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)
- “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.
- “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)
- “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”.
- “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.
- “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!”
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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!
- “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.
- 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
- Hearing the advice
- Accepting the advice
- 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.