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However, even that way of thinking may be outdated, as it does not consider the benefits of more accurate and timely decision-making or the opportunity to generate more revenue by having facts that increase the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 (http://adsa.org and email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
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”.