At some point, every dairy operator considers whether it is time to outsource some procedures or to get help with decision making.  The fear that arises with this option is, “What happens if the wrong ‘expert’ is chosen?”  Here are pointers in choosing the consultant that best fits your needs.

Who puts your farm first?

Some days you might think that picking out a consultant is as easy as 1 – 2- 3.  Or even 10.  Because those are the days that it seems like everybody has found their way in your lane, and they’re all so “perfect” that the choice won’t be difficult at all.  There are nutritionists that work for feed mills and freelance ones. There are vets from large practices and ones that specialize. Your finances can be analyzed, right-sized and sanitized by number crunchers strategic planners.  Which one should you choose?  The better question is, “Which one chooses to put your farm first?” If profitably solving your problems is their priority that is what you’re looking for. When the farm wins, all the suppliers associated with the farm win.  When the farm fails, all associated service providers also lose.  For long-term success, choose experts who put your success at least equal to or ahead of their own.

Problem Solvers or Product Pushers?

How can you tell whether the farm comes first?  A good measuring stick is the recommendations that you are given when problems are encountered.  Is your nutritionist’s first approach an attempt to sell you something to fix the problem or does your nutritionist ask a series of question to determine the root of the problem?  Does your consultant have time to work through all the details to get to the root of the problem or do you get a phone message, “If this is an emergency leave a detailed message and I’ll get back to you when my schedule allows.” The 24/7 logistics of a dairy farm and its myriad of details doesn’t lend itself to the problem solving on 9 to 5 office hours. Do you get the same answer every time? Maybe last time your problem was a dip in production.  Now you’re facing reproduction problems.  The problem changes but the solution remains “It isn’t our product it’s something you are doing wrong!” That might be but is your team player consultant part of the problem or part of the solution?

Good communicators with practical training and expertise

Whether you’re new in dairying or have generations of family experience to draw from, it is only common sense to realize that finding the right answer isn’t easy regardless of the number of credentials behind your name.  The real secret is the willingness and understanding that inspires dairy consultants to accept that they might not immediately know the answer.  However, because they are honest, competent and keeping up with the latest research, they can confidently assure you that a solution can be found.  That common sense and ability to communicate are the two most important traits to look for in any advisor you welcome to your farm?  Regardless of their area of expertise, they should communicate and cooperate for the benefit of the farm.  Don’t be upset to hear “I do not know, but I will find out for you?” That’s the first step. Then you want them to follow up? If the solution doesn’t work the first time, do they hang in and try, try again?  No one is perfect, but these are important characteristics that essential for a successful working relationship.

What is your responsibility?

Working with consultants is a two way street.  It is essential for you to communicate clearly and effectively with your nutritionist, veterinarian or financial advisor.  If you’re not providing all the details, you can’t expect them to provide sustainable and profitable answers. Be sure to ask good questions during farm calls.  Provide accurate data to assist in efficient problem solving.  Be respectful and fair in your discussions and decision making.  The goal is prevention, and that requires detailed information.  If you’re already in a crisis, don’t pick a consultant to be the scapegoat.  It takes a committed team pulling in the same direction to get things back on track.

What level of assistance matches your needs?

If you’re starting out in dairying or maybe thinking of a major expansion there are plenty of challenges ahead and how you handle those challenges could well mean the difference between success and failure.  Facing those challenges by yourself can be extremely difficult, and that’s why so many dairy consultants are available with expertise, field trials, products and services that can be of help in getting those decisions effectively tailored to your specific goals and needs.

Selection Criteria for Finding Consultants

It’s critical to choose the right dairy consultant if you want to have the best outcomes. However, what criteria do you need to apply to the selection process? Here are a few suggestions:

There are only a handful of stars

Every consulting company boasts of having a great team.  The fact is that every consulting company has only a handful of rock stars with them.  The rest of the team is a compromise they had to make to scale up the team for the increased business they need to bring in. The stars are easy to spot from the company blogs and who shows up to the new client meetings or travels everywhere speaking at industry seminars and association meetings. When you choose a consulting firm, you want to know who the rock stars are and see if they will be available for your project.

Define your dairy goals

While you’re very concerned about choosing the right consultant, there are many consultants who are just as detailed in their selection of clients to work with. The client characteristics that maximize the value of consultants’ time and expertise centre around the client being clear about their goals and expectations. It’s hard to work with someone who doesn’t know what they want … or at the very least, what is going wrong.  Consultants want to work with the client and not be left literally out in left field. Before you even start looking for a business consultant for your dairy, you need to be clear about what your goals are and how the consultant can help you achieve those goals. You also need to have some idea of what problems you might face in achieving those goals. Once you have those firmly in your mind, it’s time to go looking for a consultant.

Look for someone who asks questions

Does the consultant you’re talking to ask lots of questions about your dairy operation? Even though he may be very experienced in the dairy industry, no two businesses are ever the same so a good consultant will ask questions to establish where your business is at, whether it can grow and just how experienced you are in what you’re doing. Good consultants don’t limit their questions to only their area of expertise.  Dairying is multi-faceted, and each area can have an impact on the other.  The best consultants look at the big picture.

Look for someone who doesn’t know it all

Don’t expect your consultant to have an answer for every situation. Quite often, those that do are the very people you don’t want to employ. Instead, look for someone who admits that they don’t have all the answers but knows where to look, or who to ask, to find them.

Look for someone who understands the value of your money

A good consultant will be very aware that the financial resources of any dairy operation need to be used wisely. He or she will understand that you need to get the most value out of every dollar that you spend, and they will be able to clearly show you that you are getting that value when they make recommendations that involve spending your money.

Is Hiring a Consultant Worth the Cost?

In general, resistance to pay for advice is the main barrier preventing producers from using consultants. There is a wide range of private consulting being undertaken in agriculture.  Most dairy business consultants focus on business and technology management with some inroads into marketing, human resources, nutrition and succession.  Roles range from the provision of advice to facilitating change and providing training.  All these advisors charge for their services and you get what you pay for.  Consultants charge clients in a range of ways – from flat rates to cost per hour or per service; to costs based on farm or herd size (or a combination of these).  Costs depend on the type of service being provided.  There is usually some scope for individual negotiation and review.

So what should you do?

The consultant relationship you want is the one that ticks most of these following boxes:  

  • You are an important client to this consultant.
  • You recognize that it’s up to both of you to make the partnership work.
  • You’re prepared to give praise (and testimonials) and get the opportunity to do so because the consultant always goes the extra mile.
  • Sustainability and profitability are the goals everyone is working toward.
  • You can count on your consultant – whether financial, nutrition or herd health – to bring a fresh pair of eyes and an open, honest approach to improving your dairy operation.

A consultant helps you find your way

Even if your dairy business is sailing along quite smoothly and growing wealth for you there are still good reasons why it will pay to have a business consultant spend some time working with you.  As someone once said: “A business consultant is like a GPS unit that will guide you along the road to success.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

A good dairy consultant can take your business to the next level and isn’t that exactly where you want it to go?  If you choose your consultant wisely, then your dairy operation will grow and prosper. Choose the wrong consultant and your dairy is in for a very rough ride that it may never recover from. The choice is yours.



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