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:
The layout of the barn must provide a minimum of approximately 15 square feet of bedded area per calf in group pens.
The design of the barn must offer a minimum of approximately 30 square feet in individual pens.
Indoor housing has no physical barrier to prevent the spread of disease so plentiful space must be available.
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.
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
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.
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.
Air exchange is an important consideration and must be managed
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.
A high stocking density relative to machine availability results in inadequate time for all calves to nurse, which can lead to cross-sucking.
Less expensive machines need more frequent attention for filling and do not have data recording or self-cleaning capabilities.
Not all machines can serve every nipple simultaneously. This reduces the time available to feed calves at each station.
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.
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.
Increased group size can mean less time available per calf to nurse and greater risk of exposure to potentially more sick calves.
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.
Dairy cattle farming has many numbers for breeders to review and weight as they go about their daily roles as manager, health care provider, bookkeeper, personnel manager, feed harvester, reproduction sequencer, animal selection or removal supervisor, ….. yes, the daily duty list is long. But in all cases, it is best to use a number when making a decision.
For this article, The Bullvine wishes to focus on the fact that science-based numbers (aka genetic indexes) are the best method to use when selecting the animals to produce the next generation.
Breeding – Is it Art or Science?
Dairy cattle breeders argue both sides of the answer to this question. Some breeders swear by a single observation, their impression or their experience (aka art) while others totally depend on science-based numbers. Let’s dig deeper.
What’s in the Number?
Breeders can use the number they can actually see, like lactation milk yield, or a cow’s milk genetic index that considers factors like age, herd mates, progeny, pedigree and now DNA analysis. The same applies to using a cow’s PTAT rather than her own classification. It is best to consider all factors.
Can the Number be trusted?
Accuracy is paramount to success or failure in dairy cattle breeding. Making a breeding decision based a single individual observation is 20 to 25 percent accurate in predicting a cow’s progeny’s performance. Using a cow’s genetic index that includes pedigree, DNA analysis and performance will be sixty-five to seventy percent accurate.
Does the Number Mean Anything for You?
Every breeder needs to have a breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?) for their entire herd or an individual mating. In the plan, there needs to be the importance of individual traits. Not every trait, for which an index is available, is essential for every herd or mating. Indexes like gTPI and NM$ should be included in every plan.
Breed for Desired Outcome.
Higher Milk Revenue – Do you breed for protein yield or protein percent? Very definitely it is protein yield. It is the volume of protein that breeders are paid for. Higher protein percent is associated with less milk production.
Improving Herd Longevity – Do you select a genomic sire for his PL (Productive Life index) or how long his dam produced milk? Very definitely for his PL. His dam’s length of life has many non-genetic factors and will have a very low heritability.
Improving Fertility – When mating a heifer do you consider her FI (Fertility Index) or the frequency with which her dam calved? Very definitely her FI. Her dam’s calving interval has an extremely low heritability, almost zero.
Developing a High Type Herd – Do you select a sire based on PTAT or the number of show winners he produces? Very definitely his PTAT. Show herds do not use a wide spectrum of sires and do not randomly use sires, this results in potentially biased genetic evaluations on the sires they use. Since many of the sires they are used on are not used in chimerical herds, the evaluations on these sires are biased. When a “type” sire does cross into wide stream usage you start to see evaluations like Goldwyn’s. Goldwyn is often noted as a great sire of show winners yet his PTAT of +1.81 and his PL of -0.5 reflects that used across the entire population he does not stand out as a significant improver.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Genetic improvement depends upon using science to improve accuracy and the completeness of decision making. The rate of genetic advancement has improved significantly over the past decade, and the pace will double again in the next decade. Breeding is about science.
DATE: July 24, 2015 LOCATION: Lindsay, ON JUDGE: Carl Phoenix, ON
The 2015 edition of the Ontario Summer Holstein Show may have been its best yet, with over 200 animals exhibited. Bolstered by the exhibits of ferme Blondin who attend this year’s show as a result of their not attending Montmagny this year, as Dann Brady marketing manager for ferme Blondin will be getting married at that same time. The trip was certainly worth it as Judge Carl Phoenix placed all 6 of their animals in the top 2 places. Leading the way was MYSTIQUE GOLDWYN BOREALE VG-89. This granddaughter of Regancrest-PR Barbie-EX-92 looked ready for the 4-year-old class at EXPO. It was great to have ferme Blondin there, and Ontario Holstein should consider sending the soon to be Mrs. Brady a special wedding gift.
Taking home reserve grand was the intermediate champion, KEYLAS SID ROXANNA. Bred by the Winger family in Haldimand County this Sr. 3 year old caught the eye of Ari Eckstein the night before the show and is now owned by Quality Holsteins, Beckridge Holsteins & Agriber Societa Agricola Srl. The same ownership group that owns another impressive 3-year-old Bosdale Gold Lustre. While still very fresh after having twins Roxanna was a consenses choice for the intermediate champion and unlike the Lustre who is now getting late into lactation, will probably be heading down to see the colored shavings as well.
Rounding out the champions was they very popular KINGSWAY GOLDWYN ABBA DABBA. Exhibited by Chelsea & Caitlyn Abbott and managed by Trentvalley Holsteins, Abba Dabba used her extreme frame to power herself to honorable mention champion honors. Honorable mention junior champion also comes from this family, TRENT VALLEY GOLDCHIP ABRA. The KINGSWAY TERRASON ALLIE EX-95 family seems to always step up and have a great showing at Ontario Summer Show. Kingsway farms also had impressive showings with reserve intermediate champion going to KNONAUDALE MUDPIE and honorable intermediate champion KINGSWAY GOLDWYN DALLAS.
In what had to be one of the easiest choices of the day MS DUCKETT DYMENT CORAL takes home the junior champion honours for Gracehaven Holsteins & Royal Lynn Holsteins. Reserve junior champion went to the very correct CLAIRCREST SID DELI for Trent Valley, Jennifer & Chris Hill & Jason Mell, On & Wi.
GRAND CHAMPION & HIGHEST BCA WINNER – MYSTIQUE GOLDWYN BOREALE (GOLDWYN), 1ST 4 YEAR OLD, FERME BLONDIN, QC
RESERVE GRAND CHAMPION – KEYLAS SID ROXANNA (SID), 1ST SENIOR 3 YEAR OLD, QUALITY HOLSTEINS, BECKRIDGE HOLSTEINS & AGRIBER SOCIETA AGRICOLA SRL., ON & ITALY
HM GRAND CHAMPION: KINGSWAY GOLDWYN ABBA DABBA (GOLDWYN), 1ST 5 YEAR OLD, CHELSEA & CAITLYN ABBOTT, VT
INTERMEDIATE CHAMPION – KEYLAS SID ROXANNA (SID), 1ST SENIOR 3 YEAR OLD, QUALITY HOLSTEINS, BECKRIDGE HOLSTEINS & AGRIBER SOCIETA AGRICOLA SRL., ON & ITALY
RESERVE INTERMEDIATE CHAMPION – KNONAUDALE MUDPIE (SID), 1ST JUNIOR 3 YEAR OLD, KINGSWAY FARMS, ON
HM INTERMEDIATE CHAMPION – KINGSWAY GOLDWYN DALLAS (GOLDWYN), 2ND SENIOR 3 YEAR OLD, KINGSWAY FARMS & TRENTWARD FARMS, ON
Junior Champion MS DUCKETT DYMENT CORAL ET (NUMERO UNO), GRACEHAVEN HOLSTEINS & ROYAL LYNN HOLSTEINS, ON
Reserve Junior Champion CLAIRCREST SID DELI (SID), TRENT VALLEY, JENNIFER & CHRIS HILL & JASON MELL, ON & WI
Honorable Mention Junior Champion TRENT VALLEY GOLDCHIP ABRA (GOLD CHIP),. BONNECHERE HOLSEINS, LILYKING FARM, TREKILI HOLSTEINS, ON (1ST 4-H JESSICA BROWN)
JUNIOR CHAMPION OF 4-H SHOW
JUNIOR CHAMPION OF 4-H SHOW TRENT VALLEY GOLDCHIP ABRA (GOLD CHIP), 1ST SENIOR CALF, BONNECHERE HOLSEINS, LILYKING FARM, TREKILI HOLSTEINS, ON (JESSICA BROWN) RESERVE JUNIOR CHAMPION OF 4-H SHOW KINGSWAY DOORMAN ACE (DOORMAN), 2ND SENIOR CALF, KINGSWAY FARMS & ROCK-A-BERRY HOLSTEINS, ON 2. (MATT FORRESTELL) HM JUNIOR CHAMPION OF 4-H SHOW CROVALLEY TNT AMMO (TNT), 1ST JUNIOR CALF, CROVALLEY HOLSTEINS, ON (VANESSA CROWLEY)
1. CLAIRCREST SID DELI (SID), TRENT VALLEY, JENNIFER & CHRIS HILL & JASON MELL, ON & WI
2. CLAIRCREST LAVANGUARD BREEZE (LAVANGUARD), CLAIRE E PETHERICK, ON
3. LEGEND-MAKER ARMANI EMILY (ARMANI), GRACEHAVEN HOLSTEINS & ROYAL LYNN HOLSTEINS, ON
4. LEACHLAND SIDS JOSIE (SID), COLIN & KAREN LEACH, ON (1ST 4-H DAVID LEACH)
5. UNIQUE LOTUS BASHFUL 9LOTUS), CODY OUGHTRED & FREUREHAVEN FARMS LTD., ON
1. LEACHLAND BROKAW ELEANOR (BROKAW), FRANK A & DIANE BORBA, CA
2. ARCROIX MASCALESE ANANAS PIE (MASCALESE), CLARKVALLEY HOLSTEINS & JEFF SEPTHENS< ON
3. LEACHFIELD ATWOOD DANCER (ATWOOD0, PETER LEACH, ON (1ST B&O & 1ST 4-H PETER LEACH)
4. BOSDALE ATWOOD RT ELSA (ATWOOD), BOSDALE FARMS INC., ON (2ND 4-H BEN BOS)
5. BECKHOLM SID TULIP (SID), BECKHOLM HOLSTEINS, ON
1. KAWARTHA LAUTHORITY RHIANNA (LAUTHORITY), DAN WERRY & KAWARTHA HOLSTEINS, ON (1ST BO)
2. ROYAL LYNN SID JENNIFER (SID), ROYAL LYNN HOLSTEINS, ON (1ST 4-H & 1ST JR PROGRAM JULIA R),
3. MAPEL WOOD BRADY ANDREA (BRADY), MAPEL WOOD HOLSTEINS, ON (2ND 4-H ZAC VIS)
4. PETITCLERC ATWOOD ALEXINE (ATWOOD), CONNOR SIKMA & JUSTIN VELTHUIS, ON
5. CROVALLEY AFTERSHOCK ROUILLE (AFTERSHOCK), CROVALLEY HOLSTEINS, ON
1. BENRISE BRAXTON LILITH (BRAXTON), BENSHOP FARMS, ON (1ST B&O)
2. ALEAH MILLEN NAUGHY BY NATURE (GOLD CHIP), ALEAH FARMS LTD., JOEL STILLMAN, RONALD C WERRY & WERRCROFT FARMS LTD., ON
3. VALE-O-SKENE WINDBROOK BIANCA (WINDBROOK), BETHANY MACDONALD & ROBERT DA MACDONALD, ON
4. CROVALLEY SID RAIN (SID), CROVALLEY HOLSTEINS, ON
5. MOUNT ELM WINDBROOK CROSSOVER (WINDBROOK), NEIL & BRYAN ANDERSON, ON
1. KINGSWAY GOLDWYN ABBA DABBA (GOLDWYN), CHELSEA & CAITLYN ABBOTT, VT (BU)
2. OAKFIELD GOLD TOPAZ ET (GOLDWYN), HODGLYNN HOLSTEINS & LITTLE STAR HOLSTEINS, ON
3. PHOENIX BAXTER GEOMETRY (BAXTER), HIGH POINT FARMS, ON
4. CHERRY CREST GOLDWYN ASPIRE (GOLDWYN), BONNECHERE HOLSTEINS, INTERNATIONAL GENETICS LTD., REGWALL HOLSTEINS, RUSENDALE FARMS INC., & TREKILI HOLSTEINS, ON
5. GLENGARRY ATWOOD ANNE (ATWOOD), BRIAN JOSEPH ENRIGHT, ON
1. HIGH POINT GOLDEN ROSE (GOLDWYN), HIGH POINT FARMS, ON (1ST B&O & BU)
2. WILLOWHOLME GOLDWYN JESSICA (GOLDWYN), FERME BLONDIN, QC
3. EBY 016 BBG EASTER LILLY (GOLDWYN), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
4. TOMALYNN GOLDWYN SUPERSTAR (GOLDWYN), TOMALYNN FARMS, ON
5. BECKHOLM GOLDWYN PRICILLA (GOLDWYN), BECKHOLM HOLSTEINS, ON
1. Kingsway Farm, ON
2. Crovalley Holsteins, ON
DATE: July 23, 2015 LOCATION: Lindsay, ON JUDGE: Carl Phoenix, ON
GRAND CHAMPION – PLEASANT NOOK SENIOR JETSTREAM (SENIOR), 1ST MATURE COW, PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
RESERVE GRAND CHAMPION – MARLAU SOCRATES ARCADIOS ET (SOCRATES), 1ST 4 YEAR OLD, PATTY JONES & CYBIL FISHER, ON & WI
HM GRAND CHAMPION – BRI-LIN PREMIER SOLSTICE (PREMIER), 1ST JUNIOR 2 YEAR OLD, PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
INTERMEDIATE CHAMPION – BRI-LIN PREMIER SOLSTICE (PREMIER), 1ST JUNIOR 2 YEAR OLD, PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
RESERVE INTERMEDIATE CHAMPION – KENTVILLE CANDY TEQUILA (TEQUILA), 1ST SENIOR 2 YEAR OLD, KENTVILLE HOLSTEINS, ON
HM INTERMEDIATE CHAMPION -PLEASANT NOOK TEQUILA DAIQUIRI (TEQUILA), PLEASNAT NOOK FARM, ON
JUNIOR CHAMPION OF OPEN SHOW – DEROUIN TEQUILA MADONE ET (TEQUILA), 1ST SENIOR CALF, FERME LORMIERE, QC
RESERVE JUNIOR CHAMPION OF OPEN SHOW – AVONLEA CF STARSTRUCK ET (MINISTER), 1ST INTERMEDIATE CALF, AVONLEA GENETICS & CYBIL FISHER, ON
HM JUNIOR CHAMPION OF OPEN SHOW – ALAND PERFECT RADAR (RADAR), 1ST SENIOR YEARLING, LAURENT LAMBERT & WEAVERCROFT FARMS LTD., QC & ON
1. AVONLEA CF STARSTRUCK ET (MINISTER), AVONLEA GENETICS & CYBIL FISHER, ON
2. DRENTEX REWARD MAMIE (REWARD), JAMESHAVEN, ON
3. RJF UNIQUE ONTIME MEMOIR ET (ON TIME), ROBERT JARRELL & UNIQUE STOCK FARMS, ON
1. RAPID BAY VAPOR RISING (VAPOR), RPAID BAY JERSEY FARM INC & PATRICIA FONTAINE, QC
2. WILLOW CREEK REAGAN MARISSA (REAGAN), WILLOW CREEK JERSEYS & LOVAL FARMS, ON (1ST 4-H) & B&O
3. AVONLEA MADE SOME MISCHEIF EET (HIRED GUN), AVONLEA GENETICS, ON (2ND 4-H)
1. DRENTEX REWARD PRESLEY (REWARD), JAMESHAVEN, ON
2. TRENT VALLEY TEQUILA ROSETTE (TEQUILA), LAURENT LAMBERT & WEAVERCROFT FARMS LTD., ON
3. BESLEA AN EVENING TO REMEMBER (TEQUILA), KINGSDALE JERSEYS, ON
1. BRI-LIN PREMIER SOLSTICE (PREMIER), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
2. LAWRENCE HAVEN VERB FERGIE (VERB), AVONLEA GENETICS & CYBIL FISHER, ON & WI
3. (1ST BO) HOMETOWN IMPERSSION BUTERFLY (IMPRESSION), HOMESTOWN JERSEYS, ON
1. PLEASANT NOOK TEQUILA DAIQUIRI (TEQUILA), PLEASNAT NOOK FARM, ON (1ST BO & BU)
2. JL VINCENT SAPPHIRA (VINCENT), FERME YVON SICARD, QC
3. PLEASANT NOOK VINCENT CUPCAKE (VINCENT), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
1. PLEASANT NOOK ACTION POSH (ACTION), PLEASANT NOOK JERSEYS, ON (1ST BO)
2. PLEASANT NOOK HG MARSHMALLOW (HIRED GUN), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
3. PLEASANT NOOK TEQUILA MAE (TEQUILA), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON
1. PLEASANT NOOK SULTAN JETTA (SULTAN), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON (1ST BO)
2. ARETHUSA ONTIME VOGUE (ONTIME), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, WHISKEY RIVER, ON
3. ENNISKILLEN BV SUZY (VINCENT), ENNISKILLEN JERSEYS, ON
1. PLEASANT NOOK SENIOR JETSTREAM (SENIOR), PLEASANT NOOK FARM, ON (1ST BO)
2. HIDDEN DREAM GLASGOW RUBY (GLASGOW), YELLOW BRIAR FARMS, ON
3. ENNISKILLEN MCT SUZY IV ET (C TOPS), ENNISKILLEN JERSEYS, ON
An increase in labour productivity is desired to ensure a healthy dairy business. Achieving more litres of milk per worker in an animal‑friendly way is possible with a robotic milking system. But you can not just rush out and buy a robotic milking system. There are many factors that you need to consider. In this video the topic of transitioning into the robotic world and its influences on cow management will be covered. What things need to be considered? How do we ensure we have the most successful adaptation of the technology to optimize cow health and performance? Watch this video for a look into how robotics can improve the way we manage our cows.
I have often wondered why the rump in dairy animal conformation evaluation gets undue emphasis compared to the 5 % to 10% weight assigned to it on dairy cow scorecards. After years of listening to the reasons of show judges for cow classes I have determined that udder gets the most mention but coming in second during reasons is rump. Ahead of feet and legs (15% to 28% weight) and frame/capacity/dairy character (combined 20% to 40% weight). So what gives and is this added emphasis given to rump correct?
What’s Considered Ideal?
The 2009 Dairy Cow Unified Scorecard describes the ideal as follows: “Rump (5 points): Should be long and wide throughout. Pin Bones should be slightly lower than hip bones with adequate width between the pins. Thurls should be wide apart. The vulva should be nearly vertical, and the anus should not be recessed. The tail head should set slightly above and neatly between pin bones with freedom from coarseness.”
Holstein Canada’s type classification program describes the ideal as: “Rump (10%) – Ideal qualities: 1) well-sloped, wide and strongly anchored to back/vertebrae; 2) impacts position of reproductive tract to be held high within abdominal cavity; 3)improved fertility; and 4) better calving ease & healthy recovery following calving.
It’s What is Inside that Counts.
As referred to in the Holstein Canada’s type classification program description, it is what cannot be seen below the skin, not the outward appearance of the rump that is important. It is especially important for first calvers as all breeders know so well. In time, the size of the birthing canal of young Holstein females will be critical as age at first calving is reduced to eighteen or less months of age.
So where breeders, show judges and classifiers once thought in terms of what they saw, they need to think in terms of what cannot be seen about the rump that affects reproduction and birthing. The flat, boxcar Holstein rumps of the past no longer cut it. Additionally high or low pins may create problems as they were once thought to.
Why the Over Emphasis on Rump?
When I ask breeders about why they place more than 10% emphasis on rump, they comment that they do it because of tradition, because at eye level at the business end of the cow there is the rump and because there is a limited understanding of what makes for a rump structure that is conducive to problem free calvings.
What would it take for the industry to re-think rumps in the show ring and the barn?
It needs to be recognized that progressive breeders no longer see large calves at birth as a must have. This, therefore, reduces that need for emphasis on rumps. That change has helped both the dams (quicker recovery after calving) and the calves (less stress at birth). Heifer killers need to be eliminated from all breeding programs.
Calving Ease Indexes are a Great Help
Breeders supplying information on all calvings has contributed in a major way in identifying sires and bloodlines that are below average for direct calving ease and maternal calving ease.
In researching for the Bullvine article “She Ain’t Pretty, She Just Milks That Way”, we found that positively rated sires for maternal calving ease are more apt to have daughters that have long careers in herds.
Possible Steps Going Forward
The Bullvine recommends the following:
Breeders continue to eliminate from their breeding programs sires negatively rated for calving ease and maternal calving ease,
Breed associations continue to publish genetic indexes for descriptive traits for rumps but not publish an overall rating for rump as it contributes to the over-emphasis.
More definitive research be done of the best shape and size of birthing canal,
Since most frame traits are moderate to high for heritability, bull dams should be measured and reported for the size/shape of their birthing canal, and
The approved emphasis for rumps must be applied by classifiers and show judges
The Bullvine Bottom Line
In short, the reason rump may be significant because of its role in ‘getting the cows in calf and getting the calf out’. It does not require beauty to do that. It’s about utility when it comes to the rump. Why should breeders emphasize rumps at the expense of other body parts known to have more influence on profit?
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.
“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.
For years, dairy farmers around the world have worked hard at developing and breeding a more desirable higher producing dairy cow. Now with the rapid developments in understanding the genomic structure and, even more recently gene editing, this process may become obsolete. Gene editing technology can accomplish immediately what would take the dairy breeding world 50 years.
First let’s get a couple points about gene editing clear. We are not talking about Frankenstein’s monster or transgenics, such as sheep that have mouse genes to grow wool faster, or goats that have spider genes making it possible for them to produce silk. Transgenetic experiments have been around for years and have never actually made it off the research farms. Consumer backlash and regulatory constraints to transgenetics have been tremendous deterrents. quoBounty Technologies, the company that made a fast growing transgenetic salmon, has spent 16 years and $70 million trying to get the fish cleared with regulators. Three years ago, after giving up hope of convincing regulators, the University of Guelph euthanized its herd of “enviropigs”, engineered with an E. coli gene, which meant they pooped less phosphorus.
Gene editing is different in that, instead of introducing traits from other species, gene editing is about using genes that already exist. An animal could be edited to possess the best traits their species has to offer. It may sound like just a slight change but from a consumer and a regulatory perception it could be significantly different.
We are not talking about fish that glow in the dark. We are talking about cows that are born polled, or Traits such as A2 Milk. Gene editing allows us to take the traits that already exist within a species and introduce them into the bloodlines that possess the most other desirable traits. This currently falls under a regulatory loophole. The FDA in the US current regulations on genetically engineered animals, issued in 2009, didn’t anticipate gene editing and does not cover it.
As we as an industry are gaining greater understanding of dairy cattle breeding at a genomic level, the question of being able to edit that data and paste the data we like from one genome to another is becoming a reality. With the knowledge of exactly what snippets produce the highest milk production or the most desired mammary systems, gene editing would allow us to marry those genetics into on animal faster than ever before.
Current genomic testing has shown us that a “Supercow” constructed from the best haplotypes in the Holstein population would have an EBV (NM$) of $6745. This is more than 5794 points higher than the current #1 NM$ sire Seagull-Bay Charismatic (951 NM$). At the present rate of genetic progress ($74 NM$ per year), it will take us 80 years to achieve the super genomic cow. With gene editing, that process could be cut down to 4 or 5 years!
Gene editing is a significantly faster and more precise method of genetic advancement than any other approach in the world today. While you may think this process is many years down the road, some major companies are already investing in it. One such case is Genus, the parent company to ABS Global. They have been funding some research by a business called Recombinetics and the research of Scott Fahrenkug. Recombinetics has been using a gene editing process called TALENs to snip segments of DNA representing undesirable traits such as horns and add other traits such as heat tolerance or higher production.
With these companies investing heavily into new technology, it raises the question of who owns the rights to the resulting information and products. Genomic testing showed us the advantage of an early access to information. Some had significant advantages in that scenario. Just think about what exclusive access to edited gene animals will have if it means a seven times greater genetic improvement over current options. If you think a 10% advantage is a game changer (aka the approximate advantage to early genomic information) think about what a 700% advantage would mean. Technologies like IVF and sexed semen have shown us the advantage that companies that own the patents on these technologies have.
With such significant advantage in the potential of the resulting animals, there really is no question that these genetics will be embraced by the dairy industry. One need only look at the corn and seed industries for examples. Approximately 80% of the world’s soy and cotton production is GMO. Corn currently stands at 35% and significantly higher (approx. 80%) in developed production countries that allow the us of GMO products. This mass adoption of GMO technology, despite consumer backlash, demonstrates that with significant improvements, GMO products are here to stay.
Bullvine Bottom Line
In 50 years the world population will require 100% more food and 70% of this food must come from efficiency-improving technology. Unless someone discovers how to dairy on the moon, we are going to have to become significantly more efficient in our milk production methods. Gene editing offers the potential to meet this demands. Current genetic advancement rates will be hard pressed to meet in 50 years what gene editing can offer in under ten years’ time. Sure a small number of very vocal consumers will be opposed to gene editing, but the masses want cheap, safe milk. Gene editing, since it is not transgenics, offers this possibility. This raises the question, “Are the dairy breeders of the future actually scientists sitting in labs?”
For decades, much has been known about the bull’s side of the pedigree while little information was available for dams. Now, genomic testing helps us discover much more about females. The first webinar in the series focuses on the basics of genomics to provide producers with a better understanding of the benefits of knowing more about their heifers.
This video covers:
What is genomics and how does it work?
How does investing in genetics impact my business?
Understanding how to advance genetic progress.
An overview of reliability: The foundation of genomics.
A peek into how well genomics works.
This video also provides an introduction to upcoming topics which will be covered in the webinar series.
Cheryl Marti is the U.S. Marketing Manager for Dairy Genetics and Reproductive Products for Zoetis. She received her B.S. from the University of Minnesota in Animal Sciences, her M.S. in Dairy Science (Genetics emphasis) at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and her MBA from UW-Whitewater. Cheryl worked in the AI industry at ABS Global for over 11 years in many different capacities, including management, marketing, training and technical support of the Genetic Management System (a genetic mate assignment program), and also worked in the Sire Acquisition and Research areas. She joined Pfizer Animal Health, now Zoetis, in 2005, first as a Fresh Cow Reproduction Manager in the Great Lakes states and later as a Dairy Production Specialist in WI where she often worked with large dairies on genomics, reproduction, records analysis, and transition cows until mid-2014 when she moved into her current role. Her experiences include working with herds of all sizes across the U.S. and over a dozen countries on 6 continents. Cheryl’s passion for the dairy industry and genetics began at her family’s Registered Holstein farm in Sleepy Eye, MN, where she owns some cattle, and her sister and brother-in-law own and operate their family farm of 700 acres and a 160-cow dairy called “Olmar Farms.
Genomic Webinar Series
A webinar series developed by Zoetis and Holstein Association USA will be an educational resource for current and prospective CLARIFIDE® customers and Enlight™ users.
Through a series of online presentations dairy producers will be able to better understand:
How genomic testing works
How genetic improvement and genomics can benefit the future of their herd
How to utilize the data generated from genomic testing to make more effective management decisions.
The webinars will be moderated by The Bullvine with presentations by Zoetis or Holstein Association personnel. The Bullvine is an online source for dairy genetic and other industry happenings around the world, through their coverage via articles, videos and podcasts. Viewers will attend the presentation live at a specified time and date, and archived presentations will be accessible through other websites after each presentation.
The following webinars will take place from Noon to 1:00 pm Eastern time (9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Pacific time) as follows:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PERFORMANCE. Theirs? or Yours?
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.
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.
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”!
After a wonderful weekend at my sister’s guest house in northern Ontario, I returned to the Bullvine refreshed, rejuvenated and enlightened. While there, I thoroughly enjoyed one of those sessions that can only occur when four adult women have their feet up in a gorgeous garden with favorite food and beverage at hand — I discovered that it’s possible that I have control issues. What? As much as I tried to steer (or control) the conversation, I had to finally admit that, despite my sense of adventure, I do like to know what’s happening, when it’s happening and why. Each visitor that joined us was told of my surprise at the label and, having known me and my family for many years, they unanimously laughed out loud. So I smiled and made a note to look into this later!
I also smiled when I returned home and the first email I opened was from Andrew who asked me to write something humorous to wrap up introduce the month of July, national celebrations and summer holidays on the Bullvine. Obviously here was someone who knows the inner me. So… I went to my desk. Opened my computer and checked the recurring list for the 29th of the month which read– “#1. Laugh out loud!” Trust me — the milk I had been enjoying with my breakfast splashed out my nose and all over my papers. There at the top of the page was the name of my daily list, “Control Journal!” I kid you not. I have had this list for many, many years and yet, when confronted by my mother, sister and niece, I found the idea of “control”, when applied to me, somewhat hard to admit. However, in honor of happiness inspired by a new month and a new perspective, I am ready to raise a glass and confess all.
“My Name is Karen. I have a drinking problem.”
Let’s set the scene by admitting that my drinking problem starts with my husband. Murray –definitely drinks too much … milk. Far too often my kids and I have caught him at the Dairy Queen!
I over indulge too. We try to hide it but family members often smell chocolate milk on our breath. The neighbours are beginning to suspect. Our blue box overflows with empties.
I remember that for me it started with my grandmother. She had great ideas for recycling stuff for crafts. We had chandeliers from milk bottles. Place mats from braided plastic milk bags. I loved her and quickly realized that somebody had to drink the milk in order to get those empties. No wonder I too grew to look to milk containers and dairies for creativity. At my High School Prom the ceiling decorations were tin foil streamers left from making the lids for glass bottles!
For Murray it’s all about supporting the dairy industry. Is it stealing if he pockets the creamers from fast food restaurants and buffets? Or is a grandfather supporting the small motor skills of his grandchildren as they learn to take the foil off of the creamers. For all he knows, it might be keeping him from losing his own dexterity!
“The Milk Stops Here!”
Our kids have been aware of the family problem and, in their own way, have done everything to stop the trend from spreading uncontrollably. Two of our three offspring have married lactose intolerant partners.
Of course, I can stop any time that I want to!”
It wouldn’t be easy but I could do it. However sometimes when I reflect back on all the milk I drink, I feel proud. I look into that cloudy empty glass and think about the dairy farmers and dairy cows in the alleys, barns and milking lines. I think of all their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this milk, they might all be turned out to pasture. No work. Their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, “It is better that I drink this milk and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about quitting.”
“Milk has left its mark on our family!”
Even though we are getting further away from actually producing milk, our children and grandchildren still recognize their dairy heritage. Maybe it will be better for them. When our children were little the milk came fresh from the barn. Sometimes too fresh. When they complained about being teased at school, I urged them to adapt. Explain the benefits of dairy living. You can call it, “Show and Smell!”
Some families say, “Hello. How are you?” We say, “Got milk?”
There were early hints that I would be attracted to a milk producer. Even though my father moved off the dairy farm when I was born, our house was decorated with milk cans, milk bottles, and milk crate shelving units that reminded him of his milk producing youth. One of the best home movies was created on one trip to the islands which gobbled an entire reel as he battled with the coconut that would not yield the milk he sought. Needless to say, he was unusual in his preference for milk. He loved Bailey’s Irish Cream …. Without the cream!
“Our mom always cried over spilled milk!”
Milk creates strong bones but doesn’t necessarily create the ability to prevent spills. The old saying goes don’t cry over spilled milk but I remember one time when the problem went way beyond spilled milk. Uncle Mortimer was somewhat creative in his dairy farming. He loved milk but he didn’t like that the milk fresh out of the udder was hot. So he came up with the idea of keeping his milking gloves in the freezer overnight. The first – and last– time he tried his, the cow shivered uncontrollably. She kicked the bucket …. And so did my uncle Mortimer. That was one time we ALL cried over spilled milk!
“Not all our family milk stories are bad.”
Cousin Billy Bob’s mother cured everything with Milk of Magnesia. She got quite a bit of attention, by whipping out her blue bottle to help every situation. One day Billy-Bob was reading a book when he should have been taking the milkers off. By the time he got his mind back to his job, the cow was so upset she kicked him. Aunt Milly found little Billy-Bob knocked out cold. He doesn’t actually remember what happened, however, unlike Uncle Mortimer, he survived to milk another day. He loves to steal Aunt Milly’s thunder and often entertains with s his “milk of amnesia” story! Unfortunately that family’s love of fresh milk must be cutting into their profits. What other reason would they have for posting this sign in the milking parlor, “NO DRINKING DURING MILKING HOURS?”
“The Psychological implications of Milk Mania”
For some of our family being crazy about milk has been shortened to just being crazy. How else can we explain our moo-d swings? When I was young, my imaginary playmate was a calf. They had to take me to a psychiatrist to have me de-calfinated. The same thing happened to my cousin Molly (she called herself Molly-Moo). She spend so much time in the fields trying not to think about cows, she starting thinking she was a horse. Now she doesn’t know if she’s been cured or if she is milk dud. Either way, she’s an udder failure!
“Our family stands up for milk!”
We never know where the next milk joke will come from but we are all ready to recognize dairy comedians. After the more we laugh, the less time we will have to drink milk. Some comedians have one liners, we have milk liners. We don’t drive the punch line, we milk it for all it’s worth!
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Without question, for our family at least, the greatest historical breakthrough came when someone saw milk coming from a cow’s udder and asked, “Why don’t we drink that?” Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with cookies. My name is Karen and I am a heavy milker! See you at the Milk Bar!