourself! 8 Signs that your time has come) and it happens with employees.  We make things unpleasant if we do not recognize this time and make a healthy, respectful farewell.  It is important to recognize that there are definitely times when firing is the correct and only option.  Here are ten signs that it’s firing time.

  1. Criminal Acts: It goes without saying that a criminal offence (such as stealing or mistreating humans or animal cruelty) is cause for immediate dismissal.
  2. Job Apathy: Apathy takes many forms including neglect, indifference, and unresponsiveness. It prevents people from doing their own jobs and is quite contagious.
  3. Disappearing Acts: When staff duck out beyond regularly scheduled breaks, it’s a sure sign they feel they’re above and beyond the job. That affects the morale of everyone.
  4. Arguments: When someone frequently argues with you, other management, fellow employees, or clients, it’s definitely a sign that it’s time for that employee to go.
  5. Declining Productivity: If the employee spends more time with their attention in places other than their work, it’s time to bring that employee in for a chat.
  6. Secrets: Deal with huddled employees who scatter when you appear or deal with much more severe problems later.
  7. Pot Stirring: This one of the most damaging behaviors you’ll find on the dairy. Locate the source, or you’ll never calm things down.
  8. Unreasonable Demands: When an employee becomes dissatisfied with either the job or the work environment, they’ll start asking for things that aren’t realistic. They are practically begging for you to let them go. If you find this to be the case, oblige them!
  9. Redundancy: Economics might lead you to the hard decision to reduce staff a bit and rely on a contracted hire, if and when the situation requires it. Technology may also be replacing certain jobs.
  10. Internal affairs: Try to avoid this altogether by creating a strong policy concerning relationships in the workplace. If someone breaks that policy – they have to go.

Don’t  Be Too Slow!

In speaking with employees, it is important to always be honest and open.  It is your job to make sure the employee knows why you are not satisfied with their performance. You do not fire someone for no reason.  Write down the reasons and give the person an opportunity to improve or correct the situation. You might choose to place the employee on paid suspension for a specific amount of time.  This gives them time to look at the situation from a different perspective and perhaps reconsider how they can be part of the team. However, if the employee is not prepared to commit to improvement, terminate employment.

And yet…Don’t Rush to Judgment

Rushing to judgment with farm worker doesn’t help anyone.  It’s up to management to recognize that employees probably needed time to adjust to living and working in a new country or at jobs they hadn’t done before. Furthermore, they may be dealing with the challenges of speaking and learning a new language, which can make it harder to understand what is expected. The dairy operation may be unlike anything they ever knew before.  What experience, if any, did they have with working with animals?  Milking cows? Feeding calves? When you add in making hay and silage, building and mending fences, sowing grass and crops, fixing mechanical equipment, safely and skilfully handling powerful machines, helping cows give birth and much, much more, you may have a little more empathy for the employee that finds it overwhelming.  It requires a lot of hard work, skills, intelligence, and common sense.

Delivering the News to Other Staff

Whenever someone leaves the dairy farm, they remain a part of the system to the extent that their contribution in the past is still having an effect.  One of the unfortunate things we do is to lose sight of what people have contributed.  Although it’s much more enjoyable to celebrate a good work record, this can also happen when someone leaves in a negative way.  Sweeping effects under the rug or otherwise overlooking the impact of a negative dismissal will cause ongoing problems. Misunderstandings or lack of information are to be avoided, while still maintaining a dignified respect for private information. Respect all parties.

You Can Only Move Forward with A Good “End” in Sight

Hiring is only half of building a great team. You also need to have an effective system for getting the wrong people out. You can’t have one without the other. Not knowing how to end the working relationship, has a severe impact on setting goals for all employees

  1. All staff members need to know what is expected and how and when they will be monitored for achievement and what failure to achieve means.
  2. Employees should know whom they answer to and that communication lines are always open. A culture of feedback can prevent problems from getting to a place where there are no options but parting of the way. There should be a trail of paperwork to prove it.
  3. Having said that, when the time has come to an end the working relationship, be firm in your decision making. Never deliver the news of the firing, as if you don’t stand behind it.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is financially important to have hard working, reliable employees working in a low-stress environment. When the bad outweighs the good and when the employee is causing problems not solving them, continuing to employ that person sends the wrong message to the rest of the team. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Want MORE Milk? Put More Focus on Frequency!

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Dairy headlines, scientific data and discussions over the farm fence are piling up data that says the move to robotic milking sees ever higher levels of uptake among dairy operations.  The focus has moved beyond the simple analysis of pros and cons to finding more data on ways to get the most milk production per robot. The simple conclusion is that everything that impacts the cow — before, during and after visits to the robot — could affect her milk production. As complicated as that sounds, it is simply a question of focus.

“Use Both First Hand Experience and Second Hand Information”

There are many ways to learn how others get more milk from their robots.  Robotic milker suppliers can point you to their successful clients.  They will dazzle you with positives. An internet search will give you many more names to consider and perhaps even reach out to. Be prepared to learn that some of these dairy operations have had remarkable accomplishments. No one will direct you to someone who is struggling with an automated milking system.  Nevertheless, you should seek out things that have been proven, how problems have been corrected and, most of all, how to get more production. Regardless of our sources of information, it’s up to you to do your due diligence.

“We Hear About LESS Labor and MORE Milk. Are the Claims True?”

The attraction to robotic milking pulls dairy operations toward making the change with the promise of decreased labor and increased milk production.  These claims are backed up by the majority of research which shows that installing robots and increasing milking frequency from 2 times per day to 2.5 or 3.0 times on average which results in 6 to 10 pounds more milk per cow per day. You will find that any claim beyond that is impacted by factors not directly robot related such as cow comfort, improved reproduction, and superior management. The facts regarding less total labor aren’t as dramatic.  It is different. Start times may be later, and there is definitely  more flexibility. But, to have the best management, you have to be on call at all times.  Finding a positive way through this learning curve is the first challenge faced by both the human and the bovine teams.

“Scientific Studies Draw Conclusions That You Can Act Upon”

We should always acknowledge that we could be taking results out of context.  Furthermore, we tend to judge what we learn based on our experience, and those experiences create bias.  All we can do is make decisions based on the best information available. There are several Canadian studies and also reports from the University of Minnesota and some out of the Netherlands as well.  These are just a few samples of what is available online. They have a lot of information, and they report what strategies have the biggest impact on milk production. Here are six that rise to the top of the lists.


  1. Come again!  And Again! Frequency wins!
    You hear it from every source.  One of the main factors impacting robot milk production is the frequency of visits.  If cows could read, we would post signs encouraging them to “Visit the Robot!  Don’t Stay Long!  Come back often! “It’s simple. If you want more milk, you have to have more frequent milking times. This begs the next questions, “How do you get cows to voluntarily come to the robot more often?” How often is often enough? What is the best? Most experts and studies suggest that the goal should be to average 2.7 to 3 milkings per cow per day.  When dairy operations fail to meet this benchmark, they make it a priority to review robot efficiency, nutrition programming, and pre-and-post robotic farm environment setup.
  2. “Effective Management Makes More Milk”
    Robots require a high level of management to be successful.  You may work less (than in parlor setups), but you must manage more! When you have the cows coming to the robots frequently, you have to stay on top of every detail that can impact the success of those visits.  
    At herd level: Monitor visits per day. Target average milking speeds. Provide sand or water beds for cow comfort. Remove hair from udders and trim tails. These and some tasks, such as treating cows, can take more time than in a parlor setup.
    Around the Barn: Slatted floors, robotic scraping and keeping up with equipment maintenance have proven to increase milk production.
    Genetic Selection: Not all cows are well suited for robotic milking. Sire selection and breeding for cows with easier attachment rates and improved milking speed present new challenges. 
    In the Office: Effective dairy managers take responsibility for the success of the dairy, and a large part of that is effectively managing all the incoming data captured by robotic systems.
  3. “Feed is the MAGNET That Pulls in More Visits!” 
    The single biggest factor affecting voluntary visits is the feed that is fed at the robot.  Typically, cows receive a pelleted feed at the robot: some farms feed ground corn or other grains. If only we could learn from fast food drive through restaurants, we would have the cows lining up at all hours of the day. Since we don’t gain from feeding extra large unnecessary portions that lead to overweight, we will have to settle for the idea of attracting our cow-customers to the robot.
    In contrast to the “junk” food that some humans crave, the feed offered at the robot must be of consistent high quality and palatability or cows will be discouraged from visiting the robot and thereby decrease the number of milkings per cow per day. Feed offered should complement other feeds being fed to the cows at the feed bunk.  It isn’t necessary to feed a full ration at either place.  Ideally, the feedbunk provides a partial mixed ration formulated at a lower energy content. The balance of the energy needs are provided at the robot.  Pellet quality, ingredients, quantity and palatability all play a role in getting the cows to voluntarily return to the robot and, thereby, they help increase (or decrease) milk production.
  4. “Provide More Robot Availability. Avoid Lineups and Crowding”
    Since there isn’t a robot for every cow, any time that there is blocked access to a robot it negatively affects milking efficiency. Blockage may be caused by cows congregating around the entrance either before or after milking. Proper design of robotic milking facilities can prevent some of these blocking events from occurring. If the area in front of the robot is small, locate water sources and cow brushes away from the entrance to the robot so as not to encourage cows to congregate in the area.
    A higher stocking density (cows per robot) can also result in fewer milkings per cow.  A target of 60 cows per robot is typically recommended.  In the study, dairy farms averaged 55 cows per robot. A survey of robotic miking dairy farms in Pennsylvania found an average of 56 cows per robot with a range of 47 to 64 cows per robot.  In general, farms in the Pennsylvania study with fewer cows per robot had greater milking’s per cow per day and greater milk production per cow. The conclusion:  Crowding costs cash!
  5. “Robot Access Means No Obstacles, More Space and Good Footing”
    Cow traffic to and from the robot is a large part of robot success. Easy access to the robot is a significant factor in the frequency of visits per cow per day. Obstacles interfering in the path to the robot as well as difficult entryways can deter cows from milking. Cows also need to have adequate space between the robot and surrounding areas. If holding pens or the area in front of the robot are too small, cows will be discouraged from entering.
    Access to the robot can also be encouraged through proper care and management of your herd’s feet and legs. Cows need to have good locomotion and sound hooves to be comfortable walking back and forth to the robot. Scheduling regular hoof trimmings and providing access to footbaths can prevent issues from developing.
  6. “Yes! More Milking Speed Counts!” 
    You can’t deal effectively with getting cows into and out of the robot, without giving consideration to the actual speed of getting the milk. Slow milking time reduces cow throughput and decreases the amount of milkings achieved each day. Many of the top producing robotics herds measure milk flow as compared to milkings per cow per day. From entry to exit, the milking process should take, on average, seven to eight minutes per cow. It’s recommended that herds should strive for less than seven minutes and start to investigate potential issues when milking length exceeds eight minutes. The actual milking unit attachment can also influence time taken per cow in the robot. Milking units that locate the teats quickly and efficiently will reduce the time per cow spent in the robot, freeing up extra available time for other cows. The more time the robots actually spend with cows who are putting out maximum flow will result in greater production than just counting the number of cows per hour or visits per day.  That is why many top herds allow their top producers to visit more frequently while cows that are later in lactation or lower producers allowed fewer visits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Robotic dairy operations continually strive to improve efficiency and increase production. The starting point for more milk is more frequency. Work with your whole dairy team – nutrition, environment, herd health and staff – to get their best input on ways to make sure you are doing everything possible to attract cows to visit the robots more often. When you effectively focus on getting more robot visits per cow, you will automatically produce more milk!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)

More and more often these days you will spot a little bracelet on the arms of friends, neighbors, and strangers.  The health trend for monitoring daily footsteps is catching on. Since I now sport one of these, I have the advantage of having actual proof that I am not moving around enough.  Ironically, before I ever was gifted with this performance monitor, I was fascinated at more than one dairy trade show to see the growing number of activity monitoring systems which have been developed for use on dairy farms. In fact, activity monitors are just the tip of the dairy tech iceberg.0914ca_drankhan_smartphone1

When you’re in the barn, how much technology should you use?

There is always the need to improve reproduction, reduce labor and lower costs. Is technology this generation’s miracle worker?  We are told, it can make managers faster, smarter and more profitable.  The promise is that technology brings myriad benefits to dairy progress but where is the line between too little and too much.  Growing demand means that an ever-increasing number of companies see the potential in developing and marketing these systems.

The Million Dollar Question

“When does a greater technology presence provide the most benefits.”

The 21st Century Answer

Our dairies aren’t using too much technology.

They’re not using enough!

If we intend to be relevant for future generations of consumers and farmers, we have to prepare ourselves for the world that is going to exist.  To put it simply.  It’s all about evolution. As you read this, children are growing up with technology.  We are moving into a futuristic dairy world. Fewer and fewer producers are having to produce more and more products.  This agricultural shift alone means that we need to understand and use technology. Admittedly ongoing economic situations in Europe and fluctuating or declining markets in other countries have some feeling reluctance to invest in the future.  But if there is to be a viable future for dairying, investing is exactly what must happen.

How Do These Systems Transform Dairy Processes?

When you work in an industry with as much passion and persistence as the dairy industry has, you don’t have to go far to hear find partnerships of – breeders- science- and business people who are creating new products that are revolutionizing day to day performance.

“No one is talking about what their product might do, they’re talking about what it does.”

Like a well-oiled team, technology developers send out their most charismatic people with videos, brochures, and hands-on displays.  If you are exposed to one of these presentations, it’s hard not to feel that you have had a peek into the future.  But there is no cause for trepidation.  Even though the technology is leading edge, the best presenters keep the explanations (and implementation) grass roots simple. They know that information is key to being successful and profitable in the modern dairy business.  They say, “The better you align your goals with your profitability, the clearer your technology needs will become.  Whether it’s labor, nutrition, production or genetics, technology can assist the potential in each area.”

Do Monitors Eliminate Interaction with The Cows?

The goal is not to eliminate the need for interaction with the dairy herd. It is to make it easier to focus effectively on priorities.

“Now your cows can talk to you!”

And it isn’t just the dairy manager that gains an advantage. There are applications for consultants and nutritionists too.  Modern technology is putting tech in the hands of every person who is on the dairy team.

“Like all tools, the technology works best when it is properly implemented.”

Tech is ready to change the way we think about making thousands of daily management decisions.  The great thing with most of the new products is that the learning curve for anyone interested is almost instant and is well supported by the developers.  We have all wanted to take advantage of new technology and had to work through the slow process of learning, re-learning and fixing the accompanying software.  Dairy technology companies that will have an impact and thrive in today’s market know that solving learning hurdles is key to everyone’s success.

Know What to Ask Before Making the Decision to Purchase a Technology Monitoring System

  • Is training or support is provided with the system?
  • What warranty period is there on the system and its components?
  • How large an area is covered? Can the system read activity tags in all parts of the barn or pasture?
  • How large of an area will the tag reader or antenna cover?
  • How long will it take to pay back the cost of the system?
  • What is the warranty period on the system and/or its components?
  • Is there another farm in the area using the system that I could visit?
  • Is the activity system compatible with my current herd management software?
  • What other technology will I need (i.e. Internet connection) for this system to work?
  • When you talk to users of the technology, be sure to ask them what problems they had and how they overcame them.

You are now prepared for the fun of taking a day (or more) away from the farm to bring yourself up-to-date on the latest innovations in livestock production. Here are some that catch the interest of The Bullvine.

0914ca_drankhan_medriha1vetMEDRIA SENSOR – Cow Monitoring System is Dedicated to Reliable Real-Time Data

The Medria system provides information on heat detection, rumination, feeding behavior, health monitoring and calving time monitoring.  It uses cellular communication instead of the internet, and it is an integrated system- HeatPhone, FeedPhone, VetPhone, SanPhone.  They system sends text messages about group changes in water or feed consumption and rumination. It reports cows at risk due to changes in behavior, as well as cows in heat, etc.  When I first learned about this system in 2015, there was tremendous interest around the World Dairy Expo booth. At that time Medria Technologies founders Jean-Pierre Lemonnier and Emmaneul Mounier (2004 in Brittanny France) pointed out, “Medria Technologies has a full line totally oriented to farm management.” and they reported that over 4000 farmers in more than 10 European countries were already using Medria’s monitoring solutions. Those first eleven years were providing positive results, proving “how need this device is and how successful it can be in the monitoring and early detection of reproduction and animal health problems.”

Now WIC has Been Added to the GEA MixFeeder

DairyFarming_FreeStallFeeder_1_1200x675px.jpgIn July of 2016, GEA introduced the Wireless Integrated Control (WIC) system which is an intelligent software for its proven MixFeeder.  The new system ensures that every performance group receives the optimal mix ration of raw feed, concentrated feed and minerals in the right volumes at the most appropriate intervals. The WIC delivers the feed precisely and reliably around the clock.  This benefits milk producers and herd managers as it ensures that their cows are always performing at their full potential, thereby improving milk volumes and quality and reducing workload and costs.

The WiIC software enables staff to access the system from the PC, touch panel or their smartphone, wherever they happen to be, via the local network or the internet.  This gives producers and herd managers greater freedom, while still enabling them to have full control over the entire feeding process. The system can also send alerts via SMS if required.  These messages can then be acknowledged with a simple reply text.  Staff can also manage individual functions and get basic information on the touchscreen on the feeder itself.

There are numerous great products on the market and many more that will be introduced and demonstrated at upcoming shows.  EuroTier is held every two years in Hanover, Germany and from November 15 to 18 this year, there will be exhibitors highlighting products to support breeding, feeding, husbandry, management, logistics and animal health.  Once again, the future beckons!

rover-robots-alimentation-produits-rovibec1Introducing the Robot Named, “ROVER!”

Rover is a new self-propelled robot whose debut appearance will be at EuroTier.  Rover will show how it can not only automatically mix and feed and dispense it to the cows but also push up that feed as it passes. This new robotic feeding system was developed by Rovibec in Quebec, Canada and will be distributed in parts of Europe by Schauer Agrotronic in Austria.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Modern technology developers are just like every one of us who has a piece of dairy in their DNA.  They are eagerly taking a bold and imaginative place in the product line between the stable and the table. Whether you walk the aisles of World Dairy Expo in Madison or the Euro-Tier Show in Hanover Germany, you will be inspired by visionary companies with the courage to lead.  Technology is an area of dairying that is moving at the speed of change and helping dairy operators to take a progressive, sustainable and profitable step into the future. Where are you? Too much?  Or Not enough?




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management, Technology

We talk about the way family farm founders, dairy managers, consultants and suppliers need to be passionate, committed and courageous in leading their dairy businesses. We enjoy giving glowing praise to those who have inspired us to take exceptional action or to dig deeper to solve a problem or gave us the guts to make uncomfortable changes. We include ourselves in that group of aging role models. But what happens when there is an ever-widening gap developing between the measurable achievements? Indeed, what happens when those who lead the pack are not ready or willing to hand over the baton.

These Days Are We Still Proud or Are We Just Loud?

When we start something, and grow it into a successful enterprise, we are justifiably proud of the distance we have come.  We know how much hard work, inspiration and vision went into getting the operation off the ground. We are proud of growing and maintaining the legacy of those before us.  But sometimes we get so hung up on simply hanging on that we are a detriment to continued growth. Loud whining is very different from proud leading.

Sometimes Taking the Most Important Step Means Stepping Away

There are definitely times when you look back and congratulate yourself on taking center stage.  Tough or easy, you had the target painted on your back, and you accepted responsibility.  Being in the driver’s seat of a dairy business means traveling down a long and winding road. We sometimes need to be reminded that, on any journey, it’s important to pay attention to the stop signs! Here’re eight stop signs that you may be missing or ignoring.

129495-simple-red-square-icon-signs-road-stop-sign-sc441 #1: “No one could do what I do as well as I do it!”

If you just shouted “Right on!”, then please step away from your computer! It’s wonderful to have a great track record but what does the record show recently, when it comes to moving ahead with new technology, new management methods, new breeding strategies and a new nutrition program?  The belief that the status quo is the way to go just means that YOU need to go. And furthermore-  If you use the phrase: “By the time I show someone how to do it, I could just do it myself” Step aside. If your team really can’t do the work as well as you can, whose fault is that? Did you fail to train them? Or train them to fail?  Fire yourself!


#2: You resent young upstarts who haven’t struggled like you did and yet seem to feel that they are entitled to be your equal.

This is a big one.  If you hold resentment toward people (family, staff, partners or consultants) who haven’t been through what you have and who, heaven forbid, rely on book learning instead of years of experience, this could be a sign that you have passed your own best-before date. The measure of success isn’t the path taken or the length and bumpiness of the road.  Success is measured in results.  Are you interested in results or longevity?  Progress or control?  What are you afraid of.  If you answer is “I am afraid of retirement!”  Fire yourself!

PS If the only ones you resent are “those girls” or “the women” who aspire to work in your exclusively male domain.  Fire yourself!  Do it now!


#3: You’re worried about the financial Implications.

Are you waiting for the economy to improve, before you’ll give up control? You have come through challenges. Have a little faith that others can do the same. You may not be ready to let others make financial decisions, but are your decisions making or breaking the bank?  Do you find yourself cutting corners to save money, doing the best you can on your own in order to avoid paying someone else for services? Are you cutting costs on feed or supplies even though it may affect your herd health and production and therefore reduce your actual profits? Cutbacks can be costly.  At the other extreme, when seeing ourselves in the role of “top” boss, we give ourselves permission to break some rules by giving bigger discounts for our products or services to our “special” customers?  Do you find your customers or suppliers always asking for a deal? Are you demonstrating your power or are you eating away at your margins?  You need to recognize that your control may be inefficient, wasteful, and inducing costs that work against the very profitability you are hoping for. If you don’t fire yourself at this point, you will eventually be out of work.  Fire yourself!


#4: You think long hours are a measure of success.

Dairying is 24/7, but burnout is not a benchmark for success. Past a certain point, working more hours rarely makes you more productive. A study showed that, if you’re regularly working past 50 hours a week, your productivity is likely going to drop. That same study from Stanford also reported that people who work as much as 70 hours (or more) per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours. “But” you object, “they’re probably not farmers!”  You’re right.  That is why pacing yourself and delegating and strategically planning workloads is something that successful dairy farmers become very good at. There is no point in becoming an ornery, grumpy curmudgeon just because your martyr complex won’t let anyone else share the load. If you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders – fire yourself.


#5: You expect praise for your efforts but don’t hand much of it out.

Do you insist on doing your job and other people’s jobs too? We all have strengths and when you have capable family or staff, let them lead with theirs. Strong leaders recognize where others add value, and make space for true collaboration. Don’t try to do it all. Especially when someone else might do it better. Do you find yourself detouring around family or staff in any meeting with suppliers, customers, or strategic partners?  If you are the only star, what does that make your staff.  Do you feel frustrated with staff who are not proactive, who only do what they’re told, who depend on you for decisions and seem unable to think strategically? Do customers always ask to speak to you instead of your staff? If you’re the reason, fire yourself!


#6: Everything has to go through you.

If your team can’t make a decision, or work is held up because you’ve not yet reviewed or approved it, it’s time to question how enabling you really are. You may not even be conscious of the tone you set, but sometimes a team’s hesitancy to make a call stems from your bad habit of reversing decisions. It’s either that or they’re unclear about what you want. Do people know what you expect? It’s great to be a champion, a guide, and even a director when needed. But don’t be a bottleneck. Learn to be clear on your expectations. Learn to take a backseat in decision making.  If you’re hired as “Manager,” you may not be prepared to or able to fire yourself. But you should always have the best interests of the dairy business at heart. Learn to appreciate the new technology and ideas that the younger generation may bring. If you own the operation, learn to change your title from “Farm Manager” to “Farm Owner.”     For those of you who are at this stage, Congratulations!!  You’ve built your dairy business.  Now it’s time to enjoy seeing it evolve further.  I hope you can let go quickly enough to take advantage of it. Fire yourself!


#7: You don’t trust your team to represent your work.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities is helpful. Once you’ve done this, it’s important to stay in your lane. If a project is heading into a ditch, by all means, step in. Otherwise, clarify your goals and expectations, then trust people to get the job done. Don’t insert yourself just because you can, or because you feel the need to appear in control. Leading from the sidelines has its place. If we want to enable meaningful contributions from everyone and maximize the talent available, it’s important that you either find your correct place…and learn to occupy it gracefully … or fire yourself!


#8: You are not ready or willing to change roles.

When you first started out in farming, you handled everything: chores, milking, breeding; finances; planting and harvesting; buying and selling; builder; plumber and all round handyman.

Over time and with the changing nature of modern dairying, you were probably required to focus on other things, and you coped with that.  Now changes include team building, training, and management, to name a few things that need to be on the priority list. When we as owners or managers refuse to relinquish control, we negatively affect growth. Call it fear or call it pride; that hesitation causes harm.  We have now become stumbling blocks.  Don’t get me wrong!  Many of us have used our strengths and still have some to offer. But if we are not very good at running today’s operations under changed circumstances we have to admit it. Change happens whether we are ready or not.  For many of you, your operation still needs you… For some of you, your business can do without you.  Either accept your new role or fire yourself!


So, there you have it.  If you read through this list of stops signs and recognized yourself —- check, check, check, check, check —then it’s time for you to check out. Fire yourself!! 


Don’t make your biggest regret that you waited too long to fire yourself. If you have the best interest of your dairy operation at heart, then you will be wise enough to know when the time has come to be the “wind beneath the wings” of the next generation.  Are you ready to give your dairy an advantage?



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

LOCOMOTION – Are we solving the PUZZLE?

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

For years, we have listened to breeders, show judges and trained experts talk about the way our cows move. Each authority focusses on a different outcome: winning in the show ring; producing in the milking line or remaining healthy in the barn or pasture. To name a few. We have many pieces from a lot of sources, but we still are unable to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together to improve bovine locomotion. Are we so focused on our own piece, or even lack an interest in locomotion, that we are failing to see the big picture?

By Nature

If man had not domesticated bovines, they would still most likely have a mature size of 660-880 pounds (300 – 400 kgs) and would have been able to leap over rocks, and bushes like our deer in the wild can do. But I am thinking it is more than the larger size that has slowed down today’s bovines. Some breeds, especially, are less mobile that would be ideal.

Mankind – A Help or a Hindrances?

Perhaps there is not one answer that applies to all breeds of dairy cattle. Some have straighter and some more sickled legs. Foot structure, bone quality, and strength of pasterns vary from breed to breed.

Over a pan of more than three centuries breeders have changed the cow from only being able to feed her calf with perhaps a little extra milk for the owner’s household to being able to produce large volumes of nutritious milk that can feed many families. But at what price? Shorter lifespans? Perhaps! And now we have animals with much less ability to move, run and jump freely.

Many Experts have Opinions

Show judges a few times, at every show, will comment on how one cow moves compared to another. Their comments are usually about gait and strength of pasterns.

Classifiers have, for over ninety years, looked at feet and legs and evaluated them compared to the breed ideal. Most frequently, in the past, they would only see the cow standing in a stall. How can they know how a cow will move from only looking at form and not looking at and recording an evaluation on function? With so many parts to feet and legs evaluation and by not recording movement, it is little wonder that the heritability for feet and legs, using type classification data, is less that 10%. Knowledgeable breeders have told me that they feel the heritability of feet and legs is like udders at 30%.

Hoof trimmers mainly see only the bad feet of a herd, but they do not record that feet form information or do animal movement coding for genetic evaluation purposes. Of course, to get the full range of feet in a herd, they would also need to evaluate the good feet that they do not trim. For trimmers to go one step further and record data on locomotion may not be totally objective as the feet, just trimmed, are not likely to immediately function properly. One promising note is that Canadian hoof trimmers and CDN are currently working together on capturing data on cow’s feet as they are trimmed. By default, they will be able to identify sires and cow families that have feet problems.

Researchers, both veterinarians, and geneticists are interested in locomotion, and there have been studies, reports and videos to rate cows from excellent to poor for locomotion. But, beyond showing animal differences, little is known for breeders to use to improve the ability of their cattle, when it comes to locomotion.

It’s a Big Puzzle

Legs are large appendages that are attached mainly by muscles, ligaments, and cartilage. And while we know a considerable amount about the genetic improvement of skeletal structure, we know relatively little when it comes to the genetics of the function of feet and leg parts.    

Type classification programs observe, capture and analyze large volumes of data on leg and foot form. But not on leg function. With more and more animals housed in a non-tied format, there must be a way to also capture data on leg and foot function.

Judges appear to be paying more attention, than in the past, to dairy animal leg movement in the show ring.  Definitely, in the beef animal show rings animals are expected to be able to walk smoothly at a fast gait. However, for either dairy or beef, so few animals ever see the show ring, and those animals that make it there will have had their feet trimmed and be trained to walk unnaturally slow …. the result being that breeders cannot depend on the show ring for the evaluation of locomotion.

It is very costly to video a large number of animals moving in barns or on pastures and after that ’translate’ the results into actual sire rankings for locomotion. Perhaps someone will develop a means by which stationary or drone cameras can capture accurate mobility data. Now, that is a challenge for a scientist to develop an evaluation method. For another scientist, the challenge is to link the mobility index to the DNA and produce genomic mobility indexes.

Certainly, it is a big puzzle at this time. However, big challenges require big picture thinking.

Why Bother to Solve the Puzzle?

There are many things that “don’t” happen when locomotion is poor. In short cows that can’t or don’t walk properly don’t spend as much time foraging or at the feed bunk. They don’t come into heat or don’t mount to show heats. If they don’t move forward (i.e. have good locomotion), your dairy operation is probably slowing down or standing still too!

Recently Dr. Jeff Bewley and Associates at the University of Kentucky have documented that cows with poor mobility do not consume as much feed and lay for longer time periods. Less dry matter intake results in less production and long laying times, also exposing teat ends to more bacteria.

With over 10M dairy cows in the US and Canada and with an estimated 40% with minor to severe mobility problems even a $250 reduction in annual net income for those affected cows equates to annual losses of $1B. Additionally adding even half a lactation to every cow’s lifetime, that is going from 2.7 to 3.2 lactations, is worth billions.

Now, it is not possible to estimate what it would cost the dairy cattle industry if people outside of our industry were to stop buying our end products because the milk or milk products they consume could possibly come from lame cows.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The challenge to improve the genetic merit of dairy animal mobility cannot be ignored. It is a necessity! Resources have been allocated to less important issues. The global dairy cattle improvement industry needs to stop saying that the challenge is too big, too costly, that there is no data or there are too many unknowns. Poor animal locomotion is a puzzle that must be solved!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

On a dairy farm, delivering a calf is a normal, healthy process.  But, if the health of the cow and calf are to be assured, all that normality cannot be left to nature.  Poor preparation, unsanitary conditions, and unidentified problems can result in weak or dead calves or injured and sick cows. Calvings are one of those dairy journeys where the road to hell can be paved with good intentions.  All the good intentions in the world won’t make up for poor training, inadequate observation or badly executed assistance.

KNOWLEDGEABLE TEAM:  Must recognize risks and potential problems

How your employees deal with cows and heifers that are in labor is one of the most important things you must prepare them to handle well. There can be many problems that can arise during a delivery, but the first step is to avoid assisting when assistance is not actually needed. Cows will deliver without any assistance 70% of the time.  Even 50% of heifers will do that.  From that basic understanding, the team needs to be well versed in recognizing an abnormal or difficult delivery.  Patience and training can tip the process toward success and make sure that nothing staff does contribute to the injury or death of the animals involved. Knowing if the service sire is rated easy or difficult for calving ease is often another very useful piece of information. As well, it is increasingly helpful to know the dam’s sire’s rating for maternal calving ease.

PROPERLY TRAINED: Correctly Identify the Stages of Calving Training

There is heightened attention on farm, whenever a calving is about to happen. Rather than anticipating the worst, calving teams must learn how to work with the calving instead of against it. It starts with recognition of the signs of parturition.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Every stage in the calving process must be handled well in order to reduce negative outcomes ranging from stillbirths to inflammation of the uterus (metritis). Improper management of calving always has a negative impact on the health of your cows and calves.  Of course, there is a correspondingly negative impact on the financial success of the dairy as well. Accepting a 505 calf death loss or a 10% slow down in recovery should never be acceptable. As dairy farms become larger and new staff originate from non-bovine backgrounds, a trained team is a dairy operation necessity.

USE TECHNOLOGY: Observation and Monitoring are Indispensable

Even the best training program won’t be effective if the dairy staff doesn’t put what they know into action.  Not being attentive enough to catch the calving signals, whether they are early, on time or overdue, is a costly mistake.  This is one place where modern technology can be a very useful tool in the close-up pen.  Tools have been developed to monitor rumination and activity.  A cow commonly decreases feed intake before calving and monitoring rumination can signal calving. As well, a cow may show more up and down movement as she moves toward calving and then, no movement, as she starts into final labor. By using video monitoring, producers can be much more thorough in their calving preparation.  Multiple members of staff can view from different locations using cellphones or computers. The entire process is less intrusive on the cows and, provided the proper viewing angles are available; technology makes it easier to keep track of the stages of labor.

MANAGE EACH STAGE: Recognize.  Assess.  Act.

Be ready for the start of calving. Typically, cows go into labor on approximately the 280th day of gestation. Make sure your records are accurate and giving you the best information on which animals are ready to begin the process. 

STAGE ONE: Pre-calving Preparation

Stage one coincides with the calf moving into position, and the cervix begins to dilate. Observable signs are frequent changes from standing to lying down, raised tail head, vocalization, increased urination and defecation, full udder and mucus discharge. Typically stage one lasts for two to six hours.  If there has not been any progress in four hours, then the cow should be examined. 

STAGE TWO:  Calf is Born

In stage two labor, the cow or heifer is fully dilated, and the calf is born. Normal presentation is front feet first with the head between the knees and shoulders.  Any other presentation is a signal that assistance is needed. Stage two normally can last from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

STAGE THREE: Passing of the Afterbirth

In stage three labor, the placenta is expelled eight to 12 hours post-calving. If it takes more than 24 hours, it is considered a retained placenta and a veterinarian should be contacted. Years ago it was considered necessary to manually remove the attached membranes.  Modern best practices have shown that his can be detrimental to uterine health and could have a negative impact on future conception rates.


At this point we have looked at what you see and what you know.  These are vital skills but the rubber really hits the road with what you “DO.”  When everything goes smoothly, there is nothing more beautiful than welcoming a healthy calf onto your dairy operation.  But, as we all know, there are many things that can go wrong and the skills needed to respond to those challenges are the ones that will determine the success or failure of your calvings.


Early in the labor process, a skilled person should examine the cow to determine if there is a need to correct an abnormal position or if assistance will be needed. There are exceptional practitioners who are skilled in distinguishing between front or rear legs. Employees can gain valuable experience in how to reposition a calf by learning from a veterinarian or skilled independent consultant.


Knowing how and when to assist a cow is one of the most important SOPs (Standard Operating Protocol).

Assistance may be needed if:

  • The cow is straining, but no part of the calf is showing after two hours.
  • The feet and/or nose are showing, but the calf is not delivered after two hours.
  • Rest periods between laboring are lasting more than 20 minutes.
  • The cow or calf is showing signs of stress or fatigue.


Assistance in these situations may require proper placement of chains or straps.  This should always be done in a manner that does not cause injury to the calf.

Important considerations are:

  1. Calf jacks and manual extraction can easily exceed 600 pounds of force and break leg bones or vertebra or permanently injure the cow.
  2. Sterile chains and straps are best, but they should at a minimum be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses.
  3. Farms that do not have proper equipment should contact a veterinarian for proper assistance.
  4. Improvising, such as using twine, can result in injury to the calf. 

SKILL 4:  Know the Right Person to Call   

Contact your veterinarian if you cannot assess what is wrong during a delivery, you do not know how to correct something or if you have been assisting for more than 30 minutes and have not yet made any progress. If you find yourself in a situation that is beyond your capabilities, do not hesitate to seek help.  Make sure you and your team are prepared with contact information for a veterinarian or someone with more calving experience than you have.  A little research and taking the time to have them provide necessary training is well worth it. 

SKILL 5: Proper Moving of Cows   

Moving cows when they are in labor can have a major detrimental impact according to recent research. “When cows were moved during late stage one labor, they had 40 minutes longer stage two labor and spent 50 percent less time lying down,”  “This longer stage two labor was associated with increased inflammation post-calving, and in other studies, it has been associated with stillbirths and dystocia [difficulty calving].”

Moving cows early in stage one labor typically does not have an impact on calving time. Closely monitoring close-up pens is very important, as is moving cows calmly during active signs of labor.

SKILL 6: Proper Assistance to Prevent Metritis.  

Metritis is an inflammation of the uterus, caused by a bacterial infection, following calving. It most commonly occurs after difficult calvings, retained placenta, twins or stillbirths. Metritis can range from mild to severe and includes symptoms such as a fever, a foul uterine discharge, depressed attitude and decreased appetite.  Metritis can result in lower feed consumption, decreased milk production, increase days to conception and increased services per conception, leading to longer calving intervals and higher breeding costs. Fertility can be affected and result in a higher culling rate. Even mild cases can cost producers up to 350 dollars from these losses in milk production and cow health. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The process of delivering a calf is a natural one. That said, this is not the place to leave everything to nature.  Proper preparation, planning, and training is necessary for everyone on the calving team. At every stage, they must thoroughly monitor, assist, record and provide optimal care. The goal is to create a safe and healthy environment that supports the best health of the cow and the arrival of her healthy newborn calf. Know it.  See it.  Do it.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Since the beginning of time, disease and illness have been a significant challenge for both human medicine and animal agriculture. In fact, when humans and animals shared housing it was an ever present fear. The discovery of live organisms to produce products that counteract disease and illness was considered to be a miracle. However, a good thing can turn into a bad thing, if it is not properly used. Such can be the case in the use of antibiotics on dairy farms. So what can dairy farmers do about using antibiotics as they continue to produce top notch products while remaining sustainable?

Lots of Press

It seems that hardly a week goes by that we do not hear on the news, read in the press or read online where a consumer group is concerned about antibiotics in the food they eat. This fear has created a push back that challenges, “do not use a GMO to create a product or practice to benefit dairy farming.” But for this article let’s stick with addressing antibiotics.

To dairy folks, it often seems that the press is all bad news. But I am sure that politicians, oil industry, policing and many other sectors can all classify the press as negative and fear-mongering. For our farming industry, the challenge is what we do on-farm, how we document and how we inform consumers when it comes to antibiotic use.

Consumers and Antibiotics

There is absolutely no reason that consumers should expect anything but antibiotic free food. But they can be fed a line of bull by marketers despite the fact that checks are already in place to guarantee milk and meat products, produced on dairy farms, are antibiotic free.  In order to get consumers to buy the product they are promoting, marketers add the label “Antibiotic Free.” After that, it is a downward spiral of doubt in consumers’ minds on any products that do not say “free.”

Consumers say they trust farmers.  As dairy farmers, we must earn and maintain that trust. Until labeling regulations are revised to take the fear factor out of what the consumer reads, farmers must do all they can do to send milk off-farm that contains zero antibiotics.

It is true that over prescribed antibiotics by the medical system and antibiotics improperly disposed of, can and do contribute to polluting antibiotics in the eco-system. So both dairy farmers and consumers must follow appropriate procedures when it comes to antibiotics. Antibiotic residue must be eliminated.

Dairy Industry Approach

For years the dairy industry has been silent about the pristine product milk is.  Well, our industry can not be silent anymore. On-farm quality assurance programs, which include antibiotic usage monitoring, have been implemented in a few countries but have been slow to develop and be implemented in many high volume milk countries. Having such programs will allow the dairy industry to go from being reactive to proactive on all quality matters including antibiotic usage.

A big challenge for the dairy industry is that consumers expect milk to be cheap and high quality. Part of our industry’s consumer awareness program needs to make it known that safe food can only come from healthy animals. Top notch animal health programs require that properly used antibiotics must be available to treat sick animals. Having government approved antibiotics available make it possible for farmers to produce more high-quality milk per cow and thereby keeping the cost of milk in the stores at a reasonable price. Every dairy farmer knows that sick and low producing cows do not make for maximum profit.

On an individual farmer basis, we must learn to speak up, talk to consumers and support industry initiatives when it comes consumer awareness. One individual comes to mind on a producer who does a great job. That is Carrie Mess and her blog ‘Dairy Carrie’ (Read more: Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country). As well as being a full-time farmer she time and again takes time from her full schedule to explain all the practices in place on-farm to guarantee quality.

Another thing that would help is if all sectors, farmers, processors, marketers, and regulators would work cooperatively to guarantee quality to consumers. Too often we blame our fellow industry stakeholders for not doing their job. Well, folks we are on in this boat together.

On-Farm Practices

As mentioned above, there needs to be organized quality assurance programs in every region that produces milk that goes to processors and enters into the food chain.

Hopefully, the attitude that existed a while back that it is production as all costs push the cows to the limit and use drugs to solve any problems is fast being replaced by responsible production of quality milk.

Like anything else that happens on a dairy farm it involves, genetics, nutrition, environment and management, when it comes to minimizing antibiotic use and ensuring no milk or meat leaves the farm that contains antibiotics. Now you are likely asking why the mention of meat. Well, we mention that because animals are sold to the meat industry from dropped bull calves all the way to cull cows and all those need to be antibiotic free, just like the milk that is shipped.

And it is not enough to simply follow all the proper practices when it comes to using antibiotics. Exact records must be kept for all animals in the herd. Not just the milking cows. But the calves, heifers, steers, dry cows, …. yep, every last animal. (Read more: Dairy Farmers: In God We Trust All Others Bring Data)

Genetics Can Help

This would not be a Bullvine article if we did not include something about genetics.

Some tips when it comes to using genetics to minimize antibiotic use include:

  • Totally avoid using sires rated 3.00 or higher for SCC
  • Avoid using sires whose daughters are slow milkers or leak milk
  • Eliminate from your herd cow families that have SCC’s over 3.00
  • Avoid sires that have low daughter fertility ratings as such animals tend to require more drug
  • Avoid using sires whose daughters become stressed and thin 40-100 days after calving
  • Avoid using sires whose daughters tend to have feet problems or susceptibility to foot diseases.
  • Select sires with positive ratings for liveability, wellness, immunity, mastitis resistance and mobility

Every AI stud has many bulls that leave daughters that have minimal disease and thereby do not require less administration of antibiotics.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The attitude of not caring about excessive use of antibiotics on-farm does not cut it anymore. Animal wellness is critical and five years from now it will be even more important. Yes, progress has been made on most farms in recent years. As producers, we must own the challenge of minimizing the use and not sending off-farm antibiotics. If we can do that consumers will be able to say “Thanks, Dairy – Antibiotics Is Not an Issue



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Time was when cow sense, memory, and notes on a calendar were enough to manage a milk production or breeding dairy cattle farm and a farm could be reasonably successful. Well, that time is behind us. In any successful business records on financials, actions, transactions, events and working with suppliers are necessary. Bankers need more than a handshake. Government programs must have facts. For the future, profitable dairy farms will need details electronically stored on all animal and farm systems.

The Past is the Past

I often hear people mention the good old days and less details. That no long holds water. If you aren’t using an electronic on-farm data system already, it is now time to join the 21st century.

There! That’s all this article will mention about the past. As Bullvine readers know, we are all about building toward successful futures.

Invest to Benefit

It is not new that a business must invest in technology to gain the benefits. On a strictly cost-benefit basis and considering the proportion of costs on a dairy farm, the areas with the opportunity for cost savings are feed (50% of costs), labor (15%) and replacement rearing (13%).

However, even that way of thinking may be outdated, as it does not consider the benefits of more accurate and timely decision-making or the opportunity to generate more revenue by having facts that increase the value of the products being sold.

Producers contemplating purchasing new parlors or milking stall robots are faced with both the challenge and opportunity that new technology with much more data presents. It is music to my ears when, after a few months of use, I hear herd managers tell me about how they can now make so much better decisions based on the data that their new data capture system provides.

Costs to Avoid

There are some significant cost items that having accurate information may help avoid. Those can include:

  • Every missed heat costs $100
  • Every mastitis cases cost $400
  • Every month older at first calving costs $125
  • Every hour wasted by staff costs a minimum of $20
  • Every incidence of sickness in cows or calves costs more dollars

Some may say you cannot afford to capture all the data necessary to avoid these losses. However, in fact, it could well be that dairy managers cannot afford not to have the facts.

Family Can Help

Another joy to my soul is when I see the children or young workers on a dairy farm be the leaders when it comes to using the new electronic data system on a farm.  Recently I heard a father and mother very proudly tell me that their 13 and 15-year-old daughters were, within two weeks of startup, running the programs and chasing up non-milked cows in their state-of-the-art robotic milker system. Those girls are the future for that farm.

Any System Can Work

The number of data capture systems being sold to dairy farmers is almost unlimited these days. Heat detection, current body temperature, rumination (yes/not good), resting time and, of course, milk volume are all useful and available through individual or combined systems. But planning is not about today, it is about tomorrow when if comes to managing a dairy farm.

For more Bullvine thoughts on data, systems read: Better Decision Making by Using Technology.

Think Five Years Out

When purchasing data capture systems, dairy people need to be looking into the future and what data will be required for managing a progressive herd.

Here a few things that could be useful for managers to know:

  • Individual cow component %s (fat (good fats), protein (A2), other solids)
  • Hormone levels
  • Feed intake
  • Animal mobility coding
  • Body condition score
  • Production limiting diseases (ketosis, milk fever, calf scours, pneumonia, …)
  • Animals with one day of a heat
  • Cows and heifers within 2 hours of calving

Not every dairy person will want or need all of the same added data items but it is certain that the list of possibilities will grow rapidly over the coming years.

New View on Breeding

Breeding is both art and science. The science is knowing the actual facts, and the art involves how to combine the facts.

The time when you could read the bull catalogue and then observe the cow and make a leisurely mating decision are behind us.

Just think about this. You run analysis on the performance of animals and cow families in your herd. You determine which sires work best in your farming or marketing situation. Then you find the sires that will work best for you in the coming year. After that, you order the semen. That’s making the data work for you. That’s how you use the facts and practise the art.

Use Progressive Consultants

The time is past when your vet, feed rep, accountant or banker could simply walk onto your farm and within minutes have workable answers to your problem or provide an answer to your ‘what if’ question.

You will need to have consultants that can mine your data and combine your data with that of other farms to provide you with value-added recommendations.  They will need to be results oriented and always in search of new and better ways of doing things.

While mentioning highly qualified and progressive consultants, the Bullvine recommends to dairy owners that they make their consultants aware of a great upcoming conference for researchers, educators and consultants organized by the American Dairy Science Association ( and email:

Big Data Dairy Management
November 01 – 04, 2016
Oak Brock Resort & Conference Centre, Oak Brock, IL

The co-chairs for this conference are Jeffrey Bewley (U of Kentucky) and Christina Peterson-Wolfe (Virginia Tech). They are two extremely well-qualified researchers and dairy extension persons when it comes to on-farm data systems and electronic devices. ( Watch Jeffrey Bewley’s presentation at the recent DeLaval Robotics Conference – PRECISION DAIRY TOOLS: EXPLORE THE POTENTIAL – DR JEFF BEWLEY – ROBOTICS CONFERENCE #VMSPRO2016)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the future, dairy managers will have continual access to their mobile phone and data devices. It will be just like wearing a watch was in the past. DHI has long had a motto that basically says “Without Data You Cannot Manage.” In the future that motto could well become, “Without Progressive and Dynamic Data You Will Not Be Farming”.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

With a daily routine of cows, off-farm jobs, errands and kids, most dairy connected families find themselves dreaming about smooth running morning routines.  While the dream may not include time for feet up R&R, it is entirely possible to prevent the onset of C&C – or as I know it — chaos and craziness. Bathroom lineups, lost library books, lost keys, and lost homework are just the “last straw” on school mornings. It’s especially upsetting if any or all of these come after breakfast bedlam and the fear-filled observation as you step out the door “you can NOT wear your barn boots to school!”

As parents of three and having the privilege of grand-parenting eight more, hubby and I have learned a few things about getting mornings with school kids off to a great start.  After all, whether they’re headed to school or if we are visiting during school days, no one wants to waste valuable time playing hide and seek with pairs of socks or racing the clock to find that permission slip that must be signed today!

THE KEY: “Don’t Wait Until Morning.”

Four keywords will turn your dairy/school mornings around: Don’t Wait Until Morning.  Those dairy farmers with the best-running operations know that, if they wait until the cows are ready to be milked before they get the feed ready or the milking equipment cleaned, there will be far too much wasted time. Unreported illness (staff or bovine), missing or malfunctioning equipment can also mess up a barn morning.  We all work hard to make sure that mornings are great in the barn.  We can do it with school mornings too.

FIND YOUR CENTER: “Hang it.  Post it. Pack it.”

I have always been somewhat of a morning person.  I say somewhat because there are some who think my mornings start in the middle of the night.  Nevertheless, those are my most productive hours.  I don’t want them to be watered down because I become wrapped up in un-planned crisis management.  These days the early morning chores are different, but I still enjoy time in the morning to see everyone off on the right foot and, hopefully, with matching shoes.

I am always searching for new ways to do things better. Pinterest is my addiction. However, my seeking has also been especially blessed with great role models.  My daughter-in-love is one of mine. Last year she implemented three centers that have resulted in huge time savings in a house with three school children under ten.  One is the command center in the family room the other. The second is the control center by the front door.  The third is the lunch box center, which is a cupboard dedicated to kid’s lunchboxes in the kitchen. These three organized areas are indispensable to a smooth-running school morning.



With all the school papers, notes and notices that come into our homes, it is hard to imagine having them corralled in one area that is also attractive and functional.  But such is the case for my Maple grandchildren and their parents.  With three drawers for each of the three kids and three for the adults to share, all of the incoming paper has a place to go.  The four hanging boards are magnetic, attractive and labeled with the name of the child. Chalk painted magazine boxes hold school notices, and the front lets everyone know when library books are due. Event notices, play dates, and doctor appointments are posted here and clearly visible from across the room.






At the front door, there are child-height hooks for coats and book bags, buckets for hats, mitts, scarves, and gloves. This amazingly useful area also has cubbies for shoes and a drainage tray for wet boots or Crocs.  There are two extra large baskets which are perfect for whatever is necessary for the current after school sports activities or teams. Sunscreen and hand sanitizers are also stored, where else, but at hand. Once we identify everything that is needed for a quick morning exit, we make sure that it is stored in this easily accessible area.  No adventures in hide-n-seek.  No sending someone back upstairs, downstairs or to who-knows-where-for-who-knows what.






This is probably the smallest of the three centers, but the lunch center is one of the most important.  This very accessible child height (under the counter) cupboard has some of the key components that make lunch packing quick and easy. This is where the kid’s lunchboxes, thermoses, water bottles, snacks, reusable food boxes and cutlery are kept. Not only, does this make it easy for them to be involved in making lunches, it also dramatically cuts down crisscrossing of the kitchen in search of needed supplies. When the dishwasher is being emptied, everything lunch related and non-perishable finds its way to this cupboard.

My dairy nutritionist daughter also encourages taking lunch preparation into the refrigerator zone.  Since her children are slightly older, they are developing a system of washing, chopping and preparing fruit, veggies and sandwich makings for a few days’ worth of lunches.  Ideally, this happens on grocery day or on Sunday evening. Small containers inside larger ones make it look inviting, organized and easy to select from when the girls make their lunches. It takes up very little space in the refrigerator and again condenses storage for fast access.


It’s one thing to have things organized.  It’s even better if everyone, kids especially, knows how to make the system work.  In the same way that a good morning milking routine needs to be replicated at every other milking, a good school morning routine has to have a complimentary after-school routine.  With the centers we have been talking about, the kids come in from school … empty their backpacks (dishwasher, garbage, and lunch center), change their clothes, have a snack and play or have personal time for 20 to 30 minutes.  Homework is started and completed before supper.  School notes and homework for checking are placed on the shelf in the command center for Mom and Dad to check when they have time. While my grandchildren don’t live on farms, all three homes are dairy connected with parents working in marketing, semen sales or dairy nutrition. If they were on a farm, they might have chores to complete.  As it is, on many days there are after school activities.  Having an easily repeated routine working is as effective for kids in the house as it is for calves and cows.  The last thing every night is a quick tidy of the control center, moving everything needed to the command center, showers teeth brushing and one load of wash in the machine. This pretty much guarantees that everyone will make a clean exit in the morning.

  • BONUS TIP #1: “Get Dressed”
    Having clothes organized is in the DNA of the female Hunt family and spouses. At our Huntsdale house, the next day’s clothes hang on hooks (five outfits at a time).  Our American grandkids (Michigan and Wisconsin) have been raised with organized closets and drawers.  Here in Ontario, the three kids under ten can find their school and play clothes easily because they are using a labeled drawer system. For them, a night time shower or bath means that just a few minutes are needed in the morning for hair-combing and teeth brushing.
  • BONUS TIP #2: “Find Your Best ”
    Some dairy ladies and their helpers do as much school prep as they can in the afternoon before chores. Others choose night prep. Depending on chore time or dairy priorities, it could affect when the kids do homework … and where.  It’s amazing how much can be done in the barn office (feed alley or milkhouse). Been there.  Done that. The training lies in the commitment to doing the homework EVERY time. You wouldn’t put an untrained heifer into the milking routine.  Don’t expend an unprepared student to excel in the school system.
  • BONUS TIP #3: “Need help? Use technology!”
    Technology loves to help us get organized. You can synchronize Google calendars to your phones. If you can name the time management problem, you can probably find an app to solve it.  When everyone involved in child care, pickups and deliveries are working from the same calendar; it is much more likely to run smoothly.  I have prepared a basic grocery list that is always available for whoever finds themselves near the store on any given day. Like any system, though, you must use it, not lose it!
  • BONUS TIP #4: “Magical Mornings happen when the kids participate too!”
    Even the littlest helpers can keep the household running smoothly. Our Michigan girls have daily chores, and the Maple Loves are very good at putting their laundry away (in the aforementioned labeled dresser drawers) and picking up toys. Everybody is good at setting the table. Things are getting exciting as the older ones are starting to try their hand at meal preparation.


A new school year is always exciting and promises to have nearly as many memorable events on the calendar as a well-managed dairy farm.  Starting each day in a way that builds confidence and reduces anxiety is the goal. Everyone here at The Bullvine wishes you the best school year ever as you find your best way to earn your dairy morning Ph.D.: “Post it. Hang it. Do it!” Whether it’s school mornings or dairy mornings, success is all about being well-prepared!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

I will never forget the day that a former co-worker once told me that “farmers will never buy into laptops and personal computers!” That co-worker is now retired! I call myself re-fired! At that time, fifteen years ago, I was a crusader for saving time and money for our national company by making better use of available technology such as laptops, conference calls, and email instead of flying boards of directors everywhere, the laborious taking of minutes and monthly, instead of daily, updates. For me, as the Information Director, everything moved too slowly. Today we have access to devices and platforms that weren’t even imagined then. And, in my opinion, as far as time management goes, traditional methods are as outdated as the grandfather clock that chimes the hours at Huntsdale!

Goodbye offices. Hello, telecommuting!

Traditional time management teaches us to “start with a list of things you want to accomplish today!” In 2016, once you have checked Facebook and email, that list is already unrealistic and woefully behind.

Traditional time management also teaches us to “Set Priorities: 1, 2, 3, etc.” I can’t tell you the number of discussions we have about prioritizing. It seems that everything is “high priority” and “urgent.” I am genetically opposed to crisis management. Well-managed time is not driven by the current crisis. It prevents them!

Traditional time management teaches us to “close the door” to prevent being distracted. Closed door or not, our brains are spinning with incoming lures from the internet, cell phones, iPads, and pagers. On dairy farms and ag businesses, the concept of a schedule is already three hours behind before 8 o’clock in the morning.

Distraction From Work? OR Distraction By Work?

The problem is not that we are getting distracted away from the task at hand. The problem is that we are being distracted by other work continually presenting itself. How many times have you started to complete an important task on your daily priority list, only to be lured away by incoming emails, service providers driving in the lane or Mother Nature putting a special spin on the simple logistics of feeding, raising and moving cattle? Today’s dairy managers are so overwhelmed by incoming information; they spend much of their time “fielding” incoming issues. They end up operating without a big picture look at their total responsibilities. Work is coming at them from half a dozen sources. Interruptions seem non-stop. It feels like there is no time for anything let alone for managing time itself.

Techniques we Learned in the Past Are Failing Us

Look around your office. Are there too many sticky notes beginning to curl up at the corners? Are the paper lists landing in an ever-growing pile of printouts? Does it happen that flagged emails quickly fall below the scroll and get buried? When was the last time you had a day where you didn’t feel you were in a state of constant distraction and multi-tasking?

Are you Busy or are You Productive?

A study out of the University of Illinois (Disruption and Recover of Computing Tasks) concluded that ” More than a quarter of the time someone switches tasks, it’s two hours or more before they resume what they were doing.” (Source: Time Management Doesn’t Work) I don’t know of any statistical analysis of farm routines that compares the effect of multi-tasking, but common sense confirms that if you are always managing distractions, you are consistently reactive instead of proactive. This means that you could be missing the financial benefits of moving your business forward.

The truth is, we have to work differently now.

Effectiveness is the measure of time management success. Employees need to be trained to improve their productivity skills and overcome the challenges of modern day problems.

There are three critical components required in order to build effectiveness:

  1. Manage role priorities rather than task priorities.
  2. Manage attention rather than managing time.
  3. Set up a comprehensive workflow management system for staff.

If employees use these three steps, they won’t spend their time being distracted by incoming issues. Priorities will arise only from those things that are priorities for their assigned role. They gain clarity and focus when they manage their attention.

Dairy Managers Must Align Roles and Goals

One of the hardest habits to overcome is “being busy”. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that your day has been full. However, just as working late doesn’t mean you are working efficiently. A busy day does not mean that you have dealt effectively with your dairy priorities.

If you find yourself balking at taking the time to work out the goals of your dairy farm, then time management will never be a useful tool for you and your staff. Managers and employees need to be very clear on what is expected of each position on the farm. When employees know how to focus on their primary job roles, it is easier to filter out the irrelevant noise and take effective action. For example, when a vet/nutritionist/feed salesperson arrives unannounced at the farm, it should be clear how this interruption is to be handled and by whom. Hubby reminded me of a sign that was posted on a farm: “We shoot every third unannounced visitor and the second unannounced person just left!”

If these distractions and others are handled on a first come first served basis, there will never be enough time to raise the effectiveness in any area to the next level.

Little Things Make a Big Difference

For example, as a dairy manager, how often do you feel that you are spending too much time working at the dairy farm rather than working for the dairy farm.

A renewed focus on clearly defining the role of the dairy manager, calf manager or milking manager can reduce the temptation to spend too much time on email and other day-to-day minutiae or interruptions.

Do You Go with the Flow or Do You Control the Flow?

There are many unique situations that arise every day on dairy farms. These irregularities force changes in order to accommodate weather, planting season, harvesting … equipment challenges and animal sickness. And those are just a few. This is where communication is crucial. Everyone needs to be aware of how their role changes during seasons of added activity or high stress. The temptation is just to put your head down and do whatever it takes to get through everything. Too many of us have been raised to accept that if it means multitasking…so be it. If the days are long and strenuous…so be it. If everything doesn’t get done to the highest standard…so be it. At the end of the season – or a particular stress — the hope is that everything has turned out all right. The question I have each time relates to the fact that, although it’s unusual, the stress does return. Perhaps at some point, it becomes time to plan ahead. We want change, but we are not committed to changing anything. The planning — in 2016—needs to move beyond sticky notes left in the milkhouse … quick notations on a calendar or something you scribbled on the back of the seed delivery invoice.

Measured Success

The modern dairy form doesn’t survive by having the longest list of jobs that got done. Success turns on the interaction between feed production, animal care, nutrition and financial management. The old fashioned “Get a whole lot done!” must evolve into “Get it done right!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The true measure of time management is its effectiveness. It isn’t easy to be productive and efficient on dairy farms that are overloaded with information and fighting for survival alongside fast changing technology, genetics, and economic pressures. When the right work is done right by using the right resources, the results are intentional, measurable and financially and personally rewarding.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Is there an Ideal Calving Interval (C.I.)?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

A month ago I was challenged by my Facebook friend, Ian Crosbie, a keen dairy person from Benbie Holsteins, Saskatchewan Canada, with the question “Is there or should there be an ideal calving interval?”.

Well, I must admit that on first thought I would have quickly replied to Ian saying “Of course it is 12-13 months just like we have all been taught in agricultural school.”

But on second thought I question if there should be such a universal statement.

As it is beyond me to have the complete answer to the question I will bring forward some thoughts on the subject so breeders themselves can determine what calving interval best suits their dairy farming situation.

What Got Us to Wanting a 12-13 Month Calving Interval

Although not an all-inclusive list, here some factors that initially lead to 12-13 months being the recommended answer:

  • Milk cows were originally dual purpose cows, so they needed to not only produce milk but also calve on a regular, timely basis to provide replacements and beef animals.
  • In order to best utilize the regional forages and minimize the amount of forage that must be stored for Northern European winters, the dual purpose dairy cows were calved for the spring grasses, a cheap feed time. And they were dried off in winter time to minimize stored winter forage requirements.
  • Cows that did not conceive to calve the next spring were sent to slaughter in the fall and thereby their genetic impact on the breeding herd was terminated.
  • Very few cows, not in calf, could milk all winter and then increase production again when they were given spring grasses.
  • Cows produced 4,000 – 6,000 pounds in 200 to 250 days and bulls were run with the milking herd, so heat detection and timing of breeding were not issues.
  • Often milk processors paid a premium for summer milk so they could make their cheese and butter that were stored and sold in the winter when store prices were higher.

All these factors led to the cows calving in every spring being preferred.

Thoughts to Consider When Developing a Herd C.I. Plan

Through selection, feeding changes and husbandry changes dairy cattle and dairy farming has undergone significant changes. Here are factors to consider going forward:

  • USDA predicts that by 2025 confinement fed and housed cows will produce 33% more than they do today. Mature cows are predicted to produce 30,000+ pounds in 305 days.
  • In the future breeders will breed, feed and manage for daily and lifetime income over fed cost in addition to production of milk, fat, and protein yields.
  • Calving will always be the most stressful time for dairy animals
  • Ongoing research continues to show that 55 – 60 days is the ideal dry period
  • Technology will continue to replace labor on dairy farms so there will be less and less time to manage cows with problems or in times of stress.
  • Breeders will continue their current moves to breed and feed their herds for animals that carry more body condition (higher BCS) during the first 100 – 150 days of lactation.
  • Age at first calving will decrease to 18 – 20 months of age. Young first lactation cows may need to be handled separately

Have a C.I. Plan

Having a plan is always superior to taking what happens. Some choices of possible plans follow:

Milk Production Herds

  • For Moderate Management & Moderate Net Returns Herd
    • Breed heifers using AI until 14 months of age then run a young bull with heifers
    • Have voluntary waiting period of 75 days for first calvers and 50 days for later lactation cows
    • Use AI for first services and run beef bulls with first calvers over 105 days in milk and cows over 90 days in milk. Sell the crossbred calves to provide a revenue stream.
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 12.5 – 13-month calving interval
  • For Top Managed and High Net Returns Herds
    • Breed heifers using AI until 13 months of age then run a young bull with heifers
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 150 days for first calvers and cows over 125 days in milk
    • Use AI for first three services and run high index bulls with females milking over 175 days
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 14-16 month calving interval
  • For Grazing Herds
    • Bred heifers using AI until 14 months of age then run a young bull with heifers
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 45-50 days for all milking females
    • Use AI for milking cows under 80 days in milk after than run a bull with milkers
    • Schedule for 70 % of the herd to calve about two weeks before spring grass and two weeks after pasturing starts
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 11.5 to 5-month calving interval
  • Buy Replacement for the Herds
    • Buy in all herd replacements as first calvers
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 75 days
    • Run a beef bull with all milkers. Sell calves for beef or beef herd replacements
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 12-13 month calving interval

Breeding Stock Herds

  • Show Herds
    • Breed heifers using AI starting at 13 months of age with some bred so they calve for the show season
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 75 – 85 days. Time some calvings for the show season
    • Flush or IVF some top heifers and cows
    • Market both live animals and embryos
    • Use sires the have high type indexes. Be aware that some top show sires are below average for fertility and productive life
    • Skinny cows will, on average, have longer calving intervals
    • Potential buyers are seldom interested in progeny of herd bulls
    • Calving interval will be as short as 12 months and as long as 24 months for animals flushed extensively
  • Top 1-5% Total Merit Herds
    • IVF top heifers starting at nine months of age. Breed top 50% of heifers to elite genomic sires.
    • IVF or flush top first lactation and only the elite older cows
    • Implant bottom 50% of heifers and bottom 80% of milking cows.
    • Market both live animals and embryos
    • Use only top 1-5% sires, genomic or daughter proven. Natural sires will not have a place in the program
    • There will be a wide variation in calving interval within the milking herd – majority of the time it will be 13-16 months
  • Herds Selling Some Breeding Stock
    • Breed heifers starting at 11-12 months aiming for calving at 21-24 months.
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 80 days for first lactation and 60 days for other cows
    • Sell surplus heifers and cows as herd replacements for other herds. There is not the profit in selling springing heifers that there once was. Fresh first calvers will be in There will be no demand for fresh older cows.
    • Use top 10% sires, genomic and/or daughter proven
    • Herd calving interval will range from 13-14 months

C.I. Mostly Management

C.I. encompasses all of management, genetics, nutrition and environment. But the key lies in management carrying out the plan.

On the genetic side sires below average for conception, daughter fertility, calving ease, daughter calving ease and, in the future, health traits should not be used in any herd. Any herd bulls used must be genomically tested in order to avoid any bull that will create calving problems.

Herd nutrition is important to fertility and calving interval, especially for heifers under one year of age and for females up to 150 days in milk.

At times breeders have been know to love cow families so much that they will tolerate delayed first calving and long calving intervals for family members. With raising replacements, the third largest dairy herd expense and every day beyond 60 days in dry pens costing $5 per day it is financially important that breeders not be soft on managing proactively for calving interval.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is not one answer to Is there an Ideal Calving Interval? Each breeder needs to decide for themselves. But make sure that the decision is made on an economic basis. Remember to include all lost revenue and costs incurred: days beyond 60 days dry; purchase of technology; labor; extra feed; and larger facilities.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

No matter where it happens, negativity leads to a breakdown in morale. The strange part is that it isn’t always easy to spot the negative person on your staff.  They could even appear to be positive and supportive but, over time, the underlying negative message they are sending out can do a tremendous amount of damage to your dairy!

On a day to day basis, these negative folks don’t generally make big mistakes that set themselves up as targets.  In fact, they’re usually good at their jobs and, therefore, don’t attract attention.  However, like a contagious disease, their negativity attacks the work and achievements of others and ultimately affects the bottom line of the entire dairy operation.

How Does Negativity Get Started?

Here are six ways that negativity infects a workplace: (1) complaining, (2) exaggerating problems (3) gossip (4) rumors (5) innuendo and (6) criticism. As you looked at that list, you probably recognized each of the negatives.  It is embarrassing to acknowledge that we all, at one time or another, have been guilty of using one or more of these ways of communicating at work. It’s true. Nobody’s perfect.  But it is also a fact that work life and success improves enormously when you strive to eliminate using any of these to negatively affect fellow workers.


The whole process of trying to improve obviously starts with the recognition that there are problems.  But there is a difference between trying to correct something and continually complaining about everything. Positive criticism turns on a willingness to be an active participant in finding the solution.  Negative staff merely voice a defeatist attitude and offer up unending complaints.


There will always be a full range of good and bad perceptions regarding the effectiveness of the day to day happenings on a 24/7 dairy.  It is particularly damaging if problems are reported as threats that are so exaggerated that it spreads concern and hasty or perhaps counter-productive decision-making. For example, it’s one thing to deal with a health problem in calves or heifers.  It’s another to incite panic through emphatic misrepresentation of details on the numbers affected or the ability to turn the situation around. Negative staff love to point fingers at co-workers who are “always screwing up” or “never” in control of their responsibilities.


By it’s very nature, gossip causes irreparable damage.  Although it is easily spread, the source of gossip is very difficult to pin down or verify.  The juicier the story, the more likely it may be accepted as true.  Once one employee is pitted against another, real damage can be the result of childish story-telling.


Sometimes the worst problems have no actual basis in fact.  The rumor mill spits out a suggestion and, in no time, it becomes accepted as fact. Unfortunately, perception is reality, regardless of whether it is truth or lies.


Rarely does a negative staff member have the courage of his or her convictions.  They proudly and loudly recognize what is wrong, but they don’t go to the source in a spirit of making things better.  Instead they are masters of innuendo.   They prefer to stay well below the radar so as not to draw attention to themselves and, by doing so, the problems are rarely recognized and become even less likely to be dealt with in a timely manner.


Teams rely on the respect given to bosses and supervisors, but a never-ending flow of criticism builds a momentum that eventually swamps even the best intentions. Many a good manager has had their authority and effectiveness undermined by negativity getting a grip on their staff.

Stop!  Look!  Listen! And Act!

  1. It’s already too late if the first sign you have of an bad employee attitude manifests itself in major disruption of your dairy
  2. Regularly check for employee actions and attitude that differ from the team as a whole so that you are aware if negativity is having an impact on your staff.
  3. The first step is to identify the actions of the negative staff member and make it clear to him or her that continuing these actions will not be tolerated and to emphasize how it could improve morale and productivity if they were to be positive.

Establish A Positive Policy

It is one thing to criticize negative behavior.  It is much better is to establish a policy for benchmarking appropriate behavior. One example of a policy statement could be something like this:

“Each staff member will demonstrate professional behavior that supports the entire team (insert the name of your dairy) and contributes to performance and productivity.”

Having such a policy in place is the beginning of establishing a good framework. The next step is day-to-day coaching and training that keeps the message getting through to the front lines. It isn’t like a missed step in a machine or feeding protocol.  Negativity is not as obvious as that and, therefore, can be difficult to bring out into the open.

It’s human nature to want to delay having a tough conversation with an employee who has a bad attitude. But that only makes things worse.

And since it’s going to be a tough conversation, it’s recommended that supervisors prepare for the discussion. After all, your goal is to turn a confrontation about negativity into positive communication.  Here are some suggestions.

  • Be specific. Don’t generalize. In the simplest terms, you would like to tell your employee. “You have a bad attitude.  It needs to change!” Even though that is accurate, it is also so general that it could have no effect. Instead, you need a specific example and recommendation. “Your criticism of your co-workers behind their backs is undermining the entire team. From now on, if you can’t offer support, please don’t say anything at all.”
  • Gather Examples. While it is important to have specific examples to illustrate the behavior, it is also important not to dump an entire load on the staff person. You don’t use the problem to cure the problem. The goal is clarity, not an accusation.
  • Expect to hear a defense. It is a sign of respect and positive intentions for the future to allow the negative staff person an opportunity to vent their side of the discussion. If the staffer were adept at accepting and handling criticism, they would probably not be the type to disperse negativity upon others. Furthermore, they could feel they are being judged, and they are, and it is human nature to want an opportunity to mount a defense.
  • Steer the conversation toward results that are good for everybody. Avoid accusation and encourage acceptance of the idea that the identified problem is something that “we need to change.” There can’t be a positive outcome of any kind if the entire responsibility for the behavior is put on the employee.
  • Don’t start a fight. It is all too easy to start off saying, “You have a bad attitude and everybody knows it.” Once those fighting words are out there, there is no turning back to a more constructive situation. Acknowledge your role in either continuing the negative behavior or in turning it into a win-win for everyone.
  • Little Words Can Make a BIG Difference. When we are faced with delivering criticism, we often lead with praise.  For example, “You are doing a good job in the milking parlor” and then we lower the boom with, “but you’re attitude with co-workers is causing a problem.” Not only have you reduced the effect of the praise, but you have also linked it to something negative.  It would be surprising if the employee thought or said, “You can never just give a pat on the back.  You always have to be critical!”
  • Substitute “And” for “But” and “However.” Before you water down your praise of an employee, consider a simple change. “You’re doing a pretty good job, and we need to talk about how to get you to show more respect for all of the dairy team.”
  • Don’t feel you have to fill in the Blanks None of us likes to be on either side of a difficult As the manager, you need to be prepared when gaps develop in the conversation.  Trying to fill every lull will not resolve the problem.  Let your staff person consider and respond, as he or she is able. Sometimes remaining silent is the most effective way for proper consideration to be given to the problem.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Although it takes a combination of teacher, counselor, and sheriff to manage negative people, there are some proven ways to deal with bad attitudes. Letting things work themselves out is NOT an option. Of that, you can be positive!!




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Great Dairy Employees Need Great Starts!

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Recently The Bullvine initiated some give and take with readers after our article, “From Cow Bossy to Dairy Super Boss” where we discussed the role of managers on well-run dairy operations.  We considered whom to hire, what to pay, how to train and other important issues that arise between dairy bosses and their employees. The ten points that were discussed all have a legitimate impact on dairy success but today we are going to rewind the process a little bit to consider the first day and how it is one of the most important moments in dairy staff relations. If you are building an effective dairy team, it is crucial to get off to a good start.

Great Dairies Are Full of Great Beginnings

We can all appreciate the importance of great beginnings when it applies to genetics, planting seasons and milk records. When we get it right, the effects are visible and measurable all the way to the bank.  Dairy staff is one area where we may experience the effects of poor beginnings without realizing exactly what caused the problem. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between a relationship that gets off to a good start and one that gets off to a bad one.

Day One on the Dairy

Assuming all the due diligence has been done, and you have hired a new dairy employee, it is important to get off to the best start possible.  Regardless of whether there has been a previous relationship, it makes good sense for both sides to be as well-prepared as possible.  Never assume that the myriad of details is “obvious” or “standard.”  It is a sign of respect, to give your new staff member every opportunity to succeed.

Write it Down

While your plans, including starting days and dates, may be very familiar to you, it is always a good idea to write the details down for new employees.  With equipment, buildings and animals to get familiar with, it could be a simple detail such as when to arrive, where to park and what to wear, that gets overlooked or misunderstood by the new person. Confirm all points discussed either by email or in writing.  You won’t regret starting off by making sure everything is clearly understood.  On the other hand, misunderstandings can result in all your careful recruiting, interviewing and negotiating being wiped out by frustrations which could lead to a rocky or terminated start.

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

Once again, you may think that everything on your operation is self-evident and easily understood, but an orientation tour not only gives new hires the chance to ask questions, it can also be an unpressured way to start building a good working relationship.  Now is the time to point out special safety considerations, medication storage or details regarding equipment operation.  If your operation is complicated in any of these areas, you can set your new staffer’s mind at ease by explaining plans for training as needed. Whether you have two employees or two hundred, don’t leave new employee orientation to chance.

A New Employee Checklist

Everyone has been a newbie at least once in their life, and so we can identify with the feelings of someone who is thrust into a new environment.  New dairy staff must be helped to settle in comfortably, otherwise they may fail to perform well.  Here are some basic considerations.

The Paper Work

  1. A written description of the job and its responsibilities.
  2. Contact information. A chart that shows how the new position relates to staff organization.
  3. All of the necessary administration and benefits forms.
  4. A handbook, if there is one, for any of the job responsibilities.

The People Parts

  1. Provide an opportunity to meet coworkers, specifically those he or she will work closely with.
  2. You could provide a “buddy” or mentor for the new hire so that they have someone they can go to for more information or help.
  3. Set up opportunities for ongoing orientation and training. Who will provide it?  When? And Where?

Knowing The LITTLE Details Makes a BIG Difference

  1. Where does staff park?
  2. What should I wear?
  3. To whom should I report?
  4. What is the work schedule? Where is it posted?
  5. Where are restrooms, telephones, and computers?
  6. What should be said when answering the phone?
  7. What food, snacks or beverages are provided? Should I bring my lunch?
  8. Is the farm tobacco or smoke-free?
  9. What is the policy regarding use of cell phones or personal computers?
  10. What record keeping is required regarding animal treatment?
  11. What record keeping is required regarding work hours?
  12. What job supervision and review are scheduled?
  13. What opportunity does the employee have to give feedback?

If you take care of these details, the likelihood of a smooth start for the new employee will be increased. Even though you probably won’t micromanage each day’s activities, it is important to make sure that the employee knows that you are available to answer concerns.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We know that employee turnover is expensive and that it is important to retain valuable employees. Is your first-day strategy achieving the desired results? Is it decreasing turnover? The goal is that everyone joining your dairy staff overcomes their fears, fits into the workforce and becomes a productive employee. This is the foundation that successful dairies are built upon.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

High-quality, consistent milk replacer is not just a nice-to-have option it is a must-have priority! Some variables such as expression of genetics won’t be seen until further into the future but feeding high-quality milk replacer each and every day is the first step in guaranteeing a healthy start for each and every calf.

Consistency is the challenge. Every step in the process can be undone if consistency is not achieved.  Consistency of mixing the powdered product.  Consistency of the volume of water.  Consistent temperature.  Variation in any of these, can have a detrimental effect on the calf’s digestives system and, therefore, on its health and vigor.

How Hard Can It Be To Follow The Manufacturer’s Instructions?

Because of the simple needs of the newborn calf, we tend to think that meeting those needs with bottled milk replacer is simple too. Not so.  Each manufacturer produces a variety of formulations, and each formulation has specific instructions for mixing temperature, amount of powder and volume of water. It is up to the calf-caregiver to follow the unique mixing requirements that are necessary to achieve the best quality reconstituted product. Close is not good enough.  Creative variations are not okay.  Each step of the milk replacer preparation and delivery must be 100% accurate.

Let’s Start With Mixing Temperature

Milk replacer cannot be hot one time and cold the next. In order to produce the desired healthy results, the replacer must be prepared at the correct temperature.  Recommendations can vary from as low as 110° and as high as 150°. Too cold and the mix may be incomplete or have an uneven dispersion of particles.  Too hot and there will be uneven mixing of the fat. Also, at high temperatures, denaturing of whey protein could affect the digestibility of the product.

How Much Water?  How Much Powder?  Get it RIGHT.

We need to remember that milk replacer is not a treat that improves in flavor or increases in value if it is mixed to a thicker or thinner consistency.  There is that word consistency again.  Here it refers to setting up and feeding perfectly mixed nutrients at every feeding. Beyond whether you and your calf feeding team get it right, there may be errors in the instructions themselves.

Here is an example “For example, let’s say your feeding program is set up for the dry matter in milk replacer at 12.5 percent. That delivers about one-half a pound of powder in two quarts of milk replacer. [125 g/liter delivers 500 grams in two liters]. Some instructions correctly tell you to mix the powder with some water and after blending add enough more water to arrive at the desired volume. This works well – you end up with about 12.5 percent solids. The incorrect directions tell you to add the powder to the final volume of water. For example, add 8 ounces of powder to 2 quarts of water. Instead of ending up with two quarts of 12.5 percent solids you get more than two quarts of an 11.6 percent mix [116g powder per liter rather than 125g. “Poor mixing at the simplest level results in clogged nipples but it also contributes to clostridial bloat.

How Many are Fed Each Time?

When preparing milk replacer, the number of calves that will consume the mix has an effect too.  If it is only being fed to one calf, the difference in concentration doesn’t matter as much because the calf will drink the entire batch. However, as soon as the mixture is fed by volume to two our more, any inconsistencies will be magnified. If more than one person is mixing the replacer — and doing it incorrectly — the calves will suffer from the inconsistent feeding.

Get A Recipe!  Get It Right!

  • Write it down.
    Working from a written recipe is straightforward and easy. Depending on your situation, prepare the basic recipe and note variations based on the number of calves the mix will be fed to. For so many calves, use so much powder and add water to “x” level. Well-organized prep areas use a dry erase board for recording information. Mark down after each feeding the number of calves fed and the mixing amounts for the next feeding.  Note the number of calves that need special attention because they didn’t drink well or were lethargic. Any symptoms should be noted. For further information, check this article on other issues to watch for (Read more: Good Looking Managers Raise Healthier Calves)
  • Stop estimating! Start Calibrating!
    Use precision tools if you are committed to achieving precision results. There are four specific measuring methods that you need to incorporate into your mixing routine: scales, calibrated containers, a calibrated measuring stick and a thermometer.
    There is no better way to measure milk replacer powder than with a scale. Get a gram scale. It will be the best money (approx. $38) that you will ever spend. Using a scale is more accurate than estimating powder by volume which happens when using a cup or spoon.

    1. Hang pail on the scale.
    2. Scoop in powder.
    3. Stop when the needle hits the right place.
    4. Dump contents of pail into water.
  • Customize your calibration:
    Each operation has specific containers that are used for calf feeding. Taking the time to mark accurate calibrations on each tank or pail, will significantly improve the accuracy of milk replacer delivery. It might be worthwhile to calibrate bottles, for accurate records of any replacer that isn’t consumed. Take the time to fill each one with water in graduated known quantities. Clearly, mark the container at each step.
  • Make a calibrated measuring stick for mixing.
    Over time and with the daily repetition that is part of feeding milk replacer to calves, a large repository of suggestions, hints, tips and ideas is available from those who have refined their methods to what is most effective. Taking the time to research ideas and adapt them to your setup is another way to give your calves the best start.  Here are some steps for calibrating a measuring stick.

    1. Select a piece of white 5-inch PVC approximately 1 foot longer than the pail is tall
    2. Glue a cap on each end of the
    3. In preparation for marking, use a file to roughen the PVC surface slightly
    4. Use an ear-tag pen to make a permanent black line.
    5. Put the stick into the pail.
    6. Add water in graduated known steps, marking the pipe at each step (i.e. 2-gallon steps).
    7. Do this for each size of pail: 20-gallon; 5-gallon etc.
    8. Using the calibrated stick, you can further adjust your milking quantities as needed without resorting to guessing.
    9. Always wash the stick after each use.
  • A Temperature Guess Could Result In A Mess
    A guess could result in a mess. Using experience or guesstimating temperatures is another way to mix up your calf milk replacer.  The Ideal situation would be having a temperature gauge on your mixer faucet.  Alternatively, if you use a garden hose or a milker hose for transferring water, try inserting a rapid-read thermometer into the hose. Starting with the right temperature is the beginning. Don’t resort to using your hands to determine temperature. Your perception is notoriously inaccurate, especially in cold weather. Guessing is almost guaranteed not to get you to the warmth that is recommended by your manufacturer.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Calibrate don’t estimate. We have talked about many things that will make feeding calf replacer more effective.  It may not make your work go any easier or faster.  But that isn’t the goal with calf raising. The goal is to provide consistent, accurate feedings that will allow the calf to develop to its highest potential.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Get Ready for I-Saw-What-You-Did Camera

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

There was a funny show which was known for the catch-phrase, “Smile! You’re on candid camera!” People were put in difficult or strange situations, and we were vicariously shocked, amazed or amused to see how they handled it.  It was weird to discover they were being watched.  Today we are watched all the time….and…it’s not so funny. Far from inspiring laughter, being watched by a hidden camera strikes fear into most of us.

The days of the candid camera show have lost the innocence of peeking into someone’s life without intent to cause anything more than momentary embarrassment and then the full revelation of the fun.  Today – surveillance regardless of who is doing it is much more serious in intent and consequences.  Next time you’re working with animals in the field or the milking parlor, look around and ask yourself, “Am I being watched? Or maybe just paranoid?”

Caught in the ACT or Above Reproach?

Setting out to go undercover on a dairy operation may have one of two outcomes: shame or fame. Shame if your operation is captured showing inhumane treatment of dairy cattle.  Credibility for whoever claims responsibility for exposing the bad behavior. There is only one thing you can do if you are the subject of an expose. You must stand up to full disclosure and extend an invitation to media and the general public to tour your facilities.  Nothing short of a full public relations campaign will minimize the damage.

Spy Gate Exposes Sneaky-Dirty
Farm Gate Exposes Squeaky-clean

There is a fine line between watching to see that everything is being done properly and watching to expose or threaten.  Somewhere in between is the sincere intention to use what is seen to make the dairy operation function better. With the instant ability to take and transmit pictures, anyone in the barn can find themselves on that spectrum.  As a dairy manager, it is up to you to clearly communicate the policies you have regarding cell phones.  You can prohibit them entirely, or you can communicate how they are to be used and assign trusted employees to help enforce the rules.

Sneak attacks can be financially costly and emotionally damaging due to the attack on the operation’s reputation.

It goes without saying that if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you won’t have to worry about exposure.  However, if that were entirely true, then there would be no reason to fear exploitation by an undercover animal rights activist. Establish the guidelines. Make sure they are posted.  Provide ongoing training.  Make sure you are aware of how well your planned steps are being followed.  It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of something going wrong, but, if it does, you are more likely to have been the victim of photos or video taken out of context. The tone you want to set on your dairy operation is one that ensures that staff comes to you first, whenever or wherever there are concerns about animal health and treatment.

Hiring Squad or Firing Squad?

Dairy operations vary in size.  Certainly, when very large operations who are hiring hundreds of people and turning them over relatively quickly, it is much harder to be sure that an anti-agriculture activist hasn’t infiltrated your dairy. Even smaller producers, could unknowingly hire an animal rights activist. Everything turns on what you are confident of and how well you know who is on your farm. Modern dairy managing must do everything to make sure they know each new hire.  It takes a lot less time to do the work before problems happen. That starts with searching references. Do it 100% of the time.  Then make sure you provide effect employee training. Do it 100% of the time. If there are infractions.  Fire the person responsible.  Accept responsibility for proper hiring. Take responsibility for necessary firing. Do the first one well and it will be less necessary to resort to the latter.

On Your Own or Backed by a Team?

What if the worst case scenario does happen and you are in the negative spotlight of public scrutiny? This is when you turn to your crisis team. It is not an admission of guilty practices to have such a team in place that includes a variety of professionals.  Call on your human resources person and have speedy access to your attorney and veterinarian as well. Set up protocol that includes a spokesperson with media training and someone prepared to handle social media and press inquiries. It makes sense to have a crisis response team in place to handle a variety of situations which could include not only undercover videos but also food safety issues and manure spills and other events that could impact animal and public safety.

Accusation or Preparation?

It takes a certain amount of time to develop a communications policy but, once it is in place, you won’t face the daunting task of responding under pressure to a crisis. It is all too easy to speak too hastily or emotionally when under the probing eye of the media. Make sure you have a plan in place for who will be handling media questions and who will be responding on social media. Brainstorm each type of issue and establish what is best for your operation and determine who will provide one official statement, rather than bits and pieces from several employees speaking, posting or updating.

Caretakers and Muckrakers

Both sides are looking for proof.  Make sure your records are detailed and up-to-date. When muckrakers are dragging your name through the mud, you have to have evidence on your side of good animal care. Here is a short list of written records you can keep:

  1. Employee training
  2. Animal welfare audits by licensed evaluators
  3. Animal care licenses, certificates, and awards
  4. Voluntary participation in livestock animal welfare programs

All of these demonstrate your commitment to good animal care practices.

Prospects vs. Suspects

In preparing for the worst case scenario, you should consider the possibility of legal action. Here again, you need to have resources that can determine if there are legal claims to be raised against an undercover videographer or the organization which he or she is affiliated with.

Claims may include fraud, perjury, trespass, broken contracts, and conspiracy. Understanding what is viable is something to be discussed with an attorney before deciding whether or not to pursue such legal claims.  

Don’t Close Down Instead Open UP

The public can’t be blamed if they are taken in by negative videos.  If that is all they are seeing, then that is all they have to make their decisions on. More and more operations, large and small, are taking the opportunity of inviting the general public and reports to the operation to have a look for themselves.  Doing this regularly is a proactive step in establishing credibility that can withstand activist attack.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Although it is frustrating to feel that you must be on the defensive against activist attack, it is reassuring to know that by taking the steps we have discussed, you are taking positive action for the protection of your animals, your business, and public safety.

Smile!  It’s Okay!! Your Dairy is Camera READY!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management


Thursday, June 30th, 2016

We all know what it’s like to be Bossy.  You give your “bossy” orders, usually using a very loud voice and then hope that the job will get done.  Super Bosses, on the other hand, run their dairy operations without resorting to being the loudest in the room … and amazingly… everything runs smoothly, and when there are problems, they are handled efficiently. As with any other worthwhile achievement, it takes time. Long before you can build a super-dairy you have to channel your inner super boss and get rid of your cow bossy side.

In the offices of The Bullvine, we have combined experiences of working with eighteen different bosses and all three of us have been “the” boss ourselves.   The challenge we share with dairy teams everywhere is knowing the difference between being bossy and being a super boss. Let’s compare and contrast the differences between the two, when applied to running a dairy operation.

  1. COW BOSSY Hires a CLONE.
    A SUPER BOSS Hires the MISSING piece.
    It goes without saying that a Super Boss must have employees.  In choosing employees, Super Bosses do two things especially well. First off they look to hire people who are good at the things they themselves are weak at.  You don’t need a team that has only one major matching strength.  An exceptional team covers all the abilities the job requires and each one is exceptional in bridging knowledge or experience gaps that you or others don’t
  2. COW BOSSY Saves money with LOW salaries and CUTTING corners
    A SUPER BOSS is Not stingy in PAYING for value and SPENDING to make money.
    Super Bosses recognize the importance of paying top dollar for top talent. Matching the right compensation with the right employee is a Super Boss skill. When your staff knows that you recognize their abilities and appreciate them, you are laying the foundation for an efficient People who feel valued are committed to doing their best on the job. Super Bosses are not stingy when it comes to recognizing consistent and valued contributions. Your team is the first line that suppliers, consultants and clients meet.  You want a team that works well and gives a good impression even when you’re not there.
  3. COW BOSSY Sees no REASON to learn more.
    A SUPER BOSS Never STOPS Learning
    As leaders in an industry that is constantly changing and evolving, dairy super bosses know that they can never stop learning and finding better ways to run their operations.  A super boss is not afraid to try something new, even if their current methods are working. Super bosses are comfortable with continually striving to improve. A successful dairy is never finished evolving.  Super Dairy Bosses have an outstanding ability to know what’s important and how to use new learning and training to keep everyone responding effectively to present and future challenges
  4. COW BOSSY Shrouds Success in MYSTERY
    A SUPER BOSS sets the EXAMPLE for HIGH achievement
    The goal of a Super Boss is to build confidence. Bossy bosses more often find their security when their employees are never exactly sure where the benchmark is set on any given day beyond the fact that the staff is probably falling below expectations. Bossy leaders live by the mantra, “It’s my way or the highway!” On the other hand, Super Bosses instill staff with the tools, instructions and intense feedback that keeps them striving to do better, not only for themselves but the dairy. The dairy team doesn’t fear retribution for failure because they are led by the example of the Super Boss. Super Boss teams often achieve results that were thought to be impossible.
    Even though we want to succeed, there is always the temptation to settle for “good enough”.  It’s easier to wear a boss hat if you don’t have to guide your team through tough changes.  Bossy leaders like the title of Boss and protect themselves from situations that acknowledge that problems exist.  They actually fight against anything that could make them look bad. When problems arise, they respond defensively and try to prove that everything is okay. Rather than work through the difficulty, they put up DETOUR signs.  Super Bosses are all about the movement of the dairy operation from good to better to best. They know that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge to be broken, so they use problems as signposts to building a better dairy.  Success comes from knowing the operation so well that there is always room for improvement. Even if the journey hits a few rough patches, they are willing to keep going.
    A SUPER BOSS FACES the future

    Crisis management, while it may be good for an adrenaline rush, is not the way to manage a successful dairy. Letting nature take its course decreases the need for planning but drastically increases the likelihood of problems.  A Super Boss plans for future. Some bosses wear their ability to manage a crisis as a badge of honor never realizing that if they had planned ahead, they may have avoided the crisis altogether. If you’re always running to catch-up, you never get far enough ahead of the situation to feel a sense of calmness as you face the future. Why would anyone allow rising young heifer mortality rates to continue before making changes to nutrition program? Why wait until your dairy is in the red to implement financially responsible changes?  As the world leaps ahead in technology are you moving with it? Are you training yourself and your employees to be mainstream or struggling to keep your head above water? Do you and the staff or employees share a vision for the future?  Is there a clear path? It takes training, commitment, planning and daily adjustments to build a super dairy.
    SUPER BOSSES Grant access to their dairy experts, mentors and peers/advisors
    It is one of the curiosities of life that cow bossies who manage by intimidation are themselves frightened by the successes of their employees. Rather than seeing the benefits for the dairy, they may feel threatened and start staking out their territory in an effort to keep employees in their place.  Employees who interact with consultants or dairy peers tend to make cow bossy bosses feel threatened or territorial. On the other hand, Super Bosses make the introductions and encourage employees to expand their knowledge and skills through interacting with those who are proficient or even experts in their fields.  Super Bosses see the industry as a vast resource for improvement. They take every opportunity to personally introduce their team to individuals who can make a positive impact on their knowledge and dairy skills. They are not afraid of being surpassed or cut out. They know that there is always more room at the top.  That is the way Super-Bosses build Super-Dairies.

    The difference between being bossy and being a Super Boss has a lot to do with where you put your energy.  Bossy spends most of their energy giving orders and trying to keep their employees in the box they have assigned to them.  Super bosses, in contrast, spend their time and energy finding the right people. They look for creativity and confidence in finding new ways to handle problems and excel at their work. They feel it is natural that talented people will continue to rise to the top.  Career changes are not seen as threatening but as a confirmation that skills and training are achieving the right results. Employees who rise to a new position are not cut off or deemed threatening.  The same interest that got them their promotion is seen as a resource to be maintained and perhaps drawn from in the future. The bossy boss is threatened by peers rising to their level.  Super bosses find it to be a natural and rewarding outcome of selecting and nurturing talented leaders.
  9. COW Bossy is Hands OFF.
    SUPER BOSS IS Hands-on
    The Bossy dairy manager is distant from the daily grind of 24/7 problem solving.  They manage from crisis to crisis.  A dairy super boss doesn’t fear what’s going to go wrong because they are working and communicating with staff to a level that keeps all parties engaged. While Bossy bosses point out the shortcomings when something misses the mark, Super Bosses don’t need to be brought up to speed. They have the people and processes in place that they not only know how things are going but can work alongside the team as needed.


It is hard to be a boss.  Many people don’t want to have one.  Having said that, all of us want to follow a good leader, and we know that dairy operations succeed or fail based on the quality of the people in charge. Super Bosses stop thinking about what their people could do for them and started thinking about what they could do to help their people succeed.  Inspire. Teach. Remove obstacles. Be human. If you cultivate these characteristics, you’ll become the Super Dairy Boss that your people will remember for the rest of their careers.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Modern homes and workplaces are mostly air-conditioned and so working humans are quite literally not getting so hot and bothered over the stresses brought on by the highest seasonal temperatures.  Having said that, on dairy operations, there are still many opportunities to join the animals we care for in panting and sweating and sometimes getting seriously ill due to rising temperatures. Today we are going to look at some Keep It Simple ways that we can deal with heat stress on the modern dairy operation.  Are you still using the same heat stress strategies that were used by the generation ahead of you?  If so, you may not only be closer to losing your cool but, also, closer to losing your cattle too! Keeping it Simple DOES NOT mean Keeping it the Same!

When it comes to heat stress every degree adds up. The following ideas could provide you with 12 degrees of separation from ineffective methods of dairy heat stress management!

  1. HEAT STRESS: Ignoring Heat Stress COULD BE FATAL
    First off you must accept that there isn’t a choice when it comes to dealing with heat stress. You must keep your cows cool.  Nothing gets done without them. Every year heat stress accounts for losses to the tune of US$1.7 billion. One very serious and costly consequence is lowered reproduction. (Read more: BEAT THE HEAT – DAIRY CATTLE BREEDING AND MILK PRODUCTION CHALLENGES CAUSED BY HEAT STRESS and 10 WAYS COOL CALVES BEAT THE HEAT) When temperatures rise, so should your skill in managing the impact on your dairy herd. Some management priorities are optional but ignoring heat stress could be fatal.
    It is easy to recognize as you walk past panting cows that, not only are they picking up heat from the overheated environment, but they are also generating a substantial amount of heat themselves.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Although heat happens everywhere, you may think that, if you’re not in a hot spot, heat stress won’t affect your operation.  Granted some, like California, have severe stress especially during exceptionally high temp days but, to some extent, cattle have adapted to what is the norm in these locations.  Stress occurs in cattle when they have sudden changes in temperature. Recently we had three days of normal (aka comfortable) weather that was followed by a 10-degree spike. Dairy cows are forced to adapt to these sudden changes, regardless of location, and that makes them candidates for heat stress.  Up and down are BOTH stressors. Remember when you got sun stroke at the family reunion?  How long did it take you to get back to your normal self?
    It’s always tempting to use what works on us to solve problems faced by our cattle. That could lead you to suppose that shaded structures and wooded groves are two of the best measures you need to put in place to combat summer cattle heat stress. Your reasoning concludes that summer milk gets made in the shade – so provide lots of shade. Basically, money grows on (shady) trees. Unfortunately, panting, increased water intake and decreased feed intake are the all too familiar visible signs of heat stress that even dairy cattle in shady conditions experience. As well as the obvious visible signs there are invisible signs of heat stress that are also being expressed through rumen acidosis, decreased reproductive performance and increased susceptibility to metabolic diseases.
    Responsible managers can’t stop with cooling interventions such as shade, fans and sprinklers. How are they working for you?  Do you still have substantial decreases in performance? Have you decreased feed intake to lower the heat generated by rumination?  No doubt, it is frustrating. You may think you’re winning that battle but you are losing the production war at the same time.  Decreased feed intake means lost milk.  Increased feed intake means poor performance due to heat stress.  It’s a hot mess no matter how you look at it.
  5. HEAT STRESS: COLD WATER CHILL is Just a DROP in the BUCKET that doesn’t LAST
    Effectively changing the hot mass of a dairy cow’s rumen to a cooler state is easier said than done.  Using human experience, we want to transfer our success with drinking chilled beverages to our overheated cattle. Studies have been undertaken to determine if chilled water could be a solution for heat-stressed animals.  Unfortunately, the results conclude that chilled water is only about 32% effective in lowering body temperature.  Furthermore, the cooling effect only last two hours or less.  This is not enough to keep cows’ body temperatures from rising above the critical temperature of thermoneutrality.  The thermo-neutral zone of dairy cows ranges from just above zero to 22ºC. Above this critical temperature (combined with humidity) cows begin to alter their basal metabolism and metabolic rate. Nevertheless, chilled water may remain as a part of your larger plan or may be used as an incentive for cows to enter the milking parlor.
  6. HEAT STRESS: A Cold Fact that Brings Hope to Heat Stress.
    As mentioned earlier (3), reducing the thermoregulation response by decreasing digestion also decreases milk production. That’s the bad news. If we are going to get a serious handle on managing heat stress, we have to get ourselves out of this vicious cycle. The good news is that recent findings from heat stress studies on dairy cow performance have shown that reduction in feed intake plays a much smaller role than previously thought. Smaller role. Bigger hope.
    The physiology underlying heat stress and abatement methods has been studied for decades. Scientists at Iowa State have run trials that concluded that, “reduction in feed intake accounts for only 35-50% of the decrease in milk production”.  The other 45 to 50% is due to other causes. More research is needed to focus on these remaining issues which could optimise animal feeding and heat management during heat stress. It would be great if simply targeting the correct research was that easy.  However, if abatement strategies are somewhat successful, they will be skewing the results which will then underestimate the problems. Is heat stress under control or under-controlled?  Each dairy operation needs to answer that question with their own assessment of causes, effects and results.
    You never know where you will discover a new approach to bovine health management. Some suggestions we recognize and accept because of parallels in human health.  One such recent finding is the role of insulin in relation to dairy cattle susceptibility and rates of survival when exposed to heat stress.  Consult with your nutritionist for strategies to improve insulin activity in lactating cows. This could improve their ability to cope with heat stress.
    It has taken eight steps to get us to the guts of the matter, as was hinted at in the title of this article. Thank you for persisting this far.  It bodes well for your persistence in seeking heat stress solutions. Here we come to a discussion of another thermoregulation response, namely the shift of blood flow from internal organs to the skin surface.  You will be familiar with the term ‘leaky gut’ which describes the decrease in the health of the gut. When your dairy cows are also suffering from rumen acidosis, they experience a double setback at the gut level.

    1. When gut health is sub-optimal, it impairs the absorption of nutrients that are critical in the rumen for fermentation of feed.
    2. Continued research by Iowa State University also suggests that leaky gut in dairy cows could be a significant factor in other metabolic diseases, including ketosis.
    Dairy managers need to be prepared to take advantage of even the newest feeding technologies. Phytonutrients fall into this category.  They represent a promising natural solution for alleviating heat stress. As reported by Dr. Emma Wall and Jennifer Maurin, Pancosma, Switzerland in “Heat Stress a Refreshing New Take” a specific combination of phytomolecules consisting of capsicum oleoresin, cinnamaldehyde and eugenol (CCE*), does just that.

    1. Capsicum oleoresin has two significant benefits. It increases feeding frequency and does so without increasing total feed intake.  This results in a more consistently filled rumen. It also stabilises heat production and reduces the occurrence of rumen lesions.
    2. The combination of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol acts upon the lower gut. They decrease inflammation and reduce the local generation of heat. This aids in maintaining optimal gut structure and nutrient absorption, while improving the breakdown of ingested feed and enhancing the volatile acids profile and optimal protein metabolism.
      The combination of the two phytonutrients (CCE), has positive effects on both the rumen and lower gut. They prevent any additional heat from being generated and yet optimise digestion and nutrient absorption.
    Seeking ways to manage heat stress in dairy cattle is the same as any other proactive actions in managing a dairy.  Each advance improves outcomes and, at the same time, has the potential to inspire other improvements. Raising awareness through heat wave warnings issued by media channels has proven to result in heat-related mortality (LINK 28). This raises the possibility that adding animal heat advisories would have further positive impacts. More data from more stations could provide even bigger advantages. As data is added and improved, refining it to report exact in-barn heat stress, as opposed to only ambient or outdoor values, is the next level that needs to targeted.
  12. HEAT STRESS: Weather Predictions are NOT PROMISING
    There is an old saying that the only things that are certain are “Death and Taxes”.  Well, dairy farmers need to recognize that climate change is adding a third factor, “Death, Taxes and Heat Stress!”  Regardless of what your viewpoint is on climate change, there is no doubt that we will continue to see a rise in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as heat waves. This has the potential for a corresponding rise in the mortality rate of cattle and, therefore, by extension, a rise in economic losses associated with heat stress. We can’t outwait this problem in the hope that it will go away without action on our part.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Losing your cool means losing your cattle.  If you’re serious about making heat stress management a priority, seek out and put into place feeding rations that improve gut health. The goal here is to improve the performance of your dairy herd through solutions that decrease heat stress induced metabolic disease. Keep an open mind and you could be several degrees closer to effective heat stress management and that’s cool!

Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Join seven of the top DeLaval VMS producers from North America, Europe, Oceania and Latin America as they share and build knowledge around the DeLaval integrated robotic solution and best practices for robotic milking.

Comments (0)
Categories : Robotic Milking

As dairy producers, do we know how to describe the way we want the milking parlor to operate?  Certainly “efficient”, “clean” and “productive” come quickly to mind.  But do we consciously include “safety” on that priority list? When asked, we probably answer that we all want to work safely in the milking parlor! Certainly there are many great reasons we have for being in the dairy business, but facing danger every day is not one that we want to brag about. What are we willing to do to make 100% sure that the milking parlor is a safe place?

We have a problem.  Whose safety are we concerned about?

There are many dangerous places on a dairy farm. At the top of the list is the milking parlor. With its 24/7 schedule and the combination of cows, people and equipment all coming together in one place, it isn’t surprising that insurance companies report that every year dairy workers sustain serious injuries. Of course, that list can quickly expand to include the cattle that are in and out of this location on a daily basis. There is the potential to create a world of hurt for both cows and people. Of course, we must be ready to admit that “to err is human” and then, having said that, do everything possible to make sure that a safer milking parlor is an accepted responsibility.

NINE Milking Parlor Dangers and How to Avoid Them

If you have ever tried to sit down to create or recall all the possible safety issues that can occur in a milking parlor, you will have created a long list. Today at The Bullvine we are looking at ten main areas to consider when making your milking parlor a safe place for workers – both human and bovine.

  1. Heading for a Fall
    Milking parlor safety issues can begin outside of the milking parlor.  When cows are being moved to the parlor from pens or barns, they can walk through, mud, manure and other environmental situations that mean they are tracking wet materials into the parlor and thus contributing to potential safety issues. Dairy workers are also transmitters of materials that can cause slips.  Wear proper, well-maintained footwear that has good slip resistance features.
  2. Slips, Lapses, and Mistakes
    Once inside the parlor the very water that is used to keep the area clean can be a problem if it creates slippery surfaces. Someone will have the responsibility for keeping floors clean, but that must also include being alert to situations where there is too much water. Lack of traction on excessively smooth or wet surfaces is a hazard. Hopefully, original planning ensured that the flooring provides slip-resistant footing for both staff and livestock with a roughened surface on concrete ramps and floors in animal facilities. If this isn’t in place, the mistake in design must be corrected. Once that is in place, you must guard against water, milk or algal buildup on concrete surfaces.  Anything that spills from wet feed to manure can contribute to slippery surfaces and dangerous footing. Here again, proper footwear is a necessary part of milking parlor safety preparedness.
  3. There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trip — in the Milking Parlor
    Tripping can also be caused by different floor levels, broken concrete, and obstacles. Open drains or drainage holes should be covered with a firm, flush-fitting grate. Encourage everyone who works in the milking parlor to report damaged or pitted concrete so it can be repaired. Make sure to put in place a regular resurfacing or maintenance plan. Ensure that all open pits and drains have covers or guard rails. You may think that everyone is familiar with particular situations, but accidents are exacerbated by fatigue, multitasking and lack of communication. Have SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place and provide regular training updates in all aspects of equipment maintenance and safe operation. Raise standards wherever and whenever possible.
  4. Control the Hazards of Hoses
    As previously mentioned (#1), water can be a major contributor to safety hazards. Make sure hoses, pipes and taps are maintained at all times and that they are not causing ongoing drips or leaks. Schedule complete flushes and visual checkups for walking lanes. Provide storage for hoses or pressure washers so that the equipment itself does not become a tripping hazard.  Hoses and other obstacles should be secured to the walls and kept out of the way.  Hoses – when under pressure — can produce whiplash injuries. Injuries also can occur when hoses  The injury can be caused by the whipping hose itself, blowing debris or the release of high-pressure or high-temperature water. Always be alert for ways to reduce risks of injury.
  5. Safety Starts on the Drawing Board
    Good design makes safety a priority. We all know how badly designed steps can create a daily and very dangerous hazard. Lighting, surfaces, functional storage and equipment access and maintenance need to be built into the work area.  After that, one must acknowledge that safety issues can also arise from lack of skills or mechanical error. This also means planning for and writing down planned Safe milking parlors always have checklists in place to make sure there aren’t breakdowns in the following three areas: (1) communication, (2) training and (3) teamwork. The goal is to make sure that you have enough of all three.  If you skimp on any one of these standards, you will see a corresponding rise in unsafe situations.
  6. People Must Be Prepared to Work Safely­
    Some safety measures are as simple as being appropriately dressed for the work that is carried out in a milking parlor. Waterproof clothing, proper footwear and correct gloves for specific situations, all contribute to working safely. ­ Chemicals used for washing and cleaning equipment are potential hazards for staff, animals, and the milking parlor environment, and all precautions should be observed. Another potential hazard often associated with milking time is the accidental inoculation of veterinary drugs when administering routine shots, such as hormones in the Ovsynch program. Women should not administer shots in the Ovsynch program, especially if they are pregnant. Regularly scheduled training in all aspects of safety, including biosecurity, can be a definite asset in making sure that your milking parlor is safe, productive and risk-free
  7. Electrical Safety in the Milking Parlor
    It goes without saying that all electrical equipment must be kept in good repair. Updating lighting in older facilities increases visibility and should be adequate for both day and night operations. Seek experienced advice on avoiding electric shock hazards in the milking parlor. Always use an electrical system and equipment grounding that meet requirements of the national electric code. Use ground fault circuit interrupter with stock water heaters, power tools, and other equipment. Make sure fuse boxes, switches, and electrical outlets in wet areas are moisture proof. Avoid the risks which result from using homemade or temporary electrical solutions.
  8. Don’t Make Milking a Risky Business!
    Sometimes we become so familiar with the work we do in the milking parlor, that we become complacent. This can lead to inattentiveness and could cause safety lapses.  Even worse are lapses in good judgment.  The milking parlor is not the place to climb on or sit on gates or railings.  As much as a good working atmosphere is much to be desired, the milking parlor is not the place to participate in horse play.  What starts as harmless fun can too easily escalate into a dangerous situation. Don’t play the blame game. Hold all individuals responsible for working safely in the milk house.
  9. Animal Awareness
    Last but by no means least in working safely in the milking parlor is anything that involves how working safely with dairy cows. Throughout the milking process, staff must move cattle into, around and out of the milking parlor. There are many opportunities for accidents to occur. While experience will always improve animal handling, it is the responsibility of those who manage the milking parlor to make sure that there is sufficient training. There are typical behaviors that can be expected from bovines … such as kicking forward and out to the side.  Unfortunately, sick animals do not behave normally and care must be taking in working around an animal that is suffering from a condition such as mastitis or that is agitated because of unfamiliar procedures or caregivers.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As with the maintenance of any well-oiled machine, milking parlor safety protocols can always use a tune-up.  A milking parlor relies on many moving parts to get the job done, and all of the parts have to run efficiently from pre-milking to post-milking to ensure milking parlor safety for everyone — human or bovine. Check your operation’s benchmarks in the areas discussed. The priorities should always be threefold: Reduce risks.  Raise standards. Be safe.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Who Reaps the Benefits of “Bigger”?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

In 2016 dairy operations everywhere are coming face to face with the pressure to “go big or go home.” Big business impacts all areas of our daily lives.

  • Entertainment is big business.
  • Politics is big business.
  • Computerization is the biggest business of all.

It isn’t surprising that the dairy industry is consistently implored to use big business principles when planning for the future.

Is “BIG” Synonymous with “BETTER”?

Big may not always be better, but good business sense is recognized as the foundation that any viable enterprise is built upon.  To support two or more family units or partnerships, the dairy must have cash flow, infrastructure, and good management.  Scrutinizing financial considerations and long-term viabilities is necessary before committing to growing bigger. These two areas are included in the following checklist of nine items to consider when deciding if expansion is right for your dairy operation.

  1. Are you READY for the RISKS?
    Managing risk and capitalizing on opportunities are two ways used by the most successful businesses to separate their operations from those that are fading fast. Sometimes weighing risk is instinctive and is done almost without conscious thought. But defining risk is crucial to seek out solutions and gain confidence in deciding whether to grow or to stay the same? People who are risk-averse may consider that avoiding change is the safest route.  But, as the dairy industry changes and grows, maintaining the status quo could well be the riskiest choice of all.
    Before taking even one step forward, it is well worth your while to take a quick look at where you’re standing right now! Ask yourself if there is something that you could be doing better? Even if getting bigger is the right choice, getting better before going bigger could smooth the way for expansion. For example, maximizing milk production per cow is the place to start. Do you know the industry averages for milk, fat, and protein yield? Where does your operation fall?  If you are below average, address that problem before considering expansion.
  3. Are we talking DAIRY LIFESTYLE or DAIRY LEGACY?
    Expansion is going to affect your loved ones. There is no way that a 24/7 dairy operation can be separated from the family side of the operation. Expansion decisions may give you more time with family if more staff can be added to complete the work.  Perhaps more family will be brought onto the team. Do you want more help?  More time with family?  More revenue?  The expansion decision is going to affect your loved ones: both the current generation and the next ones. Are you building a dynasty or planning for retirement?
  4. What’s HEALTH Got to Do with It?
    Expansion depends on the health, creativity and physical and mental stamina of its leader. Take time for yourself to guard against burnout. Stress and burnout lead to illness, relationship breakdowns and more. Stay healthy so that you can steer your ship through expansion to success. But don’t forget to give the same consideration to each team member. Staff –whether family or not – need to feel that all aspects of their contribution matter. They need to feel empowered and that they are contributors to the success of the dairy farm. They need to feel valued if they are to support and sustain the transition ups and downs which are a normal part of the expansion process.
  5. How Good Are Your Management Skills?
    Expansion is complicated. Realistically, you are looking at expansion not only of herd size and milk production goals but also changes in the day to day duties that make up your work day. Of course, hopefully, it includes expansion of your bottom line.  But, before that, it could all fall apart and cause panic and pandemonium, if you do not have the management skills to keep everything – cows, people and equipment and systems– running smoothly.  An expanded operation means dealing with more of everything — including problems.  Are you task-oriented?  Or people-oriented?  Are you solutions oriented?  Can you give up areas of responsibility to others? How prepared are you to deal with a bigger and much different job than you have been used to in the smaller operation?
  6. Is your Infrastructure Solid?
    Okay! You have done your homework. You have the people and the will and the plan to expand.  But do you have the land?

If you don’t have or can’t buy land, can you buy the forages you will need for an expanded herd? Realistically we should have started with land availability because it is the single most important element that will govern the success or failure of your expansion plan. This could be a deal breaker.  Not enough land or availability of feed.  No expansion.

Other factors of your infrastructure are the next challenge.  Do you have manure system? Is there enough feed storage?  What parlor capacity do you have for your expanded herd? Are you ready to handle the need for more or better equipment?  What maintenance plan is in place now and after the expansion.  Failure to carefully consider any of these can bring your forward-looking expansion plans to a screeching halt. If you’re breathing a sigh of relief, because you already have considered all of these, then you’re in great shape. However, before moving on decide how you will use the dollars saved by economies of skill to develop an even better infrastructure that includes employee training, education, and remuneration as well as investment in new technology. The bottom line is more productivity throughout the entire operation.

  1. Succession Planning is Essential
    At, its most basic, a succession plan is a documented road map for your dairy. When it’s in place, it provides a guide that partners, heirs, and successors can follow in the event of your death, disability or retirement. Are you mentoring the next generation? Does everyone know who will be responsible for the next stage in ongoing farm operations? Simply growing without planning for a smooth succession, means you are not taking advantage of the full potential of your dairy’s development.  Having a well-ordered succession plan in place means that history, education, and goals can be a part of the learning experience of the next leader on a daily basis. Many dairy operations experience their most significant challenges when it comes to a sudden situation where the hand-off of management comes as a shock or without understanding or preparation.
  2. Can you “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”?
    You may have clearly determined that expansion is the best way for your dairy to remain viable and sustainable but you are not fully prepared to achieve that goal until you prepare for the banker? Of course, it’s a tremendous advantage if your banker has the background to understand a dairy operation. In many cases, this doesn’t happen. Nevertheless, thorough preparation can make it possible to satisfy the bankers’ questions and at the same time provide a learning experience for this lender. Expansion may bring new timings of payables and receivables and create greater financial strain. You must have a strategy for controlling costs and keeping control of debt. Be ready to disclose fully all factors relating to your request for expansion. The list will include, but won’t be limited to, how much working capital is needed to long-term cash-flow assumptions, transition and construction-phase issues, contingencies and having a well-documented plan. The better you can quantify these areas, the more likely your expansion plans will be approvable and bankable.
  3. Technology Is VERY Important!
    limitations on the dairy that could limit expansion of your dairy. Operational technology can overcome challenges of available labor. Training your staff in new dairy technology is important to maximizing the potential of your operation, whether it involves 100 cows or 1,000 cows.
  4. It’s Up to You!
    Don’t wait until the decision to expand has either passed you by or is forced upon you by circumstances.  Planned expansion is the best way to ensure that your dairy is profitable.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the end of the day, there are only two choices: success or failure. It’s a lot of pressure but with foresight, preparation and the courage to follow your expansion dreams, you too could reap the benefits of bigger!  



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

The majority of us have never experienced anything even remotely similar to the devastating wildfires that have affected the Fort McMurray, Alberta region. It is mind boggling to consider what the evacuees are going through.

As of May 5, the Alberta government reported that the fire covered an area of approximately 85,000 hectares. This is significant; the consumed area is now half as many hectares as were destroyed in the entirety of both 2008 and 2013.

If your dairy farm was to be put under a mandatory people evacuation order, would you have any idea what needs to happen?



Of course, emergencies and disasters by their very nature can occur at any time and without warning. You might think that there is absolutely nothing you can do …. but that would be incorrect.  The more you are prepared for potential disaster, the better you will be able to act, minimizing panic and confusion when an emergency occurs.


Relatively speaking farms have more to lose than other companies when a disaster – natural or otherwise — strikes because of the combination of an imminent threat to animals as well as people.


It could be that you have plans in place for evacuating workers from all structures on your dairy farm.  But are those plans and the materials needed up-to-date?

It is good planning to have all building exits clearly marked.  DC emergency lighting marking exits is a good idea.

The first step is to call 911.  However, in disasters the size of Fort McMurray, the emergency lines may be down or overloaded.  In any case, make sure that the address of your dairy location is clearly marked at the entrances and that all staff knows the address.  It seems simple, but it is one of those things that can be difficult or impossible to remember under stress.


In the case of a barn fire or dairy property-specific event, the first priority is to ensure that no person is harmed. Evacuation of people who could be injured and care for those injured have the highest priority.  Always take actions to prevent the involvement of additional people in the event. This means isolating all affected areas from inadvertent involvement by keeping the curious away.

During an emergency, evacuation routes from barns, buildings, and sites must stay clear.


Any contingency planning must consider the potential for injuries to people.  First aid staff and evacuation teams, rescue equipment and vehicles should be part of any emergency dairy evacuation plan.

Before you go any further, ask yourself these five basic questions:

  1. How well is your dairy prepared right now, if disaster should strike?
  2. What procedures do you already have in place for an emergency situation?
  3. What potential emergency situations could occur?
  4. If necessary, how will staff return to the disaster zone, if it’s allowed, to attend to animals?
  5. Who is the leader in times of disaster including when the owner or manager is absent?


  1. Put a plan in place for quickly evacuating occupants and animals. It is preferable to prepare to move at least 72 hours ahead of landfall (in the event of hurricanes). Procrastination could be especially problematic. Once the emergency hits, roads may become restricted or even impassable.
  2. Have enough transportation available and plan for where the animals will be taken.
  3. Be sure to have access to portable loading ramps to load, or unload animals.
  4. If your Plan A destination also requires evacuation, it is a good idea to have a Plan B already in place.
  5. Of course, during this time period, additional biosecurity measures will need to be in place.
  6. During the disaster event, animals will continue to require feed and water both during transportation and at the destination they are to be taken to.
  7. It is unfortunate but quite likely that the measures taken will have to remain in place for an extended period of time. Does your plan allow for long-term housing?
  8. If safe, accessible, locations are a problem, it is a good idea to establish an emergency plan with locations such as fairgrounds, racetracks or exhibition centers.
  9. Accommodation will need to include milking equipment for lactating cows.
  10. Milk will need to be stored separately from the cows of other herds. Milk “pickup” companies should be notified where to pick up the milk.


  1. Ensure that there will be enough feed supplements and sufficient medication supplies available at the destination.
  2. Minimize the contact among animals from different premises.
  3. Verify the health and vaccination status of animals which must be co-mingled.
  4. Handle mortalities in a manner which will minimize the possible spread of contagious disease.
  5. Monitor the health and well-being of the animals on at least a daily basis, whether sheltered in place or evacuated.
  6. Seek appropriate veterinary medical advice and services where there is suspicion of an animal disease problem.
  7. Whether you evacuate or shelter in place, make sure you have adequate and safe ways to separate and group animals appropriately.
  8. Have specific actions in place to be carried out by assigned people. Assign responsibility for checking all areas to ensure that o person or animal is overlooked.
  9. Specific actions should include people to close doors, shut off power or fuel sources or to shut down computers and equipment.
  10. Be particularly aware of the possibility of contaminants or toxins getting into the feed or the animals.


  1. How do animals get out of their containment areas?
  2. What needs to happen for the animals to be physically evacuated?
  3. Once removed from the structure or area under threat, where will the animals be moved to?
  4. Do you have a plan in place (with neighbors or friends?) if the animals require off-property housing and transportation?
  5. Do you have accurate records of current inventory of animals? Where is it kept and is it easily accessible?
  6. What needs will your dairy animals have once they have been evacuated?
  7. How will you address the ongoing needs of your animals throughout the duration of the evacuation order or disaster recovery time period?
  8. Information is key during an emergency. Current status and ongoing updates must be communicated keeping everyone informed regarding evacuation routes, road conditions, materials and equipment, the location of resources and other elements.
  9. Decision-makers need access to maps, phone directories and other information regarding supplies and resources.
  10. Emergency plans need to identify what supplies and equipment will be necessary when an emergency occurs.
  11. As much as possible run simulation drills with staff


By developing a dairy disaster plan, you are in a much better position to respond, recover and restore your dairy operation if disaster strikes. Educate all dairy staff about the types of emergencies that may occur. Train them in the proper course of action for emergency situations and, as much as possible, run simulation drills with staff. Make sure they understand the components of your evacuation plan and who will be in charge during an emergency. Being ready for a disaster takes planning and practice. Be prepared.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Join Dr. Bob James from Virginia Tech as he discusses how to successfully preparing and raise heifers in group housing environments. Dr James covers everything from the very start with dry cow nutrition for optimal body condition and health, through coordination of facilities and people, colostrum management, and much more. You won’t want to miss this insightful presentation by Dr James.

About The Presenter

DELAVAL - VMS2016-01-34Dr. Bob James is the dairy extension project leader in the Dept. of Dairy Science with additional responsibilities in teaching and research. He received the University Academy of Teaching Excellence Award in 2010. Bob’s research has focused on management of growing calves and heifers, and a Jersey milk replacer was developed based upon Virginia Tech studies in which he participated. Most recently, his research has focused on sanitation and management of automated calf feeding systems. He is a founding member of the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association and served as the conference chairperson several times. Bob received his B. S. degree from the University of Delaware and M.S. and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech. After two years on the faculty at West Virginia University, he returned to Virginia Tech. Bob has made presentations and consulted with calf ranches, dairies and feed companies in more than 20 U.S. states, Canada, South America , Asia and Europe.

Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Join Dr. Nico Vreeburg from Vetvice Barn Design as he discusses Calf to CowSignals. Rearing calves into heifers is a major investment in terms of money and labour. Your dual aims are to turn your heifer into a strong, productive dairy cow and to use labour, housing and feed efficiently. If you achieve these aims, you’ll cut the costs of rearing per kilogram of milk. From calf to heifer covers the basics of successful rearing, shows you how to control risks and helps you to structure your work so that each calf automatically receives the best treatment. From calf to heifer is full of sensible tips on how to improve the rearing of calves and yearlings.

About the Presenter

Dr. Nico Vreeburg D.V.M. qualified in 1994 from Utrecht University, Netherlands. From 1994 to 2008 he worked as a private practitioner in veterinary practice De Overlaet, in Oss (NL). This practice focuses on four-legged farm animals and has dedicated itself to preventive herd health management and animal production support, with a team of 12 fulltime veterinarians. In 1998 Nico became a partner. During the following years he more and more dedicated his professional time to dairy farm support and joined the team of Vetvice, as trainer/consultant. Within Vetvice, he participated in the development of the CowSignals® concept and co-founded Vetvice Barn Design. On January 1, 2009, Nico left De Overlaet to join the Vetvice Group as a partner.

At this moment, Nico works works fulltime within the Vetvice Group as a trainer/consultant on barn design, dairy farm management and cow management. Vetvice Barn Design is a leading consultancy on designing dairy barns for cow wellness, labor efficiency and sustainable milk production. Vetvice Future Farming consults and trains dairy farm staff on save and efficient working procedures. Vetvice CowSignals Company trains dairymen and their advisors worldwide, in the areas of CowSignals and preventive management. Vetvice is active in over 30 countries with a team of 6 veterinarians, 2 agricultural engineers and 1 office manager.



Comments (0)

Did the title get your attention? That’s what I was hoping it would do. Because first I want to get your attention, and then I want that attention directed to your calves!

The key to raising healthy calves depends on how quickly and effectively you respond to changing clues they’re sending out. This means being observant. You have got to actually get your eyes focused on the calves as a regular part of the daily routine. Walk the line! It never ceases to amaze me when I hear people talking about working with a nutritionist, vet or other consultant who makes recommendations from a phone, computer or their car or truck. Actually looking at the calves is always the best and the ONLY way to raise healthier calves.

Walking the Talk

By the time, today’s managers are receiving printouts on the production of their milking herd, it’s too late to wind back the clock and fix what went wrong when those calves should have been getting a healthy start. Great starts equal great production. Poor starts result in production problems. The challenge is that, at that very crucial time in their lives, we tend to look at calves as a group and from too far away. Not walking up close and personal with calves is like assessing the performance of cars by watching them as they pass by on the highway. As long as the traffic keeps moving, we could assume that all the cars are in good working order. We all know it takes much more careful analysis and maintenance to get longevity and performance from a car. The same applies to calves on a farm.

What Should You Be Looking For?

In the simplest terms, calf managers are looking for indicators of potential problems. Not once a day. Not once a week. They check calves often, walking through from youngest to oldest to avoid transmitting diseases. Is every calf healthy? There are so many factors that can influence the final result that regular oversight is important. The key is to be on the lookout for danger signals. Don’t overlook anything.

Head to Tails

Everyone who works with calves develops a list of indicators they look for, but a simple rule to follow is to do a quick check of the entire calf. Looking from head to tail…observing one section at a time is the proven way to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. You may say that you don’t have time to be this thorough, but this is actually a pretty fast and efficient way to get through the process. Of course, you can choose not to look closely. That indeed may be easier, but it would also be the most costly.

Take Note!

Unless you only have a few calves to monitor, you need to have a method for recording your notes. Memories are fallible and with other distractions all around you, it is best to have notes you can refer to and act upon as needed. Look at every calf, using whatever system you have for covering all the important points. Record the ear tag number and concerns, if there are any. It’s worth mentioning again that prudent managers work from the youngest to the oldest to keep from transmitting anything contagious from one group to the most vulnerable one. Often calves are fed by more than one person. It is paramount that records be available for any calf that is sick. The degree of sophistication of the record keeping system will depend on the size of the calf herd and the on-farm software system which is being used. A white board with the ear tag numbers of sick calves is good for the calf caretakers. It is also beneficial for herd managers. They can see at a glance how many calves are not up to par and if calf rearing protocols are working.

Start with the Big Picture. Then Work End to End.

When you observe a calf, the first evaluation should be of the overall health suggested by the coat and the attitude of the animal. A rough hair coat on several calves may be a reason to check closer into calf health over the past few months. Calves that catch your eye may do so because they have shaggy, dull or off color hair coats. Shiny black body hair is one indicator that calves are in good health. Speaking of eye-catching, healthy calves will be aware of you and respond to your presence. If they fail to do so and are lethargic or disinterested, you should note the calf number and pen for further follow up. Healthy calves interact with their environment. Sick calves will separate themselves and could even be unresponsive if you enter into their flight zone. Look for and take note of any unusual behavior.

“Head and Shoulder, Ears and Nose “

After your general overview, it’s time to check much closer. The eyes of calves, the same as with humans, are good indicators of the health of the calf. When health is good, the calf’s eyes will be bright and shiny. The presence of tears, mucus or thick discharge indicates that something needs attention. As well, drooling of saliva, when not sucking on a bottle, is a type of discharge that should receive follow-up.

Sticking with observation around the head, it is time to note the ears. In healthy animals, there is no crusty discharge and the ears are carried straight out and are responsive to noises. A sick calf conversely has droopy ears.

If you’re familiar with the exercise song, “Head and shoulders, knees and toes”, just give it a slight variation to “Head and shoulders, ears and nose!”. This easy to remember phrase can be a helpful checkpoint in monitoring the` health status of individual calves. Having checked the head carriage and stance of the calf, follow up with a quick look at the ears and nose. As with the ears, we are looking for an unusual discharge. While a wet nose is alright, a snotty discharge should raise concern.

BODY CHECK: Breathing, Bellybuttons, and Bulges

In looking at the calf head to tail, our next area of observation is the main body of the calf. Observe the chest for an indication of ease of breathing. The rise and fall of the calf’s chest indicate respiratory rate and should be neither faster nor slower than other calves around her. Listen for any raspiness or wheezing or calves that are taking shallow breaths. This will help you to determine if there may be a respiratory infection. Drooling from the mouth, if not already noted, is definitely a trigger now for taking the calf’s temperature and then implementing protocols to care for this sick calf.

“Where does it hurt? “

If only calves could talk, that would be the first question to ask. However, since they can’t, we must rely on how things look. As you walk through the calf pens, make a special effort to look at navels. Swelling is one thing you’re looking for. It can be caused by either a navel infection or an umbilical hernia. If your herd is using iodine as a navel dip, it should be obvious for the first day or two after dipping, because of the yellow staining. If you don’t see staining reevaluate your dipping protocol. Overlooking an effective dipping protocol can lead to problems such as navel infection and swollen joints. Once these germs settle in, it is very difficult to treat the calf successfully.

Navel-dipping protocol

To stop problems before they start, work to improve cleanliness in the calving area and improve the navel-dipping protocol.

  • Iodine for navel dipping should be the 7 percent iodine tincture.
  • Apply iodine by dipping the navel into a cup, not by spraying.
  • The dip must cover the umbilical cord and navel where the cord attaches to the body.
  • Disposable paper cups work well for dipping navels.
    • Put about an inch of fresh iodine in the bottom
    • Place the top of the cup over the navel
    • Shake the cup vigorously to thoroughly cover the umbilical cord and navel.
    • Throw away the used cup and any remaining iodine rather than trying to reuse it.
  • Even iodine can lose its disinfecting ability if it has been used over and over.

“Another pair of eyes.”

If you want to surprise yourself, ask your nutrition company consultant or veterinarian to take a look at your calves.  You may be surprised at what you learn from having what is familiar observed from a different perspective or in a more objective light.

“And so we come to the tail end!”

It would seem logical that, if we start looking at calves at the head and ears, we will most likely end with the tail.  Here we are looking for everything to be dry.  Scours always presents with a wet tail, even if you don’t see fresh manure.  If your walk through has discovered streaky walls or watery manure in the bedding, get the calves to move, and it will be easier to discover which one it is coming from. At the other end of the scale, the problem may be hard manure.  This indicates that the calf is not consuming enough water.  Clean, accessible, fresh water is a simple solution for this problem.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Walk.  Look and listen. The goal of every dairy calf manager should be to polish the observation skills of the calf-care team until you can say, “We have the best-looking calf team anywhere!” Use all your senses and don’t overlook anything when looking over your calves.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Opinions on tail docking cover the full spectrum of views. You might think that there would be a clean division of preferences between On-farm and off-farm thought leaders. This is really not the case. Not all dairy managers and animal care practitioners are in support of tail docking. Not all consumers – especially those familiar with the practice in other species are against it. In reviewing the literature, you can find support or dissension within all sectors. Having said that, time doesn’t stand still and the time is coming for a legal decision.

Clean or Mean. What is the Verdict?

The case for tail docking does not boil down to a simple conflict of the dairy community versus the non-agricultural camp. For a long time, it never really was settled which side was right –regardless of where the support came from. There were people from both sides, within both camps.

One clear shift is that research is becoming more aligned against the practice of tail docking. As long ago as 2002, the Journal of the American Dairy Journal published “The Effects of Tail Docking on Milk Quality and Cow Cleanliness” D.A. Schreiner and P.L Ruegg). The abstract stated:

“There was no significant difference between treatment groups for somatic cell count. The prevalence of contagious, environmental, or minor pathogens did not differ significantly between treatment groups. This study did not identify any differences in udder or leg hygiene or milk quality that could be attributed to tail docking.”

How Are Opinions Formed?

Here at The Bullvine we are well aware that scientific support does not necessarily sway consumer and public opinion, but two things may be having an effect on this situation. First off is that we all tend to respect opinions of those that we feel are well-informed, credible and unbiased. In the case of tail docking, it certainly carries weight when veterinarians – who may be closer to the general public than dairy farmers are— take stances against the procedure. Secondly, the scientific data is achieving critical mass on tail docking. Let’s look at these two areas.

Tail Docking is Tailing Off with Veterinarians

The country’s leading veterinary organizations have long held opinions against tail docking. The American Veterinary Medical Association, which represents over 88,000 veterinarians, came out against tail docking in 2004. They raised concerns about the pain and distress it can cause animals. The organization’s 2014 review on the welfare implications of tail docking on cattle cites 34 studies, surveys, and positions taken on tail docking. It is interesting that the review included that there is a general lack of perceived benefits to docked cattle over intact cattle. This included the often cited claims regarding cleanliness, somatic cell count, or udder health. That leaves tail docking as a management procedure that has no benefit.

However, even within the veterinary association they did not have a unanimous decision. It was a contentious discussion each time it came up,” says Riddell and reports that the contention continues. At this time, “the committee has reviewed but not reconsidered that 2010 decision.”

Science is Achieving Critical Mass

The original cow sense position held that those working herd-side concluded that long tails make milking more hazardous for workers, increased the dirt and germs on udders and contributed to poorer milk quality. In carrying out their responsibility to members, national organizations such as NMPF’s board of directors sought and continue to seek direction from animal welfare committees made up of scientists, industry representatives, and farmers. There is growing proof, scientifically supported, that is swaying opinion toward ending tail docking. The following points are taken from published studies:

  • Leptospirosis in milkers has no relationship to tail docking (Mackintosh, 1982)
  • No studies have shown statistical differences in udder cleanliness or somatic cell count (SCC) (Eicher, 2001 and Tucker, 2001)
  • While leg cleanliness scores were improved in docked cattle, no statistical differences were shown in SCC, udder cleanliness, and intramammary infections (Schrader, 2001)
  • Conversely, tail tip necrosis was found in one Ontario slaughter plant, with 3.4% having infections (Drolia, 1991).
  • Tail tip lesions occur most often in cattle with intact tails on slats, followed by cows with docked tails on slats (Schrader, 2001).
  • Two studies found no differences in performance of docked versus intact cattle on slats (Grooms, 2010 and Kroll, 2014).

Legislation Forecasts the Tail End of Tail Docking

Fifteen years ago, the issue of tail docking was not deemed a high priority and was largely left to producers’ choice. It has, however, become much more front and center with the growing public concern over animal treatment. Seven years ago (2009) California banned the practice of tail docking. The National Dairy FARM program established by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) set 2022 as the expiration date for tail-docking. As with many things that have a far off horizon, it was easy to become complacent and not proactively prepare for the end game scenario. That 2022 date has since been moved forward to January 1, 2017. The support for the move includes high profile commercial enterprises, including Walmart, Chobani, Kroger, and Starbucks. With them taking public positions against the practice alongside NMPF, it would appear, therefore, to be industry wide support. Not quite so.

Are the Dairy Industry and the Public Still divided?

Recently much more reviews and literature are being published that raise animal welfare concerns. Data is being collected regarding pain from “mild distress” or a “Mild response” to “discomfort”. As happens with human amputees, one study found phantom pain following an amputation, when tested in sensitivity to heat or cold. In some cases, gangrene and tetanus have been reported in association with tail docking. Studies have also been done to see if there were differences in stress levels between heifers that were docked and three-month-old calves that were docked. No statistically significant higher blood cortisol (stress) levels were found.

Looking further into tail docking, we come to how it affects cattle behavior. Studies have reported that tail docking has a limiting effect on normal signaling behavior. As well, tail docking significantly affects fly control, with more flies found on docked young cows and calves.

Thus, reviews are finding that the benefits of tail docking are being outweighed by the problems. Alternative management solutions are better answer to tail problems. For example, lower stocking density would lower the risk of tail trampling.

“Is The Tail Wagging the Dog?”

It often seems that, by the time the problem has achieved spotlight status, we are already too late in determining how the situation got to this level of crisis. On the one hand, it is argued that consumers are largely unaware of the reasons tail docking is being done. Their only exposure may be with dog breeding, where it is largely cosmetic or to retain show dog characteristics. While more transparent communication may have helped, at this point it could be too little, too late.

Also weighing on the minds of observers is the question, “Why is a producer-led organization doing something to limit management options?” First thought would be that they would be on the “other” side! A recent article in Agri-Talk addressed this point, “NMPF’s CEO Jim Mulhern told the crowd at the NMPF/DMI annual meeting that he knew it would be unpopular, but this was a case of leadership where they needed to put a hot topic behind them. He also saw it as a chance to make one decision, rather than a patchwork of requirements pushed by processors.” It is also important to look to the future, as Mulhern added, “Many are establishing their own policies as companies to require their milk supply to come from farms that don’t use this practice.” A food supplier always needs to meet the requirements of those buy the products.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Animal welfare is a complex issue that is interwoven throughout the food production industry.

Producers and consumers want the same thing: healthy well-cared for animals producing healthy food products. Although it’s a serious topic, with serious implications sometimes we may see more clearly, when we take a lighter viewpoint and accept that we must always move forward because, “When it comes to tail docking, it would appear that there are no shortcuts!”

Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.

Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Join Dr. Ken Nordlund from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as he discusses the four key topics: Calf Barns Designed for Calf Health; Ventilation Issues in Cow Milking Facilities; Freestall design and lameness; and Key factors for transition cow health.  This informative session will open your eyes to many of the problem areas on your dairy.

About The Presenter

DELAVAL - VMS2016-01-25Dr. Ken Nordlund is a clinical professor in the Food Animal Production Medicine group in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his veterinary degree from the University of Minnesota in 1977 and was a private practitioner and practice owner in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, from 1977 to 1989. Ken is a board-certi ed dairy specialist in the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. In 1989, he joined the University of Wisconsin and helped to found the Food Animal Production Medicine program. His research interests include dairy record systems and the development of the Transition Cow IndexTM, as well as interactions between dairy cattle housing and health.

Comments (0)
Categories : Robotic Milking
Tags :

Join Dr. Trevor DeVries from the University of Guelph as he discusses the importance of making sure cows can get to feed they need when they want it.  During this informative presentation Dr. DeVries covers how to ensure feed is delivered consistently and  is consumed as delivered and in a healthy manner.  Dr. DeVries shares how to keep fresh feed in front of cows, by feeding multiple times per day and what the optimum push up feed frequently is as well as how to give cows the optimum amount of space to eat.

About The Presenter

DELAVAL - VMS2016-02-39Dr. Trevor DeVries is a Canada Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Behavior and Welfare and an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph. Trevor received his B.Sc. in Agriculture from The University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2001. Immediately following he began graduate studies at UBC, focusing his research on dairy cow feeding behavior. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2006, he worked for one year as a post-doctoral researcher at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, focusing his research on ruminant nutrition. In 2007 he was appointed as faculty with the University of Guelph. In his current position Trevor is involved in research and teaching in the areas of dairy cattle nutrition, management, behavior, and welfare.

Comments (0)
Categories : Robotic Milking
Tags :

Ever wonder how precision dairy tools could help you take your dairy to the next level?  Then you are going to want to watch Dr. Jeffrey Bewley’s presentation from the 2016 VMS Pro conference in Las Vegas.  During this robotics conference Dr. Bewley presented the scientific research around many of the latest technologies and if they actually work or if they are not worth the headaches.  Dr. Bewley also shared with attendees a great method to help evaluate new technology and if it’s worth the investment for your operation.


About The Presenter

Dr. Jeffrey Bewley is from Rineyville, Kentucky, where he grew up working on his grandfather’s (Hilary Skees) dairy farm. He received a B.S. in Animal Sciences from the University of Kentucky in 1998. In 2000, he completed his M.S. in Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin- Madison under the direction of Dr. Roger Palmer. His PhD work under Dr. Mike Schutz at Purdue University focused on the application and economics of Precision Dairy Farming technologies. Jeffrey’s current teaching program at the University of Kentucky focuses on precision dairy technology implementation, mastitis prevention, cow comfort, lameness prevention, and decision economics.

About The Conference – #VMSPRO2016

Learn about the latest robotic milking, feeding concepts and innovations – from calf to cow. DeLaval lined up some of the best scientists, specialists and DeLaval VMS producers from North America, Europe, Oceania and Latin America to share and build knowledge around our DeLaval integrated robotic solutions.

Comments (0)
Categories : Robotic Milking
Tags :


Thursday, March 3rd, 2016


“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”
Everyone on the dairy farm knows how to start feeding calves.  At least they think they do.  The problem may not be in the way they feed colostrum, but in the way they measure success.  Calves are born.  Calves are fed colostrum.  Calves do well.  Until they don’t. The sneaky hidden challenges or problems can be overlooked by seeing what appears to be a healthy calf.

“How much does it cost?”
Here again it’s the method of measurement that could be the problem. Many times if you write a check for the input that alone makes it seems to costly. However, anyone who feels that feeding the mother’s naturally produced colostrum is “free” is only fooling themselves.  Milk costs money.  You should always know the real cost to produce milk on your farm including each step from raising your herd to filling the bulk tank.  Secondly, not all costs are out of today’s pocket.  If a calf grows into a poorly performing milk cow, do we ever look back and determine if those first few days of her life had any cause and effect on that situation.

“It’s too much work!”
In the dairy business we often grow into the work practices that we use.  When you perform the same skill repeatedly, you modify your methods, tools and results as time goes on.  Or maybe you don’t.  This is true for feeding of colostrum. Many times the best way can gradually give way to the fastest or easiest way.

“My part of the calf program is successful just the way it is!”
Sometimes the person or team who manage calf care and feeding do not overlap with the team that works in the milkhouse.  There may not be dialogue on what is working and what is not so successful.  One should be especially aware that a calf that does not make it into the milk line is a major failure of the program.

“I want the best colostrum.  Does that mean fresh, frozen or replacement?”
Dairy farmers love to talk dairy and here at The Bullvine we are thoroughly enjoying the input and insights we get through the magazine and through discussions on The Milk House. Recently colostrum came up for discussion with this question: “What’s everyone’s opinion on feeding colostrum vs. colostrum replacer? We’re paying $30/bag of colostrum replacer we feed fresh colostrum if the calf is born in the morning.  We never freeze colostrum but are starting to think about it since it’s just going down the drain anyway.  Opinion on freezing it? Tried it years ago and had terrible luck with it.” What followed was a fantastic discussion that spilled over into emails, phone calls and even my extended family had interesting viewpoints.

“Mother’s Milk”
A Milk House member started the discussion by reporting, “According to Mike Van Ambrugh of Cornell, you should always feed the colostrum from the dam to the calf.  That cow has a unique set of antibodies in the milk that will help the calf succeed.” A response quickly came in noting the downside of this factual viewpoint which was being experienced on their farm. “Sometimes you can’t feed the mother’s milk. We can’t feed our heifers mom’s colostrum due to Leucosis positive cows.  Until we know exactly who is positive and who is negative, all heifers get colostrum replacer.  Bulls get whatever mom gives unless we’re keeping the bull then he gets the replacer too!” Some skeptics may quickly say that they don’t have a leucosis problem. That too was addressed by one respondent. “We just recently found out that Leucosis was an issue, when a cow presented with visible symptoms of it.”  Many others chimed in with a list of other reasons that make it impossible to give mother’s milk. “If the cow dies, it is a downer cow –or for various reasons, you cannot get her milked in time.”  Two key questions were also raised, “What if her colostrum is not good enough? Or she doesn’t produce enough?”

“Who knows the best way to manage colostrum feedings?”
Dairy folk are no different than any other business managers.  When looking for advice, we can look until we find the answer that supports what we are already doing thus avoiding any need for the dreaded change situation.  Of course, it is always wise to consider where the advice is coming from.  Don’t fall into assuming that if you read it or heard it, that it must be right.

“Develop your own colostrum protocol.”

It is always a good idea to have well thought out best practices for managing colostrum feeding. One dairy person wrote. “I save colostrum from ladies who are 5+ year old and have two negative Johnes tests…especially for first calf heifers.” Another manager explained, “It depends for us.  If it’s nowhere near milking and we don’t have any colostrum frozen, we use a mix. If we milk the cow right away or if she will let us strip her, we will.” There are many variations and one that we heard was this one. “We always freeze colostrum from older cows in jugs. If she’s a second calver or older, we will milk or strip her for the calf.  All heifer calves from heifers get frozen colostrum.”

“I’m not changing!”
As you can imagine, opinions about colostrum vary widely in exactly the same way that our readership represents a broad spectrum of dairy folks.  One stated emphatically, “I would rather have colostrum from my own cows instead of replacer any day.”  The reasoning was clearly stated. “It doesn’t make sense to me to buy someone else’s crap even though it’s ‘superior’ when we vaccinate our cattle etc. so the colostrum should be a ‘good’ fit for our calf’s needs.” The clincher came down to money. “Colostrum is ridiculously priced if you ask me…margins on it are just amazing I imagine.” These are good points provided one major question is accurately determined. “Whether your colostrum is home grown or purchased, make sure it has been tested” This is not an area to base on your assumptions!

“Colostrum MUST be tested!” 

Personally, many of us felt that the best advice shared was that all colostrum must be tested.  “Test with a brix meter.” “We only freeze colostrum that’s over 25 on the Brix scale.” One reader expressed another question, “Where does one find a Brix?  I have seen several people mention them. I have only heard of Brix being measured for grapes.”  The answer was concise.” It’s one and the same…just Google. We purchase through local vets.”

“Great discussion.  I might be changing our SOPs.”

Choices always turn on what actually works on the dairy operation. “We vaccinate our cows with the rotavac corona vaccine.  We bring cows in ASAP after calving, clean the teats with wipes, then collect the colostrum.  We test it with a Brix refractometer—above 24% we will put into an Udder Perfect bag and add potassium.” Sounds good and may influence other dairy managers. “All of our cows get their mums colostrum and they do great.  But, seeing the posts about people checking the quality of colostrum has made me want to try testing just to see what the results would be.”

“What containers do you use for colostrum?”
There were many suggestions for how to collect colostrum, with many contributors suggesting gallon zip lock bags or gallon freezer bags.  “I double bag in 2 gallon freezer bags.” One suggestion was to “Only fill with 1 newborn feeding (depends on your breed and size). I lay them in the large wash vat sink to warm them.” Perfect Udder Bags received a lot of support. “All the colostrum for our heifers is in Perfect Udder Bags.  We switched about 2 years ago and will never go back to anything else.  We pasteurize, store, freeze and reheat them with little to no trouble.  We have an occasional bag break but very few.  We will keep bags froze up to 6 months but it never lasts that long around here.”

“Colostrum mistaken identity.”
It isn’t surprising that sometimes people can be confused when they discover colostrum in half gallon jugs, coffee cans or other suitable containers. The best story came from the dairy which used pails. “We typically freeze our colostrum in 2 gallon pails. I did that and Boy, was my hubby in for a shock when he grabbed the ice cream.  We learned to keep the ice cream in a separate freezer now.  I used to have to really watch.”

“Thawing must be done with precision.”
After carefully making all the right decisions, it is especially important not to ruin it all by improper preparation of the colostrum.  “You are supposed to thaw frozen colostrum slowly in warm, not hot, water – not above 60 degrees. And not below 50 degrees centigrade. ““Don’t microwave it.”  When mixing colostrum speed must be sacrificed for correctness.  ALWAYS follow directions exactly.  This is not the time to think more about your time than about the needs of the calf.

“Colostrum is a revenue stream”

Sometimes you just can’t help looking at the dollar difference. “What we do is basically sell all our surplus colostrum to a company and we buy the powder replacement.” Another says, “We sell to a company that makes replacer and to a neighbor who occasionally needs some for a new fawn.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We have only started to consider the many factors that must be assessed when setting up an effect colostrum protocol for your dairy. One breeder summed up.  Always take into consideration that there are factors in colostrum that you can’t immediately see i.e. growth hormones, the health and vitality of the new calf, scour rates.  Many factors affect milk production in their lifetime and they are now being linked back to colostrum.”  Best regards to you in getting your herd off to a great start!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Our hands are the first touch point with the many physical connections dairymen make every day. From shaking hands with a farm visitor to milking cows, we may not realize how important our hands are until they became so dry, cracked and rough that what should be an easy task becomes painful.  How well do your hands withstand winter’s harsh conditions and the 24-7 skin challenges of dairy farming? If you’re answer is “Nothing seems to work” then here is information and several steps you can use to repair, protect and soothe your hands.

Overworked hands are vulnerable hands

The first step in helping your hands to stay healthy is understanding what it is that is causing the problem.  It all starts when the outer layer of skin is compromised.  Ideally, skin is meant to hold onto moisture and rejuvenate itself naturally.  But constant exposure to bad weather, dirt, chemicals and the sun can gradually damage this layer. Let’s take a look closer at four factors that cause damage.

  1. People who consistently have to wash their hands or immerse their hands in water experience a loss of moisture, as the water steals the skin’s natural moisturizing oils away
  2. People who work with chemicals on a daily basis, or who regularly use chemical-based household cleaners, often have severely chapped hands. These chemicals rob the skin of its moisture, and damage the outer layer, leaving skin vulnerable to all kinds of problems.
  3. Old-fashioned soap bars are drying to the skin. Many of today’s commercial clensers and hand soaps also disrupt skin’s natural integrity, which slows the natural process of skin repair and creates dryness and cracking.
  4. Dry air. Air such as that which occurs in dry climates and during the cold, winter months, saps moisture out of the skin.

Other factors, such as medical skin conditions (like psoriasis and eczema), allergens, and certain medications, can also contribute to dry, cracking skin.

Dairy farming is hands on!

Constant use of our hands — especially in winter conditions – can lead to damage.  Once hands become dry and cracked, everything we do with them can make the damage much worse. It sometimes seems like the skin will never feel smooth again.  (I remember my father-in-law’s hands and the measures he would take to speed up the healing process. My heart went out to him each winter as he found creative ways to heal the fissures that opened up in his hands).

Products Suggested On The Milk House

Before we start into the whys and wherefores of hand care, let’s consider what other people have tried.  First we must recognize that not everything works for everyone in the same way. A recent discussion on The Milk House also included suggestions of name brand salves, creams, and lotions (Read more: INTRODUCING THE MILK HOUSE – DAIRY BREEDER NETWORKING ON FACEBOOK). The Bullvine is not making specific promotions or endorsements but merely giving the widest possible picture of what the options might be.

Personal Experiences Provide Hands-On Insight

Many readers of The Bullvine and The Milk House have personal experience with the discomfort of sore hands.  I went to them and other friends in the medical profession and hair salons.  For those who work 24/7 with their hands, taking time off until they heal is not an option.

Several dairy folks, a nurse, and workers in my local hair salon shared what they have learned from trial and error. One suggestion that came from more than one of those whose hands reached the cracked and bleeding stage was using an emery board and finger nail file to sand down the cracks. “I use a fingernail file to move all the dry, dead or thick skin. Getting the old skin off is the key. Afterward, the lotion and salve soak in better.” Those who have tried this agree that the quick heal is worth the brief pain. One intriguing suggestion was to paint the cracks with 2 or 3 layers of clear nail polish. “It’s inexpensive and very effective at protecting those areas.  I can work and just sand and reapply as needed until they heal.” I have personal experience watching husband Murray use Crazy Glue or Super Glue. Some report that this method stings for a few secs when first applied, but Murray reports “It was stinging before the treatment, so it isn’t any more painful, and it protects the opening from germs, and usually heals within 2 to 3 days.” Of course, everyone needs motivation, and Murray maintains that one of his motivators was “my wife”!


Water plays several roles in both good and bad hands. Start with drinking water.  It’s easy to get dehydrated and not realize it. Then there is the water you immerse your hands in during your work day.  On the one hand, it seems that water should be enough for the moisture in your hands.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Constant exposure to water can be very drying, so the first three words to memorize after your hands have been in water are:

“Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize”

After each and every wash, moisturize your hands.  Some even go so far as to carry moisturizer all the time. It’s up to you to take charge of healing parched scaly hands.

“Some Like It Hot! But Cool is Kinder!”

The next step may take changing your headset regarding water temperature.  Use lukewarm water. Water that’s either hot or cold can make the problem worse. So the next time you’re tempted to turn the heat up, make sure lukewarm is the highest you go, if you want your hands to be happy.

“Skip the Bar”

By its very nature dairying makes us conscious of avoiding germs.  Being told to avoid soap if you can, seems to go against the grain. Dermatologists say soap can actually make your skin feel dry, by stripping oils from the skin. If you must use soap, avoid formulas with synthetic fragrances, preservatives, and sulfates, as these are all drying.  Foaming and antibacterial soaps also strip your skin of its natural fats and oils.  One option is to choose moisturizing cleansers instead and be sure you rinse thoroughly.

“Go Undercover! ”

The extreme condition of your working hands means that you must take every opportunity to protect your hands.  A good rule of thumb (pun intended) is to be aware whenever you might be working with something that you wouldn’t apply to your face; you should wear gloves. Yes, this is occasionally inconvenient but think about what you ask your hands to do over and over again.  When hands are healthy, you use them like they are gloved to touch harsh chemicals.  Normally that isn’t a problem because healthy hand skin is a pretty good barrier, but the chapped skin is broken.  “Harsh chemicals get through chapped skin, irritating it like putting lemon juice on a cut.”  The best approach is to wear gloves.  Many feel that wearing milking gloves under work gloves is the right approach. “Lotions for healing cow’s teats and udders worn under nitrile gloves while you milk rally help.  You are using your hands so much when you milk, that it messages your hands at the same time.” A good tip is to avoid vinyl gloves.  They can make skin even more dry.  Instead, use cotton or leather.

“Prevention is 9/10ths of the Cure.”

You may already do many of the things mentioned so far, but sometimes we forget.  The best treatment is always prevention. So whether you’re in the barn, the fields or just washing up in the milkhouse, protect your hands from damage.

“Sleep On It”

This next step doesn’t cut into your work day.  At night, once you chose a proper pair of gloves, slather on your favorite hand cream or you could just use Vaseline and put them on.

The gloves will ensure that the slave stays put.  Even a single overnight session will go a long way towards healing your hands.  Keep experimenting until you find a heavy-duty moisturizer that is free of fragrance and all of the additives that contribute to drying your hard-working hands. Some of those I spoke to said that they add two further steps to their glove program. “I start my soaking my hands first to open up the cells so that they will take up the cream.” Then they add one final protection. “After I apply Vaseline I wrap my hands in saran wrap and then the gloves. This works great on feet too!” The whole purpose to get the healing below the damaged dried out upper layers of skin.

“Old School.  Raise Your Hand!”

There are always those who have a slightly different perspective on problems and their solutions, especially when it seems somewhat self-centered. One Milk House reader explained his reasoning, “When I was younger, cracked chapped hands were a symbol to wear proudly.  It showed that you worked hard, and you were a real man.  I’m still a little too old school to use anything too sissified, but I have been known to get bag balm on my hands when doctoring a cow.” From the other end of the spectrum, a reader who wears gloves and salves replied, “I don’t like cracked hands when feeding calves. The acid and detergent water get in there and that crap burns!  If I’m sissy for that, so be it!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

You use your hands constantly.  When your skin finally cracks and chaps, it affects everything you do. Be proactive when it comes to caring for the health of your skin.  Lock that moisture in long before your hands start drying out, and you will be as comfortable at work as you are going out for a nice dinner.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Your Dairy Mess & How To Declutter It!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Business experts agree that a messy office has a direct impact on your reputation as a dairy manager and also affects how people will work with you.  Some will assume that your office chaos will spill over onto any business dealings they might have with you.  At the very least, they worry that their files could be lost in your mess. With the approaching tax deadline, there are even more reasons to make sure your office is organized and well-maintained.

Are we suggesting that we need office inspectors?

With all the stresses of dairy farming, do we really need one more?  Many feel that people read too much into a messy office.  Of course the same could be said of a super neat one.  How do you know whether they’re truly neat or whether they just bagged everything up and threw it in a closet before you dropped in?

The state of your office isn’t the only measure of your dairy business strengths

There are many talents that must be developed when you are committed to making your dairy operation the best that it can be. Nevertheless, having your office materials well-organized does help with that all-important first impression.  As time goes on, it also helps in building an ongoing working relationship. People coming into your well-organized office are more likely to recognize that doing business with you is efficient and effective.

Here are 4 benefits of a clean office.

  1. Mess equals stress.
    When you feel stress, it’s easier to blame a supplier or staff or both for the problem or problems at hand. A decluttered office makes you feel calm and relaxed. You are more likely to find solutions that are needed, when you aren’t overwhelmed by papers that are missing.
  2. Being organized saves time.
    The less stuff there is, the less you have to clean, put away and maintain. Constantly sorting and moving stuff is a vicious cycle. The 24/7 nature of dairy life doesn’t need added workload in the office. When you have less stuff to deal with, you have more time for your priorities. Don’t underestimate it.
  3. Focus filing means a better bottom line
    Spending hours searching, sifting and screaming is both counterproductive and costly. Once you are able to step into a decluttered office, you will be able to get things done without being distracted or overwhelmed by mess.
  4. No more “tax”ing headaches

Do your nerves gradually tense up as tax deadlines approach? Wouldn’t it be great to know where the stuff you need is every single time? When you organize the important things and clear away the rest, you will never panic again. Ready and on time. Awesome.

What does your office say about your dairy?

You are well aware that cows and milk production are the top priorities of your work day. But just as your cows and equipment make an impression on others, your workspace gives suppliers and consultants a distinct impression about you. “Everything in your office sends a message, whether you want it to or not.” So what might people be thinking when they step into your office. 

“This manager has his finger on everything that goes on here

Whether you have been in the dairy business 20 months or 20 years, there are challenges to be met every day.  You have to deal with veterinarians, your dairy staff, your family, the banker and countless suppliers and consultants who want a piece of you and your wallet.  Organize your office so that you can meet your goals while having a productive dialogue with each of these stakeholders.

“I was successful and with it in the past!”

Awards.  Trophies.  Certificates.  These can mark a successful career.  Or they can become faded … and dusty … with dates more that a decade old! The same is true of your family gallery. If you have a grad picture of your daughter her figure skating photo when she was five is overkill.  And your desk should never parade your hairstyles of the past decade.  Make it a point to update photos.  Don’t simply add frames. The past is past!

“Meet my support crew! ‘Candy’, ‘Caffeine’ and “Cigarettes’!

Not everyone sees themselves as an amateur detective but sometimes the evidence is just too obvious to miss.  A full candy dish, pop and beer cans says that perhaps your backup team is the first thing you reach for. A desk cluttered with empty coffee cups and energy drinks may be sending a message about your time management … or lack of it.

“I can’t even manage the small details. Don’t give me something big to think about.”

When every corner is stacked with boxes and all the flat surfaces are buried under teetering piles of paper, half-eaten pizzas and crumpled invoices, scraps of paper and unknown equipment parts, it is hard to believe that this is an organization focused on leading edge milk production, dairy genetics or achieving ever higher benchmarks.

“I don’t have time for new information”

Sometimes an office doesn’t have to be cluttered or messy to send a message.  In fact, an office with sticky notes everywhere and corkboards an inch deep in paper and pins is not short of organization, it could merely be short of effective organization.  If a light breeze would disturb the priority order of your routine, it’s time to pull down the sticky notes and start compiling your lists and information in a way more befitting the 21t century.  Now put a note up about that upcoming computer seminar training series!

So how do you transform your workspace to tell your story?

Ask yourself these questions.

What is your dairy business all about?

What makes your family and staff proud?

What story and image do you want to convey that sets you apart from your competition? What will inspire you and the people who share your space?

Here are 6 ways to begin your dairy office transformation.

  1. Start with one small step at a time. It is a common but fatal mistake to pull everything out all at once and try to tackle the whole mess at once. Much better and more successful is simply tackling one area at a time. The desktop. One file drawer.  One shelf.
  2. Never make more mess than you can clean up in fifteen minutes. To keep yourself committed to the final outcome, stop after a set time period. Do every day until every area in your office has a place for everything and everything in its place.
  3. Schedule a declutter day. For some, steps one and two may be too slow.  This means you might want to schedule a declutter day.  Ideally you should find a period of uninterrupted time that you know can be made available for tackling a big office issues: tax files; legal documents or shredding of documents. Although this is a bigger undertaking, it is important not to take on more than you can handle in the time you have available.
  4. Go paperless. Get rid of unnecessary paper and magazines. Scan the articles you know you will need.  Throw away the rest.  Uploading documents makes them accessible from anywhere.
  5. Set up a system of flow through that works for you. Dairy folks have years of hands on experience making sure that their dairy cattle are in the right place at the right time. Flow through is a concept that is applied from the milkhouse to the show ring. Paper, projects and information that come to the farm should flow through the system in the same organized way.  Assign a folder to the priority tasks you handle with paper and watch your bottom line improve
  6. Get rid of your junk drawer. Many desks have a shallow drawer front and centre. For many this becomes a catch space where you throw thing to get the out of sight. You can go to Pinterest and find hundreds of ways to organize the countless tiny items.  Organization took a huge leap forward for me when I emptied that mini-office-supply store drawer and only keep two things inside:
    1. my daily calendar and
    2. my current project binder there.

First thing every day those two items come out.  I fire up my computer and get to work.  At the end of the day, the calendar and binder go back in the drawer.  On some occasion, my Mac laptop joins them and my desktop is completely clear. It’s amazing how much this clear space helps in keeping everything organized and accessible.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the end of your dairy work day, you are the only one who has control over the message sent out by your office layout, logistics and décor. Ideally, your cow sense and dairy results are already speaking loud and clear. Now make sure your office organization supports that message!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

DAIRY REALITY CHECK: Are you Ready to Grow?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

What are the key reasons that lead dairy managers to make the decision to expand? Are they purely financial? Or is it related to the long-term viability of the dairy? Maybe they know something about new markets? No.  It’s more complicated than that.

Dairy owners and managers spend 90% of their time finding and fixing problems.  They want healthier cows, more money, better feed, staff that is happier, more capable and hard working, and on and on.

Who wouldn’t want to solve all these problems?  Yet these are not the real problem.  The real problem is that there are so many problems that dairies get stuck like deer in the headlights.  They’re not prepared to fight.  They aren’t ready for flight.  So they freeze or, at the very least, resist change.

“One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of on what they have to gain.

Change is necessary for any business that wants to grow and prosper. Having said that, growth doesn’t always mean bigger.

Unrestrained growth in any business can have serious consequences. Growth comes at a cost. More capital, more physical resources and more people. These go on the ledger as expenses well before there is a return on the investment. Thus, dairy managers face a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we want to ensure that the business grows, but, at the same time, we need to control that growth so that it does not cause its eventual downfall.

“Plan to grow by all means, but not by any means.  Define what growth means to your dairy then plan to grow within that definition.”

Have You Done Your Growth Homework?

Before you go big, you have to do your due diligence.  Here are twelve steps to take action on before you leap into expansion.

  1. Visit farms who have gone through an expansion.
  2. Plan. Plan. Consider your future needs. Do research.
  3. Use top notch consultants.
  4. Make sure you have considered, cash flow, loan availability and financial resources.
  5. Don’t rush into deadlines. Take time.
  6. Accept advice from farmers and consultants.
  7. Know your family. Know your goals.
  8. Don’t overlook the importance of manure handling and storage required by an expanded facility.
  9. Focus on labor efficiency and profitability.
  10. Hire reputable builders and contractors.
  11. Be open- minded, flexible and ready to change.
  12. Be prepared to expand your management style to accommodate the new facility.

To Determine if Expansion is the Answer, First Ask the Right Questions.

It is exciting to think of all the potential improvements that could be put into place along with an expansion.  Unfortunately, improvements should be considered before adding land, cows or facilities.  Give complete answers to the following questions derived from ones suggested by Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service. Go beyond a simple “Yes” whenever you can.

  1. Do you currently have the skills to manage employees?
  2. How can you improve the efficiency and profitability of the present operation?
  3. Can production per cow be increased? Can reproduction efficiency be improved?
  4. Could the current herd be milked three times per day? Is your staff used effectively?
  5. Would it be possible to send the heifers to a contract raiser and expand the cow herd?
  6. What are my financial goals? Can revenue be Increased? Can expenses be reduced?
  7. Where do I want to be in five years? In 10 years?
  8. What are the expectations of other family members?
  9. Do I have adequate acreage to expand the herd and manage the waste?
  10. Do I want to deal with regulatory agencies?

Potential Problems that Come with Expansion

You may be well aware of the ways that expansion will solve some of your current problems, but you need to understand what new problems the expansion itself could bring with it. Here are some factors to put into your strategic problem-solving scenarios when expanding.

  1. Detailed manure handling.
  2. Siting to minimize odor conflicts
  3. Detailed effort to hire qualified and experienced contractors. Have a project manager.
  4. Prepare for loan or cost overruns. Expansion is dynamic. Costs rarely get smaller.
  5. There could be disease introduction with the larger herd numbers.
  6. Analyze all aspects of facility design and understand the potential for problems (curtains, sidewall ventilation, size, )
  7. Make yourself aware of legal by-laws, zoning restrictions and environmental impact regulations.

The People Factor is Crucial

A dairy doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Many people, both on and off the farm, will be affected by changes.  Make sure these areas receive consideration.

  1. Consultants
    Surround yourself with a team of experts and listen to them.  Getting sound advice is the best investment you can make.  Having said that, do not blindly accept everything a consultant tells you.  After it is all done, it is your farm, not their’s, so the decisions need to make sense to you.
  1. Employees
    After expansion, you will be a people manager, not a cow manager. Listen closely to the people who are closest to the day to day operation.  They usually have valuable observations.  Create safe and happy working conditions. The most valuable interaction you can have is in setting up SOP systems (Standard Operating Procedures). Other employee policies may need to be instituted.  Take management classes to learn how to manage people.
  1. Neighbors and Community
    It is important to recognize the importance of neighbours, suppliers and members of the community, as they drive by and are affected by your dairy.  Your expanded operation will have an impact on the local economic community and local businesses. Be ready to have expanded outreach to those who may have concerns. Encourage neighbours to learn about your farm practices and be prepared to show how you give back to the community through the products you produce, the green spaces you maintain or the support you have for local youth, charities or projects.
  1. Your Banker
    Financing is key to a well-developed dairy expansion plan. “Your banker will consider, not just the big picture, but also, the small details from working capital to long-term cash-flow assumptions, transition and construction-phase issues, contingencies and having a well-document plan. Any one of these items alone could slow down or disqualify your expansion.  Bankers will analyze everything in order to determine what is approvable and bankable.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Expanding a dairy farm does not necessarily mean that making everything bigger will make everything better. More land more cows more buildings all come with the potential for more problems. The reality check should be on making it “better” before actions are taken that make it “bigger”.  At the end of the dairy day, it means getting better at what we do and, in the process, making the dairy industry and our personal part of it a better place to produce milk products that are healthy and safe.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management


Monday, November 23rd, 2015

We like to look back through our comfortable rose-colored glasses and speculate that our dairying forefathers never rocked the boat or had it rocked by challenges and change.  We conveniently forget they lived – and farmed—through the inventions of cars, tractors, milking machines and telephones. And, perhaps, a World War or two might have had an impact on how they went about their business. Definitely! Therefore, we can agree that at least the core values of dairying today are the same in many ways. We mustn’t forget that they too had the passionate desire always to improve. They embraced new technology because, in their day, as in ours, technology is an important driver of dairy progress.

Having acknowledged that technology and smart decision making does not mean that you can wait until the annual New Year’s Eve introspection to evaluate how far you’ve come. This could mean your analysis is “too little too late!”  Certainly some evaluation is better than none.  But it would be sad to discover that your information isn’t accurate.  Even worse would be if the past year spawned some good ideas, but they weren’t in a well-thought-out order, and you wasted valuable time and money running in the wrong direction.

Are You Moving with the Times?

Perhaps your reluctance to acknowledge problems stems from the fact that you’re happy with your evaluation.  You see that you’ve had success on your operation and, overall, your operation is as good as or maybe better than when you began it or took it over.  Now the danger becomes that you could become complacent.  Planning for progress never has an end point.  Markets, cows, genetics and every other logistical line impacting your operation can change with or without your input. Your job is to make sure those inevitable changes are positive and profitable.

Technology is here!  It’s time to lose the wait!

Smart farming means a lot more today than simply having smart phones and other digital gadgets. Indeed, your success turns on technology to the extent that you are able to harness automation and information to enhance productivity. Profitable dairy farming means effective use of all resources and technology is key to unlocking that effectiveness.

Technology puts your time to the best use

Here are four main ways that you will want to analyze, harness and put technology into effect if you are to make efficient use of all your dairy resources. First off, technology provides ways for farmers to make the best use of their most limited commodity – time. The first benefits will accrue in time saved. The second benefits come with cost savings, which are always welcome. Closely related to cost savings is the impact that technology makes by increasing revenue. Finally, the ultimate goal and reward of technology is higher milk production. These four are so closely inter-related that they all affect farm profitability, which is one of the fundamental pillars of a sustainable dairy operation.

How many ways are you using technology to save time?

As a quick check, tick all the boxes that are putting your time to the best use:

  • Activity monitoring
  • Heat detection
  • DC305
  • Meters
  • ID system – RFID system
  • Sort gates
  • EZ feed
  • Smartphone
  • Social Media
  • Other

This is by no means a full list.  When you look at your checkmarks are you happy with where you’re at?

“I know it’s available, but I’m still not using it.”

They never make movies about people who give in to fear.  Remember the motivating phrase in Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.”  Fear often stops us from realizing a dream. In the face of rapid change and the unknown and the unfamiliar, there are those who are against mechanized farming and technology in general. They long for the good ol’ days. They probably don’t have time to arrive at the conclusion that it was mechanization and technology that has allowed more people to accomplish more, including leaving the farm to pursue other (probably mechanized) jobs.

Investment or Expense?

After years of financial belt-tightening, it is almost a knee-jerk reaction to ask, “How much is it going to cost me?” And perhaps at the same time as you’re getting a handle on that you need to ask the second question, “How much is it going to cost me if I don’t do this?”  Profitability depends on these two answers. After answering the first two questions but before signing any purchase or work contract, you should have the answers to a lot more questions. In the case of technology, “What is the full cost of this product?  What hardware, software, and devices are required?  How much is maintenance?  Is there a cost for data storage?”

What if….?

Everything breaks.  Everything needs fixing at some point. You absolutely must know who to call.  The product may be amazing but service is key.  How many times have you heard someone talking about the computer age and saying, “It’s great when it’s working, but it’s hell when it isn’t working.” Service can be more important than the technology itself.  After you have given up an old method of carrying out a dairy task, it can be devastating if the new technology crashes.  You need an immediate response to your call for help. Waiting days or weeks is not an option. Having the right name and number and confidence in the person or company has to be a major part of the purchase agreement.

Know What the Error Rate Is

First and foremost, what the error rate is.  Are there false positives in testing?  Are there conditions under which the new technology is especially challenged? What percent of the devices fail per year? Any reputable company should be willing and able to tell you how durable their products are. Nothing is perfect, but you are seeking to have the results that are obtained make a noticeable improvement on current levels of accuracy… human or mechanical.

Getting to the next level.

Today there isn’t much that changes faster than technology.  You have committed time, strategic planning and finances to the purchase you’ve made. It’s important to know that you won’t be left falling behind.  The first to be sure of is, “What is the warranty on the product?” With that registered and filed the next consideration is, “What is the upgrade policy?” If you just purchased a 2.0 version of the product and a 3.0 version is released next month, how much will it cost to upgrade? Dead ends don’t just stop you. They kill your profits too!

Consumer Feedback

Will the company provide a list of existing users you can talk with? Sales pitches need real time backup. Is the documented research working in actual applications? Each answer adds to your knowledge base.  When you are far enough along to have questions, nothing beats being able to talk with someone who has had experience with the product, consultant or technology that you are considering.   Once you have made the connection, ensure that you have your questions ready.  Six months after you are committed financially is a little late to consider, “Gee I wished I had asked about that.”  A key point to consider is, “What does this purchase provide that is above and beyond what you have now?” When talking with those who are using the technology be sure to ask, “How long will it take for you or your staff to become proficient in its operation?”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the end of the day, you may decide to keep things the way they are.  Regardless of what you do, the dairy industry is getting wired up, plugged and turned on.  Are you keeping up with technology?  Or is technology passing you by?



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Taking Time Off! Can Dairy Farms Make It Work?

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Dairying and taking care of hard working dairy cattle is 24/7.  Having said that, cattle or cows, don’t produce at their best without taking a break. Often, the cows get more consideration in this respect than dairy staffers do. Family operations quite often accept that they have exchanged those hours at a cottage, on a beach or a cruise ship for the “cows, milk and fields lifestyle” – all year round.  For some operations, along with more working cows, there are considerably more working staff to manage. It’s not a 9 to 5 job and with that there is an acceptance that vacation isn’t part of the package. Regardless of where your job falls on the dairy spectrum, there isn’t an option of shutting down the milkers to make time off for staff possible.

At one time or another during the year this scenario can arise.  Jane announces that she needs to deal with a family health issue.  Devon has never had time off, but he left a request on your desk this morning. You check your file and see that two other employees asked months ago for leave …. When you put all these requests in sequence, you see that they are focused on the same week.”  Now, what?

Shift absenteeism will happen. It’s inevitable.

Even in groups as small as five or under, employees are going to request the same vacation days. Not all will be able to go. So what’s an employer to do?  Well. The only thing you can’t do is say “No!” to everybody. This is another management area that could turn into a nightmare of down production. But it won’t stop there because it can also escalate to emotional turmoil and increased employee turnover.

Minimize Problems with Dairy Leave &Those Who Cover the Dairy While They’re Gone

Every situation is unique but once you know your work pool options and what the needs of your staff are, you are off to a good start.  Most would say summer is NOT the time to have staff taking their vacations.  However, in some situations, the availability of students during this period could make it more feasible than during school months. Of course, employment regulations will also impact decision making.

Planning Must Start at the Very Beginning

Discuss your employee vacation policy during the hiring and orientation process and provide employees with written vacation policies and procedures. Highlight the peak work periods during which vacations may be prohibited or restricted. If there are any conflicts with major religious holidays or prior commitments, discuss them at that time to prevent surprises later on.

You’re The Boss! Don’t Abuse your Position.

As the employer or manager, you should definitely clarify that you have the right to rearrange employee vacation schedules to meet dairy operation demands and changing economic conditions. But be careful not to use this to unduly restrict employees from prime vacation periods by taking them all yourself. Bosses, family members, and managers need to consider how cherry-picking time off affects the morale of the entire staff.

Get the PLAN in Place BEFORE A Crisis Arises

Set a deadline for submitting vacation requests that gives you enough time to project how employee absences might affect production schedules or harvest periods to resolve any conflicts. Depending on your specific operation, this could be anywhere from a month to a year in advance.

Managing employee vacation requests effectively means having plenty of notice so that you have time to prepare. If one of the staff members announces that they need to take a week off starting from tomorrow, then this is going to be a real headache for however handles managing employee vacation requests. This is why it is a good idea to have a policy whereby members of staff are expected to give so much notice if they want vacation time. Of course, there will be emergencies where the staff member won’t be able to give much notice and allowances should be made for this. Otherwise something like a month’s notice should be viewed as the minimum.


Prepare for the absences. If colleagues will cover vacationers’ jobs, make sure they know the specifics of their responsibilities.

  1. Make sure that job protocols are written and posted. This checklist can be a great back up, even if the individuals have already worked on the dairy.
  2. Parcel out vacationing employees’ duties among several colleagues. This action keeps one unfortunate soul from having to do the job of two.
  3. Offer premium pay, bonuses, or other employee incentives to those who agree to work during the most popular vacation periods when too many employee absences could be bad for the dairy.
  4. Allow workers in identical positions to trade off vacation dates among themselves, so long as it won’t jeopardize production schedules or quality of work.
  5. You may wish to monitor the results with an employee vacation tracking system of some kind to make sure the trading was fair to all members of the staff, and that age, gender, ethnic or religious factors are not being used to favor certain people.

What you need to do now

It’s important to consider vacations, but don’t forget sick leave and other kinds of employee absences when you’re planning your staffing levels. While there is a temptation to run on a skeleton staff in tight economic times, you may run into coverage issues when staff is low during prime vacation season, flu season or during other periods of high demand.

Develop a sound system for employee vacation tracking and planning, so you can make clear choices about needed staffing levels for any given workweek.

Make sure your employee vacation policy describes when and how vacation time may be taken, and how disputes over high-demand days will be handled

Managing employee vacation requests can be a real headache.

There is not much thanks when you are able to grant requests, but you can be sure that if you have to refuse them there will be complaints. The fact is that no matter how good you are at managing employee vacation requests there are still likely going to be times when the answer is going to be ‘no’. This is not going to make your popular, but it comes with the job.


It is a good idea to have a vacation planner in the milk house office or staff room (or both) where staff can request their holiday time. This is sure to make managing employee vacation requests a lot easier. This way they can see what holiday time has already been requested so they will be less likely to ask for times that are just not possible due to staffing. A vacation planner means that the employee has some sense of control in managing employee vacations requests and so less likely to complain when they don’t get what they want. This is a simple and efficient tool that is well worth having on your dairy.

Say “YES” Often

When managing employee vacation requests, it is a good idea to say ‘yes’ as often as you can. These holidays are not only an employee’s right but they are also needed for them to remain productive workers. If employees feel that their requests have not received enough of an effort to be granted they will become disgruntled and may even leave the job because of it. It is also possible that employees will just find a way to take the time off anyway by calling in sick.


If you do need to deny some, it’s perfectly reasonable to do it based on seniority. You can also ask people to submit their first and second choices for time away, and use seniority to bump people to their second choice if needed. And if you can, try make sure that everyone gets at least one of those weeks off if they want it; it’s going to breed resentment if some people get two weeks off while others get none.

A caution about using seniority as your system: If you have little turnover among your most senior people, this can lead to a situation where no one else can ever get the time they want, year after year. If that’s the case, you might instead use a rotation system so that newer people still have a chance to get holiday time off sometimes. Or you might do other sorts of rotations, such as putting people on a schedule that rotates time off between Thanksgiving week and the December holidays.

First come, first served, it can work, but it can end up not being fair if it means that some people turns in their holiday requests very early each year and thus reserve all the prime vacation slots months in advance and never have to share the burden of coverage with others.

Four Steps to Take, if you Must say, “No!”

  1. Tell people as soon as possible so that they can plan accordingly.
    Be apologetic about it and openly appreciative that people are willing to pitch in to make it work. That doesn’t mean that people will be thrilled about it, but seeming callous and unconcerned will make it go over worse.
  2. Do what you can to make being in the dairy during the holidays more pleasant for people — bring in food and find other ways to show appreciation that they’re there.
  3. Fatigue affects function. Everybody needs a break.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We spend a lot of time making sure that dairy cattle are cared for and producing in optimum conditions. That should be true for staff too. Everybody produces better when they feel there is an appropriate balance between work time and off-work time. Get a better hold on dairy vacation planning and you will have a better hold on dairy staff.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Running a dairy operation sometimes seems like a roller coaster ride. Holding on through economic and marketing challenges propels managers through numerous ups and downs.  Pregnancy rates – a key success metre in dairying — is actually one of the scariest rides of all in the dairy theme park but isn’t always recognized as such.  Because even the best pregnancy rates are not very high, too many dairy managers have become conditioned to accept the summer decline as a fact of dairy life that they can simply “ride out”. To counteract lowered pregnancy rates, you must look to embryo transfer.

Where is Your Dairy on The Pregnancy Slide?

Whenever temperatures rise above 70F, heat stress in cattle means there are fewer pregnancies per service, and this has a dramatic impact on dairy sustainability. Here in August 2015, the hot, dry temperatures are beginning to moderate but most of North America still hovers in the 80s where the effects of summer heat continue to affect embryo development and thus pregnancy rate for at least another couple of months.  Unfortunately, if you don’t take action until you hit bottom, rather than being a thrill, it might mean that your dairy profitability ride could come to an abrupt end!

What Causes the Slide?

Dairy cows originate from temperate climates and so it hot climates or during hotter parts of the year when under the stress of production the most limiting factor suffers. More recent research has shown that when temperature goes above 68F reproduction suffers

Dairy cows use energy.  The order of energy consumption is: 1. producing milk (for their young), 2. Building their body mass and then 3. Reproduction. With the addition of heat stress, the first thing to suffer is the last item in the order …. reproduction.

Under summer attack. What Happens Inside the Cow?

Reproduction research has shown:

  • eggs are not properly formed
  • internal temperature is elevated and eggs / sperm do not survive
  • fertilized eggs do not adhere to uterine wall
  • There is a domino effect as each compromise in the process negatively affects the next step.

Ovum production occurs 40-50 days before they are ovulated so only when a cow’s embryo production returns to normal can we expect to again get more reasonable reproduction rates. Areas that have mean daily temperatures above 68F for May until October can expect reproduction to suffer from late June to mid-November. That’s big time –it’s 42% of the year. For lower temperature areas off-time will be shorter but July thru Sept is still a quarter of the year.

Start with Traditional Heat Stress Tools

  • Lower temperatures by having smaller group sizes
  • Improve insect control (so animals do not group)
  • Use fans and misting
  • Make use of shade covers
  • high quality feed (more balanced diet) to breeding group
  • feed animals at night so they can rest during the heat of the day
  • breed more heifers during summer
  • use every strategy that makes sense to you and your operation

Perhaps you Need to Consider Breed and Other Alternatives?

There are breed differences with Jerseys being best at withstanding hot weather.

There is some evidence that whiter Holsteins suffer less that blacker ones

The University of Florida (and other) research shows that using embryos can produce double the number of pregnancies.


Currently, a critical mass of research is available supporting ET to combat summer infertility syndrome. Results clearly support that embryos collected from thermoneutral donors are successfully maintaining higher pregnancies rates than those achieved by heat stressed animals bred by conventional A.I. In vitro produced embryos transferred into heat stressed animals resulted in improved pregnancy rates when compared with AI during bouts of heat stress.

Of course, the expense of ET cannot be ignored. Traditionally superovulation can be quite expensive. In-vitro embryo production is gaining feasibility as an alternative.

In-vitro Production (IVP) Can Counteract Heat Losses

The laboratory production of embryos is a workable, economical alternative to traditional AI.  The primary method involves harvesting of eggs from slaughterhouse ovaries that are then fertilized with semen and grown in a laboratory for seven days. Using this method, several hundred eggs can be harvested and fertilized with one straw of genetically superior sexed or conventional semen.  The result is the production of dozens of good quality embryos. The great news is that using fresh embryos produced in vitro during the summer results in an increase in the number of heifer calves born and pregnancy rates return to levels achieved during the cooler months of the year.

How do you Measure Heat Stress?

We all know that, before you can fix anything, you must be able to measure the problem.  When considering heat stress, researchers have developed the Temperature Humidity Index.  This measures ambient temperature and relative humidity readings.  This index was developed over 50 years ago.  Original benchmarks showed that dairy cattle become heat stressed at a THI of 72. This has been revised by research produced at the University of Arizona.  Modern THI has been set to 68 as the level at which cattle become heat stressed. This considerably expands the heat stress calendar and emphasizes the need to have strategies in place to deal with the decline in reproduction.

Will you lose Money or spend it?

Embryos of high genetic merit can often be obtained for $300.

Before you look at that as a too-costly of expense consider the red hot costs of heat losses

  • $ the cost of carrying extra animals to cover lower production  (net of $3-$5 per extra animal per day)
  • $$ cost of a lost heat cycle
  • $$$ extra labor for heat detection and breeding more animals, ($25 per missed conception)
  • $$$$ semen costs ($40 per dose)
  • $$$$$ drug cost ($20-$20 per usage)
  • $$$$$$ more time spent in dry pens ($4 per day)
  • $$$$$$$ having to raise more heifers   ($2.50 per day)

The amounts you incur for the above items may be somewhat higher or lower than those we have used. The important point is that you know what it’s costing you.  Summer pregnancy losses are not free.

What are you Waiting For?

It’s one thing to recognize the issues.  It’s another to take action. Three main reasons are given for staying on the merry-go-round:

  • Unfamiliar with buying embryos
  • Setting a dollar limit. Lots of $200 to $300 would serve most breeders quite well.
  • Avoiding the accounting that shows how much is lost (see above). $175 cost of a lost heat cycle

As stated earlier results clearly support the effectiveness of embryo transfer.  University of Florida researchers published a study (2011) that concluded that vitrified embryos (42.1 %) doubled the pregnancy rate of A.I (18.3%). Furthermore, the study showed higher pregnancy rates when vitrified embryos (29.3) were compared to A.I. (18.3).

Work it Out with A Pencil

It is as if breeders think that the cool weather rates are 100%, and therefore slippage is still okay.  This is so wrong.  Average standard pregnancy rates are only 20%, and, therefore, hot weather losses reduce this to 10%.  Furthermore, the heat stressed period is not just a small percentage of the year.  Even in the northern ranges, hot weather can affect four months. In some southern areas, such as Florida, that rises to 7 months of high-temperature effects.  No matter how you do the math, this is a major loss to dairy profitability.


  • Maintain pregnancy rate of 20% throughout the summer
  • Take appropriate measures to reduce heat stress effects on milk production
  • Consider embryo transfer to maintain pregnancy rates

The Bullvine Bottom Line

When the heat is on, pregnancy rates spiral downward. Cooling strategies are proven to help milk production.  To counteract lowered pregnancy rates, you must look to embryo transfer. It’s all about money. Money wasted riding down the summer slide.  OR?  Money invested to fly higher through summer pregnancies.  The choice is yours.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Send this to friend