Payday Loans Payday Loans

Archive for 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.

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

Stray voltage. It’s unseen.  It’s hard to identify.  And for a growing number of North American dairies, stray voltage is a very real problem that is not easily solved before it causes irreparable damage.

Let’s begin with a look at a few headlines from Canada and the United States.

Here is a closer look at specific North American cases.

Canadian Conundrum Goes Nowhere

In Ontario Canada, Chatham-Kent dairy farmers Patrick and Loretta Herbert have been struggling with the stray voltage issue for seven years.  For them, one hundred and thirty-two years of family history on the farm may end when they are forced to walk away without solving this heart-wrenching mystery.

In USA Stray Voltage Sparks Current Lawsuits

Across the border, stray voltage is in the courts as dairy farmers seek damages from utility companies.  At one point in 2013 there were six active lawsuits in Minnesota.  The results were in stark contrast to the Canadian blame game and court dismissals.

In Waverly, a jury awarded 2.5 million to dairy farmers after determining that stray voltage from faulty power company equipment was responsible for production losses. Harlan and Jennifer Poopler and Roy Marshall began their legal fight with Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association in 2012. At that time, they were awarded $750,000. That award was overturned when the appellate courts ordered a new trial because of errors of the trial court.

In another case, Crow Wing Power of Brainerd was found “negligent in its response to a northern Minnesota farm family’s concerns about stray voltage on their property. The jury awarded Randy and Peggy Norman $4.8 million in economic loss damages and $1.5 million in nuisance damages for a total of $6.3 million, the largest amount ever awarded in a stray voltage case in state history, according to the Normans’ attorneys.”(Read more “Minnesota Farm Awarded Record $6.3M in ‘Stray Voltage’ Lawsuit)

Let’s look back at the Canadian case for examples of arguments put forth by the defending utility companies.

Hydro is “Not Responsible.”

  1. “We don’t know if it is stray voltage or if it isn’t” (Ontario Hydro spokesperson)
  2. “We did some tests to make sure it wasn’t our equipment.”( OH spokesperson)
  3. Hydro One installed a Dairyland Isolater in an attempt to address the issue (paid for by owner). It didn’t help
  4. “Hydro One is not taking responsibility for its practice of routinely sinking current into the ground throughout rural Ontario.” Affected dairy owners say, “We need to get the antiquated distribution network out of the ground and back on the lines.”

Stray voltage is unique to North America.

The most common source of stray voltage in Canada and the U.S. is neutral current generated by typical power consumption in the grounded neutral electrical distribution system. Electrical distribution in Europe is phase-to-phase and with the rare exception of electric shock from ground faults there is no stray voltage on European farms.

Stray voltage in livestock agriculture is the difference in voltage potential measured between two surfaces that may be contacted simultaneously by an animal. Stray current is the electric current that flows through an animal when it makes simultaneous contact with two surfaces that have different electrical potentials.

Research indicates that most animals are not affected by low levels of stray voltage, but those that are developing “behavioural avoidance” patterns. Sensitive cows may show mild behavioural avoidance at current exposures exceeding two milliamps, corresponding to about 1-2 volts.  (Read more: Stray Voltage and Robotic Milking of Dairy Cows)

The electric current can course through the metal on a dairy farm, including through water troughs. This can lead to cows not drinking enough water, not eating enough food and a reduction in milk production, as a result, according to a 2009 publication produced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Stray voltage can also cause the animals to produce a stress hormone, decreasing the ability to fight infection.

Six Symptoms of Stray Voltage

  1. Somatic cell count rises
  2. Milk production declines
  3. Cattle are not showing heats
  4. Cattle are failing to conceive.
  5. There are unexplained metabolic disease
  6. Elevated death losses

What Solutions are Available?

Fighting this invisible enemy has tested the ingenuity of farmers, contractors, veterinarians and dairy industry consultants.  This is only a starting list, however, here are some that have been tried with varying degrees of success.

  • Consultation with veterinarians and other animal advisors
  • Water testing
  • Dowsing (a.k.a. witching) for electricity
  • Changing of feed providers
  • Changing power companies
  • Learning from autopsies
  • Decision to stop farming

Electrical and Structural Solutions

Only a few stray voltage problems can be solved with improved grounding or correction of electrical faults. That does not mean these things cannot play a role, but in most cases either an equipotential grid/plane or a piece of separation/correction equipment is needed.

A slatted floor beside the robot also helps keep the area dry and clean and provides a convenient place to drain wash water and waste milk.

With no maintenance necessary, this is one of the better solutions. There are, however, two possible disadvantages.

  • Observation suggests cows are more comfortable walking on solid floors than slatted ones and would avoid slats if possible. If cows are reluctant to step onto the slats, it could be replacing one avoidance problem with another. Using a good quality waffle slat can help solve this potential problem.
  • It is costly to add a pit to an existing barn if it is only used to control stray voltage. But in a newly constructed barn a slatted floor area near the robotic milker is a good option.  (Read more: Stray Voltage and Robotic Milking of Dairy Cows)

Seeking Government Intervention

In 2005 a Private Member’s Bill (Bill 143) was introduced to Queen’s Park in Canada. It would have forced Hydro One and other distributors to respond quickly to stray voltage problems within a six month period. The bill received unanimous first and second reading support but failed to get final approval prior to an election being called.  In 2009 at the request of the Minister of Energy, the Ontario Energy Board ruled that electricity distributors must investigate stray voltage complaints and remedy them if the distribution system is at fault.

Canada: 2009 Ontario Energy Board Ruling

In 2009, the Ontario Energy Board ruled that electricity distributors must examine stray voltage concerns on livestock farms if the farmer can show that stray voltage may be adversely affecting the operation of the livestock farm.

Ruling (paraphrased)

Where an investigation reveals that either:

  1. ACC [animal contact current] on the farm exceeds 2.0 mA or
  2. ACV [animal contact voltage] on the farm exceeds 1.0 V

the distributor shall conduct tests to determine whether and the extent to which the distributor’s distribution system is contributing to farm stray voltage measured on the farm.

Where the tests reveal that the distributor’s distribution system is contributing more than 1 mA ACC or 0.5 V ACV to farm stray voltage on a farm, the distributor shall take such steps as may be required to ensure that such contribution does not exceed 1 mA ACC or 0.5 V ACV. (Read more: Stray Voltage and Robotic Milking of Dairy Cows)

One Last Effort

The couple from Chatham, Ontario have tried valiantly and failed so far– to find a solution.  As a last effort, they have installed four-by-10-foot steel plates and copper wire buried to within a foot of the soil surface in a ring around the barn. Their hope was that this installation will isolate the dairy barn from any ground current and allow the voltage to be analyzed in real time.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The crippling effects of stray voltage affect all aspects of the dairy farm and go beyond cow health, milk production and farm profitability.  Effective detection devices are the first step. It’s time to go beyond the shocking extremes between doing nothing at all and the awarding millions of dollars in settlements. Stakeholders on both sides of the problem need to take responsibility in seeking and implementing economical and efficient solutions.



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




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

The Inside Story on Calf Care Alternatives

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

The decisions you make regarding calf housing and feeding methods can have an enormous impact on their health growth and behavior and, as a result, will also affect your dairy farm profit.

Housing, Feeding and Management on the Inside

Research and breeder experience have determined that the benchmark housing choice for disease control in nursing calves is still an individual outdoor hutch. However, careful management and proper barn design can help make nursery barns for either individually or group-housed calves successful. Deciding which one to choose for your farm will require careful consideration of the pros and cons of both types of indoor management systems.

Better Housing by Design

When considering healthy indoor calf housing, the following housing principles are crucial to efficient design:

  1. The layout of the barn must provide a minimum of approximately 15 square feet of bedded area per calf in group pens.
  2. The design of the barn must offer a minimum of approximately 30 square feet in individual pens.
  3. Indoor housing has no physical barrier to prevent the spread of disease so plentiful space must be available.
  4. Indoor housing and feeding usually means the calves consume larger volumes of liquid. As a result, more space is needed per calf because bedding is soiled more quickly.
  5. It is important to remove moisture from the calf’s environment. Sloped concrete and floors with gravel draining base improve the removal of moisture and improve the insulating lifetime of the bedding while decreasing humidity for improved air hygiene in the calf barn.

Advantages for Dairy Calves Raised Indoors

There is a definite advantage for group housed nursing calves when they are given more space. Reports indicate drier beds, healthier calves, and better growth rates, with more space, calves can socialize and play freely in a more natural group setting. The open housing also allows calves to suckle the nozzle between feedings – also a natural behavior. With all the advantages, calf managers must still be as vigilant in monitoring calf health visually. Even with computerized monitoring of behavior changes managers must remember that not all calves change their feeding behavior when they are sick. So, despite the data collection advantages, managers must still be as vigilant in monitoring calf health visually as they are with individual housing.

Benefits for Dairy Producers

Every dairy operation will have its own opportunities and challenges with implementation of group feeding and indoor housing. Labor management differs between automatic group feeders and individual pens.  Total time spent is about the same for both systems, although the focus is different. Five areas that are gaining producer support are the positive results in the areas of calf well-being, dairy profitability, labor savings, caregiver comfort and protection of milk’s good image.

To prevent respiratory disease you must ensure good air hygiene through proper ventilation that is draft-free, preferably achieved through natural ventilation with supplemental positive-pressure tubes.

Inside Pen Management Pointers

  1. All-in/all-out management of group and individual pen calf barns can help break disease cycles by separating older calves from young ones in both time and space and thus reducing the risk of young calves picking up pathogens from contact with older animals.
  2. Clean, deep, dry bedding allows calves to “nest” and, as a result, trap a layer of warm air around themselves to reduce heat loss as well as lowering airborne bacterial counts.
  3. Air exchange is an important consideration and must be managed
  4. If the system is not computerized, it is still important to keep accurate records.

Choosing Between Individual or Group Housing

Before you even consider how to house your nursing calves, a successful program must have started with excellent pre-fresh cow and heifer care, clean maternity pens, and attentive newborn care. Prompt removal from the adult cow environment, navel dipping and colostrum feeding are the next steps. It is well accepted that using individual pens to house calves can solve many of the concerns regarding the spread of disease.  Sick calves may be easier to pick out in individual pens with screening done at each feeding, with restraint for examination and quicker treatment. The issue of socialization can be somewhat resolved by placing calves in pairs by removing a panel between two pens after the period of highest disease risk has passed, perhaps after 2 or 3 weeks old or even waiting until much closer to or after weaning.

With individual pens, chores are mostly focused on feeding and cleaning up after each calf.

Group housing compliments automated feeding systems and allows calves to exhibit or develop healthy social behaviors.

Consider Automated Feeding

Automatic group feeders not only allow for greater volumes of milk or replacer to be fed per day but also allow for a more natural frequency and distribution of milk meals. Producers have automated control over how much milk or replacer each calf receives during its stay in the nursery and can automatically schedule weaning. This removes the potential for human error.

Choosing Between Individual or Group Feeders

It goes without saying that timely delivery of an appropriate quantity of quality, clean colostrum is essential for providing passive immunity to calves. This is especially important for those raised in groups. Labor management differs in focus but not amount between automatic group feeders and individual pens.  The work associated with automatic group feeders is spent more on monitoring, managing health and watching performance. The schedule is more flexible than that needed for individually housed calves, where the chores are mostly focused on feeding and clearing up after each calf.

Challenges with Automated Feeder Management

Every system has its pluses and minuses.  It is important to get the details right when you implement an automated feeding system.

  1. A high stocking density relative to machine availability results in inadequate time for all calves to nurse, which can lead to cross-sucking.
  2. Less expensive machines need more frequent attention for filling and do not have data recording or self-cleaning capabilities.
  3. Not all machines can serve every nipple simultaneously. This reduces the time available to feed calves at each station.
  4. Mixing problems, due to inaccurate calibration and problems with milk replacer clumping, can result in inconsistent delivery of milk or replacer, which can lead to increased incidence of cross-sucking as well as scours and other diseases.
  5. Inadequate cleaning of the machines, either due to inadequate maintenance or even water quality problems, is also one of the main causes of disease in group-housed nursery calves.
  6. Increased group size can mean less time available per calf to nurse and greater risk of exposure to potentially more sick calves.
  7. Note: Producers often find smaller group sizes to be more efficient for calf health and growth.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Recent innovations have made group feeding and rearing a practical alternative to traditional rearing in individual pens or hutches. As producers move away from hutches and look into building new calf barns or remodeling an existing barn to house nursing calves, they have the opportunity to consider both automatic group feeders, group housing or individual pens. Knowing the risks and benefits of both systems, as well as the investment involved, can help determine if the inside story is the right management fit for your operation.



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




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

There are many articles offering good advice to hard working dairy farm managers. The great thing about good advice is that it provides directional signs that we can use to navigate the twists and turns of the dairy farming road. We still fall over, lose our way and get grit in our shoes. But somehow having signposts we trust no matter what comes our way, gives us hope. Of course, our progress depends on whether or NOT we move forward with the advice. In short, the problem isn’t the advice that we are hearing. The problem is what we are doing about it.

The Milk House has been a great place for dairy breeders to share the advice that they find most helpful. Building upon that great discussion here is a selection of the 12 best pieces of dairy advice that you can ACT upon. (Read more: Introducing The Milk House – Dairy Breeder Networking on Facebook)

  1. Be proactive, not reactive!”
    If you’re going to act upon advice, you must have that as an automatic response. Several dairy breeders joined the discussion to say that this has helped their dairy development programs. “Don’t say I’ll just do it tomorrow when you can do it today.” And thus it happens that very early in our “Best Advice” list, we are being urged not only to hear advice or receive it…. But also to put the advice into action.
  2. “Be picky about who you listen ”
    At the other extreme from never taking advice from anyone is the dangerous situation where you accept advice from everyone! Some “experts” have their own agenda, which may be counterproductive to your goals. One dairyman points out the importance of seeking quality over quantity, “Surround yourself with knowledgeable people that that care about not only your business and your cows but about you too.” Others agree that it is possible to find sales rep whose help goes beyond lining their own pockets.” When it comes to advice, a large part of what you are doing is building strong relationships. (Read more: How To Choose The Best Dairy Consultant For Your Business)
  3. “Always remember that dairying is about cows and making milk!”
    When it comes to dairying, a lot of the best advice has to do with producing milk. Short and sweet guideposts start with “Milk makes money!” Those three words may seem dumb to some but are effective and build on the idea, “Breed for type and feed for production.” When you’re in the milk business, the obvious advice is to put the emphasis on production. One contributor refined this idea to “Breed for production and take the show cows as they come along.” Another Milk House contributor shared his trifecta of winning advice regarding this area: “There are three rules to high production – feed your milkers as well as you can, feed your dry cows as well as your milkers and grow your young stock.” Feeding advice rated high with many proactive dairy managers. One lady urged “Keep feeding the best you can, because if they drop, it’s near impossible to get them back up to where they were!” At first you might think this next piece of advice is counter-productive when it urges a negative: “You don’t have to feed what you grow.” The explanation clears up the confusion. “If you have a bad year of making hay then you’ll have a bad year making milk unless you find something better.” Going back from the cattle feeding to the dairy cattle themselves is this advice, “Take care of the cows and the cows will take care of you”.
  4. Know your cows!”
    In the dairy business, your success with the cattle depends on how well you notice the little things. Dairy breeders who know their cattle will know when something is off. For one thing, the cattle themselves will be sending the message that something is wrong. Of course, then it goes back to “doing something about it!” The better you know your dairy herd, the more flexible you will be in responding to problems. Flexibility is key because, just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something will throw you a curve ball – the weather, milk prices, employees or illness. The more you know your own situation, the more okay you will be with changing the plan if you need to.
  5. Keep your calves alive and your cows pregnant”
    This two-pronged approach of pregnant cows and live calves is a profit maker according to successful dairy managers. “It’s hard to lose money if you do both those things well!” Of course if you can’t identify what is limiting your pregnancies or taking down your calves, you will be behind the eight ball. One reader shared advice she acted upon and gave us a pat on the back at the same time when she referenced, “That calf rearing article in The Bullvine some years ago certainly saved us a lot of money!”
  6. “Go back to school and get a business degree!”
    This is great advice for anyone choosing to manage or be part of a dairy business. Business touches on virtually every aspect of modern society and applying these premises to your goals can be a big help. Furthermore, business graduates are in high demand in all areas of agriculture. Another corollary for business-like thinking is this recommendation taken by some of our readers, ““If you treat dairying like a business it can make a comfortable lifestyle. If you treat dairying like a lifestyle, it can make for a lousy business.” One reader ended with this regret, “Too bad it took me so long to realize that it was true.
  7. “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know,”
    We think we know what we need. We feel that we are in charge, and we talk about targets and goals and visions, but our dairy team (family, employees, suppliers, vets and consultants) don’t care about any of that stuff for very long. We can communicate and engage and connect until the cows come home, but no one really listens to us. They just smile and nod and go back to doing their jobs the way they always have. But once we demonstrate that we care about them … then they care about us. And when they know we care, they will listen … and they will do what is needed.
  8. “Pay close attention to detail every day and do all those “small/extra things” that make a big difference at the end of the day!”
    More, bigger and better aren’t always the key to success. Often times, it is simply doing the little things well. Sometimes it’s a small change that makes a big difference. This is true with our attitudes as well. Each day, pay attention to at least one or two moments that worked out well for your dairy. Don’t shrug your shoulders and conclude that “it was just a crappy day…” Even a bad experience has a valuable moment wrapped up inside of it, if only you‘re willing to dig deeper to discover it. Pay attention to what you have done. The constant barrage to “DO more,” “GET more,” and “BE more” negates what you have done, what you have and who you are. It makes you feel deprived. Less than. Not good enough. In this competitive world of dairying, we often need to remind ourselves of what we have accomplished.
  9. “You should act the way that you want people to remember you.”
    Many dairy people recognize the importance of this advice that Dr. Seuss phrased this way, “Today I will behave as if this is the day I will be remembered” This great advice applies equally well in the ring, on the farm and in life. Live today the way you want to be remembered tomorrow. What a difference that could make toward resolving the unpleasantness of overheard conversations, undercover videos or candid camera shots!
  10. “Work hard but play harder!” Despite the 24/7 nature of dairy farming, or maybe because of it, successful dairy farmers recognize the importance of balancing work and play. Along with the planting, harvesting, milking and equipment maintenance, many dairy operations have jet skis, snowmobiles, 4-wheelers, and boats. They play hard and enjoy life! Others confirm that it is important to spend time with family and friends away from the dairy farm. “It helps you maintain perspective on the challenges you face and thus on the future of your operation.” Not only that, but time off can recharge your batteries and improve performance. So take at least one weekend off of the farm no matter what. Ask a relative, friend, neighbor, or whoever to milk, in order to keep yourself from burning out.
  11. A Truism of Animal Agriculture: “If you have livestock, then you’re gonna have deadstock.”
    The cycle of life and death is something every dairy farmer must deal with. One of our Milk House contributors was told this when she was upset and crying at the loss of one of the farm animals. No matter how true it is, it doesn’t entirely take away feelings of loss when one of our animals loses the fight for life. Striving to improve these odds is an area we all seek advice on.

The previous 11 pieces of advice have contributed to keeping the dairy breeders who shared them focused, compassionate and successful. It is important to remember the three step process of

  1. Hearing the advice
  2. Accepting the advice
  3. Taking action on the advice.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

And so we close with our twelfth piece of dairy wisdom. #12 “Enjoy what you have. It may be nice to look toward what “may” happen in the future – but ALWAYS appreciate what God has given you today!” That is a great piece of advice that we can all act on immediately.



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





Comments (0)
Categories : Management

A revolutionary rotary dairy platform that is 80% lighter than concrete and five times stronger will be operating in Australia within months.

The design has been patented by Waikato Milking Systems from Hamilton, New Zealand, and incorporates a product usually found in bullet-proof vests and aircraft.

Demand for the Centrus platform contributed to 40% growth in Waikato’s international business last year — principally driven from demand in the USA, the UK, China, South Africa and Australia. 

Growth is expected to jump by a similar margin again this year — despite the reality that Waikato is operating in a dairying landscape struggling with disappointing milk prices.

The Centrus platforms have been the icing on the cake for Waikato’s most recent success story, but it is far from the only story. It has taken Waikato just three decades to become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of rotary dairy platforms and technology. 

The Centrus platform is the latest hero in Waikato Milking Systems’ business.

The platform is made using a multi-layer laminate process that includes Kevlar®, a synthetic fibre used in a host of applications from bike tyres and racing sails to probably its best-known use: body armour. Because of its high tensile strength, Kevlar is one of the strongest man-made fibres on the market. Waikato infuses it with resin in a multi-layer design, which gives it extreme impact resistance. High profile rubber mats, that are water jet-cut in Germany, are fitted and secured into the recessed moulded platform at installation.

Kevlar’s lightness and strength has been a game changer for big dairies, says Waikato’s Chief Executive Officer, Dean Bell.

“The platform is more power-efficient, because it is so much lighter,” Dean says, “but the real gain on these systems is that a rotary platform is very much like a great, big bearing. And the more stress and load you can take out of it, the longer you can go between service intervals. It just makes a lot of sense to use modern materials that are strong and also very, very light.”

Dean says candidly that Centrus has fuelled recent international inquiry, but ultimately it has been Waikato’s ability to control design, manufacture at high quality and complete full dairy installations in house, that has completed the big picture.

The new Centrus dairy platform is 80% lighter and five times stronger than concrete. Photo supplied.

The new Centrus dairy platform is 80% lighter and five times stronger than concrete. Photo supplied.

Turnkey ability a strength

The fully New Zealand-owned company is housed under one roof on 1.6 hectares in the heart of dairying country in the North Island. From there, Waikato designs, manufactures and installs everything used in the dairy – right down to the receival vessels.

Dean has been with the company 25 years, and says when it comes to milking componentry, Waikato has produced some of the most technologically advanced innovations on the market today.

“We are one of the only companies in the world that can do everything from start to finish. I actually can’t think of anyone else. With all of our divisions together under the one roof, it means we can share the common designs right down to the smallest details. There is nothing we can’t build. It’s just a matter of getting the guys together and making sure it fits.

“We have lots of pretty interesting technology and componentry that historically we’ve sold to various parts of the world. But over the last handful of years we’ve really started to get focused on our rotary expertise. And as we’ve got bigger, we started exporting complete rotary solutions.”

Big targets

He says interest in the Centrus has mainly come from big dairies – many of which are milking more than twice a day.

“The one we’ve just finished the design on is for an 84-bail dairy and, to be honest, the target audience is almost exclusively international, and it’s almost exclusively for 24-hour dairies that milk big, North American-bred Holsteins.

“The Centrus also includes the new automatic aligning pivot roller, so it’s designed for high-use dairies that never shut down. For the big international dairies, we also use steelwork that is almost three times the weight of what we use typically here in NZ or in countries that are more grazing based.”

Waikato Milking Systems had a big presence in the trade exhibits at last year’s World Dairy Expo at Madison, in the USA. The event draws 70,000 visitors from 90 countries annually. Photo: Dianna Malcolm.

Waikato Milking Systems had a big presence in the trade exhibits at last year’s World Dairy Expo at Madison, in the USA. The event draws 70,000 visitors from 90 countries annually. Photo: Dianna Malcolm.

Staff at the ready

For the first Centrus installation, not only did Waikato ship the ready-to-assemble dairy in four containers, it also sent its development team. So, if any tweaks were needed, they had the qualified staff on the ground to make it happen. It takes two weeks to install the platform and another two to three weeks to install the milking system.

“It’s a bit different doing it that way, but we wanted to have the designers seeing how things worked in practice,” Dean says. “Then it can be more of an engineering assembly.”

Waikato also produces conventional concrete rotary platforms, one of which – the Orbit – has an extra-wide (2.7m) deck, providing protection for the milking machine and a larger standing area for the cows. Its range of herringbone systems includes one that has a single 100mm milk pipe, which drains into a receiver at the end of the pit, making milking fast and uninterrupted.

Innovation award

Dairy componentry remains an important part of the business.

“Earlier this year we introduced an electronic milk meter which won the Supreme Award at the Plastics Industry Design Awards. It’s the most accurate meter on the market, giving farmers real-time information on the production of each cow.”

Dean adds that the company’s SmartD-TECT mastitis identification technology continues to be one the simplest and most accurate ways to find mastitis in individual quarters early, with the system alerting the operator. More company innovations were expected to be unveiled at the New Zealand Fieldays, in Hamilton, in June.

“We understand farmers don’t want to invest in large capital items which become outdated, so future-proofing is factored into everything we do.”

Confidence builds quality

Dean says Waikato’s focus continues to be on customer satisfaction.

“We have grown in confidence over the years. We’re building very high quality products that are very innovative, in a space where no one has operated before.

“And so, to a certain extent, I think we are pretty good at this and we’re very, very fussy. We find when we bring customers from around the world to our office – and they go through the factories and meet with us – they almost always buy.

“So, we’re not really selling in that sense. Typically they have seen a lot of our competitors already, and if they are buying from us then we’re not doing too badly. And they are making an informed decision. If we’re not the right decision, then we’re not the right decision. We want people to get to the end of any major project and feel that we were decent to deal with.

“Ideally, it makes sense for our clients to make a quick trip to New Zealand – and, it’s not the worst place in the world to visit.”

andrew crazy cow cover

This article first appeared in the June – August 2015 Edition of Crazy Cow in Print.  Click here to check out there Facebook group.


Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Dairying is a complicated business.  Sometimes you need to ask for help. None of us knows everything about growing and managing a dairy herd.  Some are just starting out. Others might be upscaling? Or downsizing?  Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, there could be major questions about dairy nutrition, finances, real estate or animal buying and selling.  At the Bullvine we think there are many questions to ask before hiring a consultant.

The second question is the most important one!

When you’re trying to make sense of a problem, there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Ask them all.  The more, the better.  But the most important question each time is the SECOND question.  That is not question #2.  The second question is that one that you ask after you have been given a part answer.  Listen for what you haven’t been told yet.  Here are ten guidelines that will help you to find the right consultant for your dairy business and we have added a second question to each one to get you started with this important questioning process.


When hiring a consultant, make sure to hire superior problem solvers.  First off you must know actual data on the problem your dairy is facing.  A good consultant should have experience with the challenges or opportunities you are facing.  You need the experience they bring to the table.  That’s what makes it possible to address the issues you face and turn performance into profits. Be specific about everything that you expect the consultant to deliver or produce.

The second question:  What do you expect from me?  What can I expect from you?

Opinion and analysis are great.  But where’s the action plan?

Once you have transparency between both parties, a good action plan is critical.  This must include a method of evaluating the performance expected.  Setting benchmarks based on your objectives and having detailed follow-up is the true measure of the client-consultant relationship.  If you don’t have an action plan to implement, how do you evaluate what you are paying for?

The second question:  Will you provide a written action plan?

What’s The UP side of having a Consultant?

Having someone work with you to develop your dairy operation can be very rewarding.  Successful partnerships establish a trust-based relationship. The relationship between dairy consultants and dairy managers is not unlike the relationship between a doctor and patient.  When there is complete candor, the consultant is not hindered in his or her effort to help your dairy business.  Chose a consultant with whom you can develop this kind of professional relationship.

The second question:  Is our proposed project one that you have the enthusiasm to take on?

GIVE AND TAKE. Who’s giving?  Who’s taking?

Sometimes you can be fooled about the hidden agenda of the person you’re consulting with. I worked with one young lady who had hired me for a marketing project. Our initial meetings went well, and I was given the job of writing up a plan.  In due time, she returned for a review of the completed work.  She arrived at my office without a briefcase, which was a small but significant sign that alerted me to the fact that this wasn’t the usual information exchange. I asked the second question, “Are we working together today?” Sure enough, she explained, “I have found a student who will carry out this project … for a lot less than you requested. So I just need you to give it to me.”  She was the only person who was surprised that she left my office without said project. As I was closing the door, I did so with the words, “For that to happen, it would be unethical.” She was protesting every step of the way that her actions were not unethical because they would win her points with her boss, and that’s what SHE needed.”  Needless to say, the points were lost.  Her boss was told. I was compensated.  And no one had the project to implement.  I filed it under, “Older and wiser!” Bottom of Form

The second question:  What is your personal interest in our business relationship?  

The Big “E”: Expertise, Experience, and Ethics.

First and foremost, an effective consultant must be a person of the highest character.  He or she must be a consummate professional.  Before you entrust your financial future and/or the health and welfare of your dairy herd to other individuals, you want to be confident that they are willing to put your best interests ahead for their own.  For example, the consultant must be willing to tell you things you need to hear, but may not want to — even if doing so means that they lose your business.  Sure you want to hear that your project could bring in big bucks but your future depends on facts, not fiction. Sometimes the truth can hurt your pride. An experienced industry expert will give you facts supported by honest data. The consultant must demonstrate that they care deeply about all of their clients.  While you can’t depend on the rumor mill, do your due diligence and be aware that if some clients are taking losses instead of profits, you could be next.

The second question:  Can you provide industry references for me to speak with?

Are your consultants making you money or just taking it?

We’ve all run into the consultants who look the picture of success. They dress for it.  They drive it.  Their offices are magazine-cover perfect. However, how much of their success translates into moving your dairy operation forward? Consultants who keep up appearances sometimes do so at the expense of their clients. Make sure you know the financial stability of the consultant you are about to work with.  Everybody has ups and downs, but it’s not your job to maintain the consultant in the style that they have become accustomed to.

The second question:  What can you tell me about your financial stability?

Is your consultant ready and reliable? Will they report regularly?

Do you currently work with consultants? If the answer is yes, do you receive regular reports? At the very minimum, you should be receiving monthly updates outlining the progress made on your project.  Ideally you are getting live discussion either over the phone or, better yet, in person.  Whatever method is used to keep you informed, your consultant should continually be asking, “How can we do our job better?”

The second question:  Will you put your promises and results into a written report?

It’s SHOW and TELL time for everybody

Information is the most valuable commodity exchanged between a dairy operation and a potential consultant.  The most important pieces are knowing what results and deliverable are expected. Both sides must be open and straightforward with each other. Above all, it must be clearly defined regarding whom the consultant will work with and exactly who will do the job. In some cases, it may be necessary to specify who owns the finished work, as in the case of a customized feed product or intellectual property.  Perhaps confidentiality agreements will be needed. If results are to be released, who has sign off?  Is there a potential conflict of interest here? Knowing the answers to these questions in advance can prevent legal and financial hassles down the line.

The second question:  Is there something that they are not telling me?

Who’s the Boss?

There’s part of each of us that wants our consultants to remember, “The client is always right!” However, if that was true, why hire a consultant in the first place?  Yes, you know what you want but they should be telling you what to do.  They were hired because they have a specific expertise that you don’t have.  It doesn’t matter if you like what they say or not.  Their job as a consultant is to do what’s best for you.  Good consultants will have data to back up their solutions or promises.  Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time.  How a consultant handles, the roadblocks is the most important characteristic to look for. It is also interesting to find out if the boss of your consulting firm will be doing any of the work on your project.  Some bigger companies catch you with their reputation and then send junior consultants to carry out the work.

The second question:  Who will I actually be working with?

Working with a consultant means having a relationship

If you want to reduce your stress when hiring a consultant, recognize that you are both looking for a productive relationship.  Sometimes all you get is a regular “social” call, followed up by an invoice. Both parties should want more.  You’re looking to improve your dairy enterprise. Consultants only stay in business by getting results for their clients. Don’t get involved with a consultant who won’t or can’t provide you with results. Picking a consultant is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons.  “Better than nothing” is not a good foundation to build on.

The second question:  Are we just dating or is this a marriage?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the end of the day, most of us probably like our dairy consultants on a personal level.  After all, they work in this industry that we all feel passionate about.  However, that doesn’t mean they are the right consultant for us. They might indeed be good people but are with a firm that is more interested in selling their high-fee products and services. Quite frankly, without learning to ask the second question, it is hard to know whether you’re dealing with a trusted advisor or just a good salesperson.  Some folks might not care, but you should.

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


Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Today we are going to deal with name calling that surrounds this business of dairy farming.  Based on drive-by impressions, some non-farmers call dairies “Factory Farms”.  “Family Farm” which is somewhat more positively perceived, is usually only applied to small farms.  If said small farms are particularly successful, they too are in danger of sliding into the “Factory Farm” category.  For responsible dairy families the new buzzword is becoming, “Family Firm” and it’s turning around the negative tales which previously resulted from unsuccessful family negotiations.  For those choosing this model of business farming success, the “Family Firm” provides a strong foundation for generations who choose to work together.  It also avoids the quicksand that lack of succession planning causes some dairy families to fall into. Being unprepared literally sucks the life out of the family and sinks the hopes of continued farming for the next generation.

What Name Does Your Family Choose to Work Under?

You might think that choosing between two names is the least of the challenges facing your dairy farming family.  However, if one generation is working under the lifestyle-status-quo category and another is all-business-all- the time (not to mention the third family party who sees the farm merely as a paycheck for funding “real” life), the conflict is going to affect not only the family name but the family dairy profitability.

The first thing to get out of the way, is how the family feels about profitability.  There are some who feel profitability and a business focus could negatively impact how they feel about dairy farming. Others feel it only makes sense to continually improve the business processes to improve the product (milk) and the cows that produce it.  In the end the choice you make needs to be the one that gives all family members a strong sense of purpose, shared values and mutual goals for the dairy.

“Family businesses are neither families nor companies but the best and worst of both”

The above statement is true of family businesses the world over.  When families work together they go into it head first sometimes… heart first all the time.  And it isn’t too long until hard heads and cold hearts meet at the board room or kitchen table.  What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that a family dairy farm isn’t an entitlement due to birth.  It’s work.  It’s ownership.  Yes and, hopefully, there will be profits but there is also involvement, hard work and responsibility. The statistic that often gets lost, regardless of what side of the family farm fence you are standing on, is the fact that we are trying to fit 21st century farming into 20th century of even 19th Century “idea” of farming.  This romantic notion must give way to a business-like approach or we will see the end of farming all together.

“Are you already Behind the Late Ball?” 

Does your dairy farm have a clear succession plan in place? Do all family members know and agree with the details.  If asked, would they be able to clearly outline the important points?  Would there be major differences in what they thought was a given? Whenever families work together, there can be different expectations of different generations.  If the generations are the same, there can still be troublesome perceptions of who is “more equal”, when it comes to sharing the wealth.  Sometimes questions arise about “when” a succession plan should come into play, of even “if” one is needed. There are some dairy farmers who have no desire to stop their life’s work, regardless of the needs, wants and necessities of those who also are necessary to the profitable functioning of the dairy farm. Others suddenly see time winding down and want to get out ….now!!   Sit down.  Get it on paper.  It quite likely won’t be right on the first run through.  Work it out.  You wouldn’t leave the details of breeding feeding and caring for the dairy herd up to chance.  Don’t leave your succession planning there either. (To consider these concepts further refer to the Bullvine article, “Farm Succession: Which Exit is Yours?”

A Family Firm Needs to be Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

When considering the assets of a Family Dairy Firm, it doesn’t start and end with an accounting of the cows, machinery, buildings and land.  Of course, the first tally is that of the family. Each member brings unique talents and strengths to the business. There can be a variety of education, work and life experiences that add very real value to the business. If there is a crucial element missing, it’s never too late to do some studying.  In these rapidly changing times, dairy learning should be ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated. Remember this quote, “Commit yourself to lifelong learning.  The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.” (Brian Tracy – Canadian author and motivator)

When multi-generations work together health is a factor.  Health or health issues impact not only the day to day operation but also how modifications – technology and behavioral – will affect the ongoing functioning of the dairy. Aging can’t be avoided. Health conditions can strike young and old alike.  Be prepared to make changes that keep the operation operating.  All firms — country dairy or city conglomerate—must deal with their human resources responsibly.

What Makes the Family Firm Unique to Dairy Farming?

What distinguishes family businesses, of course, is family. Adding family values, loyalty, pride, cohesiveness, meaning and all the other strengths of family to the passion for the dairy industry provides support not available to many purely corporate enterprises. Today’s economy continues to chew up and spit out whole industries. Technology is evolving at unprecedented rates. Global competition and instantaneous communication have turned the competitive advantage of secrecy upside down.  Opportunities in other industries woo well-educated offspring off the farm. Add to this the increasing social and cultural pressures that make successful family life challenging, and targeting a 30% generational survival rate for the family farm is incredible testimony to the positive power of family when applied to the family dairy farm.

Who Owns the Family Firm? Who Owns the Farm? Who’s Getting Rich? 

Maintaining family control of the dairy operation can be difficult.  The increasing size of the family dictates that there must be expansion and growth.  Raising fresh capital or expanding revenue sources must be addressed. These are further sources of potential conflict. Should the family keep control?  Should capital be raised outside the family? If steady long-term growth is the goal what happens if one or more family members need cash now?

Don’t Derail Your Family Success with Family Fighting

Get a clear handle on the debt situation.  Only then will you be able to put your energies into moving forward.  Knowing the problem isn’t your biggest hurdle.  Avoiding dealing with it is.

Treat each other with respect.  Families become very familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Being able to push buttons is not a license to do so. Some families develop an adult version of “time out” so that words said in the heat of emotion don’t prevent the family from dealing with the problem. Walking away until cooler heads can prevail is a lot better than making any problem into a situation that is insurmountable.

Everyone participates.  A family firm cannot build on the labor and responsibility of one or two.  It takes a whole family bringing something to the business to make it a successful family farm.  Farming is a legacy.  What it isn’t is a gift that is passed on by entitlement only.  “Everyone involved in the succession should be able to point to what they bring to the table that will allow the dairy operation to continue successfully”.

Dairy farm families must decide, “Does the family serve the business, or does the business serve the family.”  

This could be the most important discussion of all .Work out what the business owes to each generation.  These are tough conversations but nothing goes forward or continues, until the answers are clear— and accepted by everyone.

For more information on the above five succession complications, see ‘Five Stingers that You want to Avoid’ in the Bullvine article, “Farm Succession: Kicking the Hornet’s Nest?

Building a Firm Foundation for the Family Farm

Family farms can go under for many reasons beyond the day to day operation:

  • Conflicts over money;
  • Seeing management weakness through rose colored glasses;
  • Infighting over who’s the boss
  • Squabbles about the succession of power from one generation to the next.

Family farms that survive for many generations make sure that every generation is empowered with a strong sense of purpose.  Over decades, they develop oral and written agreements that address issues that affect the longevity and profitability of the dairy operation. They continually update the roles and responsibilities of all family members who are involved in the business.  It is clearly stated who can and cannot derive profit from the dairy farm. The continual development and interpretation of these agreements is the key that turns the dairy firm into a successful one or one that fails.

The Bullvine Bottom Line 

Dairy farming is not a sure thing.  Family farms and Family firms need clear rules and guidelines to build on.  Success often depends on a shared long-term vision coupled with hard work every single day.  Almost all dairies started out at one time as family businesses.  Those that master the challenges of this business model will endure and prosper for generations. The work involved in developing the dairy firm is complex, extensive and never-ending.  However, when the name-calling is over, it is clear that whether it’s family farm or family firm … the most important part of the equation to focus on is “FAMILY”!



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




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Dairy farm businesses are under extreme pressure. Producers everywhere are looking to boost their profitability wherever possible.  When it comes to growing profitability, the goal is to use simple, common-sense tactics for cost savings that go directly to your dairy bottom line.

Forget the TOP Line – YOUR Profitability starts on the BOTTOM Line

Too often we mistakenly focus on the topline (gross revenue, sales, even wins in the showring). That is costly and pays attention to the wrong end. Start by looking to the bottom line. The bottom line focuses on expenses. Not just the cost paid out but the benefits gained. And remember it’s the little things that count – a ten percent increase in profit is more likely to come from twenty things that contribute one-half percent each than from one thing that gives you the full 10 percent.

Here are 12 tips to start you on your way to a better bottom line and more profitability.

  1. Bottom-up budgeting. The first thing to think about is the net that your dairy enterprise must earn. Everyone involved in the dairy needs to contribute to this investigation of what is absolutely required to sustain a profitable operation. Communication of successes, challenges and future potential must be openly communicated. One of the primary advantages of bottom-up budgeting is that it is traditionally very accurate. As long as everyone takes care to look responsibly at their area of the operation, it will generally come out with an accurate estimate of costs. It is important that all input be received – without padding.  Accuracy gives the foundation to build on. Padding could defeat the whole purpose!
  2. Set targets and achieve You need to be looking at key performance indicators (aka KPIs) and measuring your dairy against them. It is essential to know what you are comparing to so you can work towards it. . When possible, try to quantify the results you are aiming for with quantities, percentages, dollars or time. This will allow you to measure what you have achieved and readjust accordingly. Ideally, you should set goals for the long-term, and then mini goals that are short-term and ultimately tie in with the bigger picture. Differentiating between the two will help you from becoming overwhelmed or discouraged, and will also assist in always keeping the long-term perspective in mind when the day to day threatens to make you lose sight of it.
  3. Make sure the goal is in the right hands. This means the goal must be achievable as a result of your own hard work and determination, or with the willing assistance of someone already in your network. If you have no control over the outcome, it does not make for a realistic goal. Everyone has a role in meeting goals. Each individual, each team and every dairy animal will contribute to the bottom line profitability if they are assigned measurable goals that are linked to that outcome. In order to increase motivation, employees need to be allowed to participate in the goal-setting process. With agreed upon actions and measurable outcomes everyone can identify how their contribution contributes to the success of the dairy operation. Most importantly, when approaching completion of a goal, set a new one.
  4. Beware of false savings. When times get tough, it is tempting to cut back on expensive inputs. Fertiliser or other soil treatments might go on the chopping block. Grazed pasture is the cheapest feed for dairy cows.  When ensiled for the winter it is the lowest cost feed. Saving on crop input costs could indeed be false saving. A better way of saving money would be testing soils tri-yearly and applying the right quantities of slurry, farmyard manure and fertiliser. False economies are everywhere, and the way to avoid them, as much as possible, is to take a strategic approach to thinking through them. Economies of taking away feed additives; doing without automation or adding more free labor (i.e. family) could actually cost more in the long term.
  5. Shop around. Make sure you get three quotes for everything that is purchased for the farm. Don’t forget to look at electricity, labour and even borrowing money. Getting quotes from power companies is easy, or you can use a broker. If you use self-employed labour or a contractor getting quotes can be appropriate or comparing other affordable options. Quotes for money means, simply, talking to other banks than your own. It’s in your profitability’s best interests to compare all suppliers on the basis of price, capabilities and performance. It’s false saving to have a cheap price that doesn’t provide results (see #4).
  6. Milk your milk check. Depending on particular countries, provinces and states .. there are many different rules to meet in order to receive your milk check. It is in your profitability’s best interest to increase the milk price in whatever ways are available to you. Take advantage of all the bonuses available. That could be for butterfat, protein, quality or pattern of supply. Seasonal incentive pricing exists in many areas so take advantage of it also!
  7. Make good on your grazing. Some advisers suggest that now is the time to intervene if your grass is not at its best. With half the season left you could still fix it. Mow and either feed the grass or bale Fertilise the field and get it back in the grazing rotation within 30 days. Also reconsider those late cuts. They are always more expensive to harvest as silage, so graze it or make dry bales to reduce costs.
  8. Manage the short term AND always make sure you have a plan B in every scenario. A plan is the one which has been put on the piece of paper. If it is not on the piece of paper, if it is not in black and white then it is just some random set of ideas and not a If you are really serious about creating a profitability plan, you will make efforts to write it down somewhere and share it with others. Of course, just writing your plan down on paper won’t make it “profitable”. But it is a good start.
  9. Always be better. In many countries, dairying is definitely seeing difficult times but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for improvement.Set some goals for changes that you want to make to your dairy ­
    1. Continuous improvement should be the number one “VALUE” of the profitable dairy operation.
    2. Continuous improvement is linked with rewards and recognition.
    3. Continuous improvement should be supported by continuous training that is measured for effectiveness.
  10. Calculate the ROI of everything you do. ROI is a more important metric than any conversion rate simply because it takes ‘COST’ into account. As long as you take ‘Cost’ into consideration, you can’t go wrong with improving your business bottom-line. Calculate ‘cost per acquisition’ for all of your dairy (show string; advertising; genetics). Even calculate ROI of all of your meetings, business travel and lunches. What about the days it takes for you to do all your accounting? Equipment repair? Building maintenance? Does your milk production suffer when you have to wear one of your other hats? Vet? Office manager? Field manager?
  11. Hire an Expert. There is always an opportunity – lost or gained – when you choose to do things yourself in which you are not an expert or when you hire someone who is not an expert.
    While you may gain by not writing a check to someone else, you could still be putting money down the drain. When your bookkeeping, animal health protocols, feed supplies or equipment maintenance are sub-par, any one of them could be substantially reducing your bottom line and be costing you your time, your health, mediocre results and even complete failure.
    Hiring an expert may not be profitable at first but, in the long run, can be the best bang for your buck. Not only will you recover your entire hiring cost sooner but you will also make a lot of money on top of that, and you will continue to do so for an extended period. However, all of this can happen only when you first understand that you can’t be an expert in everything and that you need someone who is really an expert in their field.
  12. Manage for Improvement. Efficiency is gained when revenue per cow grows.  Technology, genomics, robotics all are tools, so your herd can become more productive and you don’t have to add new headcount to grow.  What if you could replace your lowest 10% of performers with new cattle that matched your top 10%?  This would result in an enormous productivity boost at virtually no incremental cost.  There are many techniques to improve productivity, but the point is that constantly growing headcount certainly will result in overhead growth but won’t necessarily lead to profitable revenue growth. Focus on acquiring or raising only the best animals. Your best milk producers are your most profitable producers. If you don’t know your best producers yet then get to know them ASAP. If you don’t know which animals are driving up expenses …. Find out ASAP. According to the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80–20 rule), 80% of your costs come from 20% of your herd. These 20% of your herd are hurting your bottom line. The other 80% are your high-value You need more of these best producers to improve your business bottom line. So gradually start reducing your herd of those high expense producers. Aim to breed more cattle targeted at reducing your most limiting genetic factor or factors (reproduction, feet and legs, calving ease).  It is not really rocket science, but some dairy business owners and managers just don’t get it. They remain busy in acquiring low-value animals because they have never made the effort to identify and target their best producers.  Low-value producers — still produce milk — but all milk isn’t equal.  Even though it’s all the same once it’s in the milk tank, there can be quite a difference in the cost that got it that far. The lowest producing cow in the milk line may already have run up extra costs because she was sick as a calf.

The Bullvine Bottom Line
A dollar gained in revenue is an excellent thing assuming it builds profitability. However, remember, only a small portion reaches net earnings.  A dollar saved from cost, however, goes directly to the bottom line.  So move your focus away from the top-line and engage in a systematic approach for improving the bottom line. It’s the best way to ensure long-term dairy profitability and sustainability.



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





Comments (0)
Categories : Financial Managment

Today I drove past a crew of highway maintenance workers and one was pounding in a stake, one was holding the stake, one had a white hard hat and was obviously the crew chief and three were watching. Like most Bullvine readers, my mind reacted by saying – “Now isn’t that an inefficient use of our taxpayers dollars!”  Fifty percent of that crew were taking their pay check but not giving back.  You could be correct if you were to say that I judged too quickly. Perhaps I did not have all the facts. Most of us are quick to judge outside situations. However when it comes to our own milk producing work force are we business like, when it comes to the number of workers required to get the job done?

Tighter Margins Means Stringent Culling

Last year when milk was $22.00 /cwt FOB the farm gate, cows below herd average for revenue generation or above herd average for problems could be tolerated. But 2015 is a new year. Milk is only returning $18.00/cwt. That $4.00/cwt difference in revenue has a significant impact on cow to cow margins. Cows are your work force. 2015 is good year to get the pencil out and do the math on which cows to cull and thereby, in fact, increase the daily herd profit.

Jack Welch 10% Removal Method 

A previous Bullvine article called Why You Should Get Rid Of the Bottom 10% was based on former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch’s theory of removing the bottom 10% of workers every year. Even though that may sound extreme, few can argue with the 4000% growth in GE’s value over the 20 years Mr. Welch led the company. That previous Bullvine article focused readers’ attention on reproduction, heifer rearing, animal health and technological changes. This article aims to apply dollars and cents to identify potential cull animals. So you can allocate the feed and energy to the animals retained.

Calculate The Dollars

Once the very obvious culls have been removed from the herd, breeders need some way to decide which animals are the next ones to be culled. As dairying is a business, it seems appropriate to make the decisions based on what drives profit. More profit comes from either less cost or more revenue.  Let’s look at how that could play out on dairy farms.

These Six Animals Can Be Culled Immediately

By attaching dollar values the following six scenarios came to the top of our list:

  • Her Somatic Cell is Over 3.00
    Think about it. You spend $2500 to raise a heifer only to have her produce milk that is over 3.00 SCS. Cows like that help put you in a potential penalty position, when it comes to the requirement that herd average SCC be under 400,000. Why keep cows that must be milked separately and their milk pasteurized and then used to feed calves? There are no dairy purpose sale opportunities for high SCS first calving cows. With a beef market value at $1300 (net), you have just lost $1200 on her. There is considerable documented field research to show that when a cow gets a third case of mastitis in a lactation that immediately puts her in the category of loosing money, no matter what the production level is. Considering lost saleable milk, drug costs, labor costs and consumption of valuable feed, cows that have high SCS’s can easily be costing you $2.00 per milking day. And that is not to mention the danger of shipping milk that contains a drug residue.
  • Her Conception Rate is Costing Time, Resources and Money
    Cows that take more than three services and heifers that take more than two services to conceive, cost big time. They have increased costs of $400 – $500 per year and likely $2000 per lifetime. That is based on added semen, labor (farm manager, farm worker, vet & technician) and drugs costs. Also included are the extra days she spends being non-productive (prior to first calving and in dry pens) and her time at lower production levels in her lifetime. These types of animals are losing you $1.60 per milking day. Looking at improved reproduction from a net perspective, Jeff Stevenson of Kansas State University determined that moving up pregnancy rate by 2% will net a dairyman $132 per cow per year as a result of more milk revenue, more calf revenues and increased value of cull/dairy sales of cows when milk is $18 per cwt. It would be even more if the sale price of milk is higher.
  • She Cannot Keep Up in the Milk Pail
    Yield is comprised of both volume and solid content.  Cows that are 10% below their age-lactation contemporaries for solids corrected milk on average are generating $1.50 (1st lactation) – $2.50 (mature) less revenue per milking day than their piers. Again why raise a heifer just to have her be 10% or more below other first calvers?
  • She is a Problem at Milking Time
    Slow milking animals were tolerated in stanchion barns. Every breeder knew it was not a good thing but after investing in raising the heifer they thought they needed to get a return on their investment. Times have changed. Slow milkers in palor or rotary barns create extra work and lost through put time. Even in robot herds, slow milkers reduce the volume of milk that can be harvested per day. No one wants a slow milker. Another problem are the heifers that are hard to train to the milking routine. Staff can only be expected to be patient for a couple of weeks with first calf heifers that kick the milking unit off. Unlike the cows themselves, staff must be adaptable, but at what cost? It is almost impossible to put a dollar value on the cost of slow milkers and mean tempered cows. Definitely bloodlines with undesirable milking speed and temperament should be avoided.
  • She Visits the Hoof Trimming Chute Often
    The Bullvine has previously covered animal mobility (Read more: MOBILITY – THE ACHILLES HEEL OF EVERY BREEDING PROGRAM).  Putting a dollar value on the cows that need extra foot care ($15 per trim), eat less so they produce less, require medication and therefore milk withdrawal,  require numerous extra inseminations to conceive thereby spending extra time in the dry pen can mount up quickly. A simple foot problem can take a very profitable cow and make her a money losing one. If even 5% of a herd falls into this category, it can be costing $0.25 – $0.50 per milking cow day for the entire herd.
  • She’s a Poor Doer / Goer
    Animals that do not thrive and therefore require extra care can make the life of dairy people a drag a best but at worst can make people leave the industry. On a heifer basis we have no population figures on averages or the relationship with bloodlines of animals that do not thrive, get sick easier or do not reach puberty by 12-13 months of age. On a cow basis we know which ones have metabolic disorders, but we do not know how that relates to their genetic make up.  As The Bullvine has stated on other occasions we need to be capturing and retaining more extensive information on these areas for both the heifer and cow herds. As yet we cannot put a dollar value on these costs.

Opportunity Lost

Culling is usually viewed by dairy managers as a cost. It should be viewed as an opportunity. An opportunity to improve your farm’s bottom line.  In a hundred cow herd carrying an extra five cows and ten heifers every day of the year amounts to $23,725 per year for feed costs alone. As feed is 55% of all expenses, total costs for carrying these extra animals is $43,136. That is sure not pocket change.

Sires and cow families that leave progeny that fit these six scenarios need to be eliminated from herds and the entire population. Good judicious culling, like pruning a tree, always makes the harvest better.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It’s time to base culling on dollars – either extra costs or lost revenue. Operating a successful dairy enterprise is all about maximizing profit. Removing problem animals can impact the bottom line a significant, positive way.



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




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Last week Saputo Inc. announced measures to control dehorning pain and to ban tail docking. (Read more: DAIRY GIANT SAPUTO MANDATES DEHORNING PAIN CONTROL AND BANS TAIL DOCKING) Company policy requirements will be put in place in response to a widely publicized video of animal abuse at Chilliwack Cattle Sales in B.C. Canada, which is a milk supplier to Saputo. (Read more: Dairy Cattle Abuse Video – A black eye for the dairy industry) Saputo is one of the three biggest milk buyers in Canada and a global company with operations around the world.

Saputo’s plan, unveiled on Monday, includes a commitment to end tail “docking” or cutting, and for the use of pain control when removing horns. The dairy company is also spending $1-million to sponsor animal-care education at two leading agricultural universities, University of Guelph in Ontario and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A spokesman for Saputo acknowledged how they came to implement this process. “We recognized last year after the incident … that there, quite frankly, was not enough leadership in the industry to carry this issue forward. So we have taken a much more robust position.”

“The Cut Stops Here!” says Saputo.  Other milk buyers to follow.

Saputo, which employs 13,000 workers at plants in Canada, the United States, Australia and Argentina, said it will require farms that are direct suppliers to follow the new policies. The Globe and Mail article also reported that Saputo will pressure milk-marketing boards and milk purchasing co-ops to encourage members to do so, as well.

The Bullvine is always pro-actively interested in initiatives that will impact the dairy industry and encourages dairy managers to evaluate what it means to them.  Members of The Milk House were given the following invitation to weigh in. Saputo has mandated dehorning pain control and banned tail docking. Do you think more dairies will follow? Does this change how you will manage your herd?” (Read more: Introducing The Milk House – Dairy Breeder Networking on Facebook)

Tail Docking Questioned?  The Short Answer:  “Don’t do it!”

If you are not involved in dairy farming, hearing that the tails of dairy cattle are amputated, for any reason, could be alarming.  Furthermore, you might assume that everybody does it.  While this practice is more common in New Zealand, it has been used, to varying degrees in other countries as well.  The Milk House discussion group felt it was not as common a practice today.  One herd that previously had docked tails, no longer does so and commented “we only trim switches twice a year.” Another respondent asked, “Who docks tails anymore? It’s truly unnecessary to dock tails. You say they get covered with flies if you keep their tail on, yet if you remove their tail you are removing their first defense against flies. And if you have a fly problem, get more fans in your barn. Problem solved.” In other words, if the problem is with flies or sanitation, deal with those problems before docking tails.

Disbudding%20with%20Caustic%20Paste[1]Cats De-Clawed.  Cows De-Horned.  Children restrained.

Most animal rights proponents are not against having cats declawed.  After all, it saves the furniture and cat lovers as well from scratches. One reader saw the irony in leaving horns on dairy cattle and painted an extreme picture of the dangers that they pose. “Yep it is much better to leave the horns on and go to the sale yards and see animals bleeding because they have holes poked in their sides” Or in her own barn “I’d much rather be head butted by a heifer with horns.” She wrapped up her fearful horn wrangle with, “It would be so much fun to dangling from a bulls horns as he charges around the paddock with me.” Yes, an extreme picture but we know too well that it can happen and therefore leaving the horns on is not considered an option.

Safety in the barn and pasture has evolved in the same way that car safety has changed.  Today we would not consider driving anywhere unless our children were properly buckled into their car seats and seatbelts.  I have been trying to imagine the look on my parents and grandparents faces if they had foreseen that children of the future could not ride in the front seat and had to be properly restrained with buckles and belts. Alternatively, looking back, what would today’s parents think of little ones climbing over seats while the car is moving? Not to mention, my siblings and I often took turns riding in the back window!

Horn Removal! What’s the Alternative?

Several options for horn removal methods other than burning were discussed on the Milk House.  Paste and drugs were two of the options. One reader noted that paste is banned in Australia.

As with all protocols, new, chosen or mandated, questions concerning the added expense for drugs, labor or vet costs, become part of the implementation issues. Added price could mean added costs to the consumer … and that too is a concern.  However, if the consumer isn’t happy with the raising methods, they are less likely to choose the product.  No, consumer.  No, dairy business!  It seems like a Catch-22 situation.

Pharmaceutical Methods of Dehorning

Several readers mentioned that they have always used a sedative and lidocaine.  Medicam was more widely discussed and had several enthusiastic supporters. “It’s a great idea to use Medicam when dehorning” said some and one explained “We have used it when dehorning and there is a total difference.”  The questions all boiled down to who could administer the drug and most often that means veterinarians. Some managers noted that there are differences between vet practices regarding use and approval and handing out of drugs … and who can administer them.  One reader, citing their great relationship with their vets, emphasized that it’s important to discuss what it will be used for. Another outlined the logistics he uses in New Zealand, “Yes vets and/or vet assistants come and dehorn calves here – they do most of the calves in this area – I think about 120,000 last season. I even had the CEO vet come and dehorn one lot of mine last year because everyone else was busy.”

Testimonial for Medicam”

Dianna Malcolm (Blue Chip Genetics and CrazyCow in Print) also recommends Medicam. “It’s just an excellent all-round drug that is also awesome to use in conjunction with pneumonia treatments if calves are well hydrated and old enough, and colic too – among other purposes.” She urges contacting your vet and working out a protocol and a price. Dianna expanded even further. “The manufacturers of Medicam halved its price to the vets so that farmers would use it for dehorning. It is a staple drug in our fridge and very easy to get…I did a story on it in CrazyCow, and I can confirm that the difference between using it and not using it for dehorning is night and day! I’d never go back – it’s fantastic.”

dehorn calves with paste

One dairyman did a trial on about 120 calves for Boehringer using Medicam on every other calf. He administered three cc under the skin at disbudding. Disbudded between 2 weeks and five weeks normally. He reports “From observation calves with no Medicam kicked their heads and rubbed off gates, etc. Medicam calves gave no signs that they had been done at all. All got three cc of local anesthetic near each horn before. Growth rates averaged slightly better from birth to weaning at 56 days. Probably between 3 and 6kg a calf better than their counterparts who had sore heads for a few days after we dehorned with the burning type device, one with the screw-in gas cylinder that heats up the little cup that fits over the bud. For all the cost of doing it, roughly four bottles of Medicam a year, even if it didn’t give me better growth rates I would definitely continue it for the sake of happier calves. Happy stock is profitable stock!”

Producing a Food Product, without Consumer support, means dairying is Redundant

One reader spoke emphatically for listening to the dairy consumer.  He said, “Anyone arguing against this, needs to get their head checked out. Don’t forget that we as dairy farmers, like every other business, are driven by what the consumer wants. And if Saputo made this decision in order to please the consumer then if you care at all about the economic influence that may potentially have on us, you’d stop bitching like a little school kid and change your management practices. Saputo is not saying you have to do this, only if you want to ship milk with them. If you’d rather try to sell your own milk, then best of luck on that and let me know how that works out for you”

SIDE NOTE: In this particular thread on The Milk House, no one mentioned Polled animals. Raising polled dairy cattle is as natural, pain-free and consumer friendly as it gets! And, as has been noted numerous times by The Bullvine, the genetic merit of polled Holsteins is fast catching up to that of horned Holsteins. (Read more: Polled Dairy Cattle)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Dairy Industry Can’t Leave Image to a Tossup between Consumers and Suppliers

These milk-buyer initiatives impact the dairy industry.  It requires buy-in not only from the suppliers but buy-in from the consumers too.  Milk companies are using education, protocols and training to turn around the negative impact that some animal handling practices have had on the image of the industry. They naturally have an interest in seeing that their business survives. Breeders should be interested in seeing dairying thrive.  The toss up for me is, “What’s the other side of the coin if dairying isn’t a growth industry?”  “Is there another side at all?



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






Comments (0)
Categories : Management

There are so many questions when it comes to managing a dairy farm and achieving the ultimate goal of producing a healthy milk product in a profitable and sustainable way.

Not About How Much Feed but How Much Milk

You might think that the size of the calf doesn’t really matter because, until they’re in the milking line, they are in limbo.  Right? Wrong! Everything that impacts the health and growth of the dairy calf will, ultimately, have a significant impact on whether or not she reaches her full potential as a dairy cow

And, furthermore, the point is not about how much feed you get into them … but rather it’s about how the nutrition the calf receives can impact the speed with which they get to breeding maturity.

Disadvantages of 2X Milking

When calves are only fed twice a day, the abomasum sits empty too long.  This causes low pH level to result, and it might lead to ulcerations.

What Are You Willing to Give Up for Convenience?

With the 24/7 nature of dairy managing, we are always looking for ways to save time.  However saving time with calf feeding could prove to be costly, in the end.  What are you willing to give up?  Weaning age?  Weaning weight? Age at first calving? Total lifetime production?

By changing the frequency of feeding – up OR down – be clear about how that changes the expected outcome of your calf program. You may prefer the logistics of 2X for human scheduling, but the goal should be about the calves growing as fast and efficiently as they can.

There are several ways to fit in the three feedings. Those who work with this system agree that once there is a will to make it work, the best method can be figured out.

Not ALL Dairy Calves are Created Equal

Sometimes a new calf needs extra attention.  However, even after receiving that, there are a few who still don’t do well.  It’s a challenge to the animal caregiver to make sure that every animal gets the best opportunity.  Having said that, there has to be the realization that a sick calf will carry the stresses and delays of that slow start with her right into the milking line.

Calf Raising Consultants

Having recognized the importance of an excellent start to a productive milking life, dairy managers would do well to get their questions answered by consulting with calf raising specialists.  Together you can determine the desired outcomes and work out the protocols that will deliver them.  Everyone connected with the calf raising program needs to accept responsibility and be accountable for improving the program. Those are the most important first steps from the human side of the equation.

Consider Where Frequency Research is Coming From

When dairy managers consider the reported results of dairy research projects, it is crucial that they receive the information using the lens of the goals they are trying to achieve.  In the case of calf feeding frequency, there has to be a choice between the comfort and convenience of the calf feeding crew and the goals that the calf program is targeting.

Years of tradition says that 2X feeding works and there are “In summary, calves on a conventional milk replacer program performed similarly whether provided their daily allotment of milk in 1, 2 or 3 feedings per day.  When fed on a slightly higher plane of nutrient, differences in feeding frequency showed no effect on calf performance.”  If you’re looking for support of 2x feeding, this is the research you will quote.  However, it is important to note the reference to plane of nutrition.

Consider Advice from People Who Have “Been There Done That!”

Recent headlines that caught my eye:

  • Three-times-a-day calf feeding gaining popularity.”
    In the not-to-distant past, feeding dairy calves three times per day was relatively unheard of. However, this 3x frequency is rapidly becoming the popular choice.
  • “Study finds 1 in 7 calf raisers feeds 3x some of the year.”
    There are always discerning managers, and there are some who have always fed 3x.  They point to lower levels of sickness and death and feel that those results far outweigh concerns with extra labor and expense.
  • “There are several advantages to feeding milk replacer 3x.”
    In 2011 Don Sockett DVM, Ph.D. epidemiologist/microbiologist for the University of Wisconsin reports his experience with 3X feeding frequency. “ When compared, calves fed a milk replacer three times daily, versus a control group fed the same milk replacer twice daily, were more feed efficient and showed improved average daily gain. Calves fed three times daily grew taller and longer, with added pounds of lean growth.  This growth is optimal for dairy calves to prepare them for desirable breeding weights and freshening at a younger age, leading to greater lifetime performance.” Researchers also noted that these calves were noticeably friskier than calves fed twice a day.  In further discussion of this topic several veterinarians and calf managers frequently report vastly improved results, “Since 3x feeding we now double our weights in less than 60 days and cut treatments for scours in less than half of what they had been.” It is important to target levels of nutrition and the corresponding feeding frequency, which will see dairy heifers reach their performance potential in their first lactation.

The 3X Effect on Profit Potential

The ultimate measure of success of your calf feeding program happens when calves enter the lactating herd.  The previously noted Wisconsin researcher Don (Sockett et al) reports that”97.1 percent (34 of 35) of the claves in the three times a day feeding group entered the milking string. In comparison, 80.0 percent (28 of 35) of calves fed two times per day entered the milking herd. This means for every six calves fed three times a day, one additional heifer entered lactation. Calves fed three times per day also averaged 1,136 pounds more of milk and calved 16 days earlier. This can also translate to improved herd longevity and increased the number of replacement heifers that successfully make it to the milking line.

3X Means Reaching Full Calf Potential

If your goal is to increase first lactation and lifetime production levels in your dairy calves, you must consider these benefits delivered by 3X calf feeding.

  • Decreased calf mortality rate
  • Improved feed efficiency
  • Healthy rumen development
  • Breeding weights reached earlier
  • Calved two weeks earlier than 2X peers

At the Very Least, Consider 3X to Relieve Winter Stress

During winter, calves are exposed to low-temperature extremes and windy and wet weather. These variables can double their daily calorie needs and, if not met, could result in sickness and greater risk of death. By consuming smaller volumes more frequently, calves can better fend off diarrhea or digestive disturbances at any time of year.

Automated Feeders Allow Ultimate Timing Opportunity

Dairies don’t leave calves with their mothers because of the potential for increased disease risk.  Although it’s not likely possible in standard calf raising situations, trying to replicate, the natural nursing frequency of 4 to 8 times per day could be considered a goal. It does become possible with automated feeders. Not only does this rapidly evolving technology work well for calf health but it further aids in reducing the labor costs associated with increased feeding frequency

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Not only is 3X feeding closer to nature’s way, it also delivers benefits for both calves and dairy managers and that’s a promise every dairy wants to have and to hold from calving day to milking day!



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




Comments (0)
Categories : Management

Send this to friend