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Little Things Can Make Big Difference in Dairy Farming

On dairies like many other businesses there are an abundance of day-to-day activities. Unlike other businesses, dairy farms are a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day, 365 day a year operation. The major tasks like feeding, milking, scraping, and youngstock care take priority daily. Major project changes like building a new barn or upgrading the parlor take time for planning and execution in addition to the day-to-day. So, it is not surprising that the “little things” can get short changed from a time to time. Becoming more aware of and focusing some time on the “little things” can have a big impact on productivity and profitability.

One “little thing” to consider is feed push-ups. Cows eat more when fresh feed is available, after they return from milking and when feed is pushed up within reach. If feedbunks are overcrowded, the more timid animals may wait to eat, often when the feed has already formed that ridge from the more dominant cows eating, resulting in lower dry matter intake and lower production. The timing of feed push-ups may be just as important, if not more important than how many get done in a day. Scheduling work around the cows’ needs may be more effective. Increasing dry matter intake by one pound per cow per day can increase milk yield by about two pounds. So if one pound of dry matter costs $0.12 and a pound of milk is $0.18 then there is a three-found return on getting that one extra pound of intake. Of course this varies by stage of lactation, current ration, etc — but on average this is a pretty good return on investment.

One of those other “little things” to consider is timing. Whether it is consistent feed drop times or timing of synchronization programs and breeding, when things happen matters to the final results. How compliant are workers to the timing of tasks in the operation and is this “little thing” costing big dollars? Research presented by Dr. Katy Proudfoot at the 2019 Penn State Nutrition Conference showed that feed delays on alternate days caused increase stress in animals. Inaccurate timing of synchronization programs with breeding times can decrease conception rates and therefore pregnancy rates. Depending on the herd, this can be a big dollar impact. Spending time, rather than any more money and paying attention to the timing of tasks and adjusting when necessary can also result in a positive return on investment.

One last “little thing” is simply courtesy. Taking time to thank an employee for a job well done or to recognize effort for improvement when someone is continuing to struggle with a task can go a long way in impacting morale and productivity. When stressed – whether from a simple bad day or pressures from outside the farm, we often react more abruptly and omit those two important words that we teach our children – “please” and “thank you.” Again those little things can make that big difference.

While the day to day of operating a dairy can be intense at times, don’t overlook the impact that those many, many “little things” that may be neglected can have. Take time to make a list of “little things” for your dairy. Or better yet, enlist your trusted advisors to help with creating that list. Then develop a plan for monitoring how well those little things are getting done. If there is a gap between what is happening and what you would like to happen, then schedule time each week or each month to start narrowing those gaps by not losing sight of the “little things.” Take them one at a time and remember to continue to monitor to maintain your progress. After all, we have heard so many times that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.


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