Archive for July 2020

Terri Packard: When you build it…they do come

Kueffner Cows’ Terri Packard is a rare mix of elegance and grit.  

Although she isn’t royal in the strictest sense, there’s no doubt her iron-clad reputation makes her one of the industry’s blue bloods – and a shining example when it comes to talent, integrity, intelligence and grace under pressure.

Terri is married to Ernie Kueffner, and there is nothing this power couple has not achieved in the industry – for others – and, for themselves. They are among the small echelon of A-listers that influence the top end of the global registered-cattle business. (Read more: KUEFFNER DAIRY TEAMWORK “2 Dream the Impossible Dream!”)

 Terri was recently named a judge for the National Jersey Jug Futurity at Louisville. It’s only the second time a woman has been asked to judge the world’s oldest and richest class for dairy cattle. The first was Alta Mae Core, and it’s an accolade Ernie believes is long overdue.

 Terri is not only ready to step up to judge, she is also ready to speak up about the registered industry, her defining moments, what it takes to market cattle, and the extreme solution the couple has been mulling over to combat the cancellation of this year’s World Dairy Expo (WDE)…

Now settled full-time at Kueffner Cows in Western Maryland, Terri and Ernie are well-known for launching Arethusa Farm’s brand, and taking its cows – among other achievements – to a history-breaking effort at the WDE. It was 2004 when Arethusa won both Supreme and Reserve Supreme Champion with their Holstein, Hillcroft Leader Melanie, and Jersey Huronia Centurion Veronica. (Read more: Arethusa: A Winning Focus)

The couple also co-managed (with Dan Donor and Isaac Lancaster) and hosted the Global Glamour sale from Arethusa’s Connecticut base in 2008, which averaged US$97,491, when Apple was sold for US$1 million. They won Premier Breeder banners for Arethusa in the two toughest breeds at WDE – Holsteins and Jerseys.

More recently, Terri and Ernie were the co-owners, masterminds and grunt behind the 2019 WDE Grand Champion Holstein, Butz-Butler Gold Barbara EX95, who was 65 days fresh after a break of two years.

There have been too many blue ribbons and Grand Champions in between to mention.

Great cows need care

Known equally for her cowmanship as for her marketing genius, Terri’s talent – in combination with Ernie’s – has granted the couple access to some of the best cows and deepest pockets in the industry.

Yet being a sixth-generation farmer, Terri’s ultimate master remains as it has always been: hard graft.

Terri has overhead people saying it’s easy to market great cows on the budgets they’ve had access to over the years. Her reply is simple.

“Yes, we have worked with a lot of people who have had money, and some people say we bought the cows, and there was the money to do it.

“But, one of the biggest things for me in marketing is first and foremost you have to take care of the cows. Without them, you have nothing. It doesn’t cost anything to brush tails, and soap is cheap.

“Yes, you can spend a lot of money on a beautiful display at a show, but if all you do is look after the cows, you’re still promoting your ability, your programme, and your attention to detail.

“There’s honestly nothing I enjoy doing more at a show than brushing tails. It’s therapy. We were all taught in 4H to clean hooves, ears, and have the sweat out from the udders … and so many seem to forget that. It’s something you can do without a lot of financial outlay. That’s what my mother taught me. And, wow, she was tough. She taught me more about elbow grease than anything else.”

Within the bigger picture, it has been Terri’s upbringing in northern Pennsylvania, her 4H experience, her personal journey, and Terri and Ernie’s partnership – all of which has collectively contributed to her stellar career. 

More than show day

Terri says not having WDE this year will sort out who truly is prepared to put the work in on their cattle day in, day out.

“With the shows falling like dominos, it’s going to sort the people out. I’m talking about the people who take care of their cows every day, no matter what, and who takes care of them ‘just because there is a show on’ – because this is an every-day, detail-oriented business.”

Terri says Ernie still gets up every night between midnight and 2 am to check the cows whether there is a show on the horizon or not.

He either puts the lights on them if they are in the pasture, or he picks the shits while he’s there if they are in the stalls. Terri does the early morning shift. They know their best insurance is having eyes on their cows.

Terri says, “You can’t teach people to observe. You either have it, or you don’t. You can teach them all the other stuff. But not that.

“Ernie gets annoyed with me at shows, because I’m on the wash rack, which is my one-on-one time with the cows, and I’ll come in and say, ‘There’s a cut on this cow, this cow has some swelling in her neck, and I can smell some hoof rot’. He’ll say to me, ‘Did anything good happen on the wash rack?’.

“But, we both know that observing and the attention to detail is so important, and it’s unrelenting.”

Unsurprisingly, it was Terri who suggested a sign for the new barn’s entrance at Arethusa. It’s a statement that hung at Ernie’s family operation in Wisconsin: “Every cow in this barn is a lady. Please treat her as such.”

It speaks to both of their hearts.

Ernie on Terri’s talent

As always with industry couples who are both talented, Ernie has often been given the lead. However, his respect for his wife runs deep, and he says her judging role at Louisville’s National Jersey Jug Futurity is overdue.

Ernie says, “In agriculture, to get to the top requires sacrifices. If they’re willing to do it, I’ve always thought that women had as much – or more – ability than the men. I’ve never had a question about that in my mind.

“I thought there was an opportunity for Terri to go forward to judge because she’s ready, she enjoys it, and that’s extremely important. She’s been up for judging roles before now, and she’s been beaten by males that aren’t qualified as her … because they’re men. It’s irritating. In fact, it irritates me a lot, because I believe that holds a number of women back sometimes.

“When she got the Louisville appointment – even though we don’t know for sure [the event] is going to happen – it was quite thrilling.”

Ernie also says Terri has strong opinions – these will keep her steady when she gets to the pointy end of the day.

“Over the years I’ve seen when certain male or female judges get to the Grand Champion – the very important times – they start to second guess themselves. Terri doesn’t second guess herself.”

Terri confirms she enjoys judging, and she knows it includes some pressure for her peers.

“I think it’s hard being in a situation whereas a couple the two of us have had success. People think I might do what Ernie would like. It’s hard to get out of that shadow, and it seems to be hard for people to understand that you might have your own opinion.

“If a woman doesn’t do a good job judging, then it’s that much harder to get momentum for other women. If a man does a bad job, it doesn’t hurt the other guys as much.”

Terri’s associate in the National Jersey Jug Futurity will be the dry-witted Richard Caverly, who managed Arethusa before Ernie and Terri took over.

Ernie’s best deal

Ernie says his wife is one of the special ones, and when asked what she has brought to their operation, he doesn’t hesitate to give her the credit she deserves.

It’s a little difficult to answer real quick because she obviously brings a great deal. She brings a lot of energy and a lot of objectivity.

“She does physical, mental and emotional work, and she’s outstanding in marketing and advertising. Terri can do anything – and she does it well.”

He smiles, “We don’t always agree, and sometimes she takes longer to do some jobs than I’d like her to, but she always does it well.”

He quips, “And when she gets a new haircut, that looks good too!”

All jokes aside, Ernie knows he made the best deal of his life when Terri agreed to share her life with him.

“There is an integrity and decency in Terri which means she can also go to any farm anywhere, at any time and she will always be welcomed.

“That’s quite a compliment. I’m not sure I’d be welcome everywhere, but that’s okay. Because there’s some places I don’t want to go.”

Arethusa was defining

What some don’t know about the couple’s dominating run at Arethusa is that for the first 12 months of their full-time association, Terri managed Arethusa while Ernie continued to run their home operation – six hours away.

She was 33 at the time, and Ernie and Terri had never milked more than 15 to 20 cows at home. Her brother, David, worked alongside her, and Ernie commuted a couple of times a month. It was a defining appointment for Terri.

Ernie says, “That was probably quite extreme for Terri at the time, and she was probably quite shocked for the first five minutes after I suggested it. But, for me, it was simple. From a personal standpoint, I wanted her to be more challenged; I knew she’d do well, and I knew there would be no failure.”

Terri agreed that she was stunned when Ernie suggested it without discussing it with her first.

“That really changed me – because it threw me out there,” Terri says. “I wasn’t on my own entirely, but it sure felt like it. That first year we were there, our mother [Marilyn], passed away and David and I were on this new farm, with young employees, Japanese interns and college kids.

“It was like being a parent in many ways, but I also had the responsibility of the cows. It was a lot. But I enjoyed it. There were days in the beginning where I was out mowing the lawn, trimming bushes, and mowing the pastures, because in the beginning, we did it all. When it got to that first successful year at Madison, that put me in the office full time, and I then became the relief milker.”

The 2004 WDE success put a lot of pressure on Terri and Ernie because it “ratcheted” up Arethusa’s owner’s expectations. And the industry was paying attention.

Terri says, “When you have a certain amount of success, there are people that are happy for you, and there are people that are jealous. Some people are both.

“But Arethusa was great at letting us do our job. From the beginning we said we would stay involved as long as they remembered that the cows came first, followed by the owners, and then the employees. But, the cows would always come first.”

When the couple called time on Arethusa after a decade, they gave owners George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis just over a year’s warning to put their plans in place.

“Sometimes it feels like it was a lifetime ago. We had a great group of cows and a great group of young people.

“One of the best things was the people we got to work with. Because we had young people who wanted to learn. And, they were dedicated, teachable and they loved cows.

“They’ve gone on to do great things. At one point, we had former employees managing every one of the major show herds in North America.

“We still get calls and texts with what they’re doing. That’s been a major highlight for both of us to watch their careers.”

Reputations make sales

Terri and Ernie were planning a sale in conjunction with the Franchise Kind in June.

When COVID-19 happened, they were preparing to hunker down and ride it out until they could re-schedule.

In the interim, the Hogan family, who milks over 5000 cows at Misty Meadow Dairy in Oregon, approached them with an eye on acquiring the 2018 WDE Intermediate Champion and Reserve Grand Champion, South Mountain Voltage Radiant EX91. Ernie had always said she was for sale. On one condition.

“There was one cow in particular that they wanted and other people have asked about her at different times,” Terri confirms. “And, the answer was, ‘Yes, Radiant is for sale, but not alone’. Because, if she is not here, the excitement is gone about going to the barn in the morning for Ernie.

“He’s said that for a couple of years now.”

“Finally, I just gave the Hogan family the spreadsheet of all our animals, and they came back and asked us how much for all of them. You can’t pass up that kind of opportunity. Ernie and I each picked out one baby calf to keep and we have a couple of donors, some Holstein heifers, a Brown Swiss donor and Barbara left.

“We still have Radiant here too on behalf of the Hogans, because we had planned to prepare her for Madison. Hopefully, Louisville will go ahead, so we can get her out there.”

Importantly, Terri and Ernie have never been able to ship milk in their operation, and so 37 head were loaded up for their new future. They are now in the care of Misty Meadow’s herdsman, Danny Upchurch. Danny handled a lot of the sale detail and is responsible for the family’s type herd, which is currently located in California while a facility is being acquired for them in Oregon.

“We sold because there was so much uncertainty in these unprecedented times. We didn’t know when we’d be able to have a sale, what the economy would be, whether anybody would be in the mood to buy anything and whether there would be any shows. And, when somebody comes along with sincere interest in type cattle with pedigrees who wanted to breed from them, we had to consider it.”

Ernie and Terri remain in the mix, helping the new owners with decisions related to marketing, showing and breeding.

“It’s hard to see them go, and I still cried when we left after visiting them, but they look good,” Terri said. “They’re doing well and they’re happy. The first day we walked in there they were so buried in this beautiful oat hay they were eating that they didn’t even want to talk to us. Which was good. They’ve adjusted well, and it couldn’t be more opposite living for them.

“But this is the first time since we’ve lived here for 23 years that there’s not been a Jersey heifer on this farm.”

Circular business

Terri says she wasn’t surprised when Ernie immediately started gathering new animals.

“This is an addiction, right?! No sooner had we got them loaded and out the driveway than Ernie started talking about Michael Heath and Nathan Thomas’s sale, which was running a week later. Ernie felt he should support it because he’s a firm believer that everyone in this industry has to give and take.”

They bought a springing heifer that caught Terri’s eye, who they say has calved out beautifully. Terri says while buying goes against their “sort of” plans to slow up, they both have a happy knack for finding the good ones.

“I give Ernie a hard time about it, but it’s usually beneficial,” she pauses reflectively. “If we sell a whole bunch of cattle, two years later he’ll end up buying one of them back. When we had our sale in 2016, we sold a bred heifer for $5500. She calved out the next year, and Mike Deaver called and said, ‘You might want to know about this one.’

“We bought her back over the phone, and we never saw her before she arrived at the farm. That was Radiant. And, he’s done it before.”

Another Jersey recently joined them – a daughter from Radiant – who was sold last year. She’s owned in partnership with RCD Jerseys (Rankin, Ceresna and Deist).
The two calves they chose to keep include Ernie’s choice of a Velocity out of Radiant, while Terri chose a calf who goes back to one of the first Jerseys they bought from Canada after they moved to Boonsboro in 1997.

Terri says, “I’m keeping something out of that Sofie family until we’re done. Her dam is a Premier x Comerica x Deluxe x Premonition x Sofie and she’s sired by Velocity too, so I’ve got my shot of Veronica in there.”

Giving up the business may have been muted, but somehow it still feels a world away.

“We did have that discussion pretty seriously, and I thought selling that many cattle during a pandemic might be a sign that perhaps it is enough, and we should slow down.

“Ernie is almost 20 years older than me, he’s got Parkinson’s Disease, and while he’s working hard against it, he does have it.”

Barbara: sweet win

When the talk turns to achievement and favourite cows, Terri says for Barbara to go all the way last year under judge Chad Ryan, of Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, was a personal sweet spot in her career. 

“I remember when Barbara was in the ring, all these people were wanting to talk to me. And, all I wanted to do was to watch that cow,” Terri said. “Finally I got up on top of a chair, so that no-one could talk to me.

“Because that moment was the culmination of so, so much work, and I just wanted to see Barbara be happy, and see her appreciated.

“We’ve shown some beautiful older cows in the last few years that have been hammered in the ring. And, I wanted to see a judge respect an older cow. And, I’ve never seen her in all the years we’ve had her behave so well and look so happy out there, and just show off like Veronica and Ashlyn used to do.

“That moment made up for all the hours of work over the years.”

Terri says Barbara calved at the end of July. She hadn’t had a calf in two years, was fat and angry to be in-milk again.

“She was wicked. She was the nastiest Holstein cow I’d ever milked for those first two weeks. She was so mad that her udder was full of milk. We had quite a roller coaster ride with her for 65 days, and then to stand there looking at her in the ring was a testament to the cow and to the judge, who was so respectful of both the cows and the exhibitors.

“I don’t think anyone would feel that he didn’t give their cows time that day.

“If we never showed again after that, I’m okay with that.”

Barbara inspirational

Terri Packard worries that missing WDE could be critical for a number of form cows, and she has been mulling over an edgy alternative because it also worries her what the industry will do without some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Every day since they’ve cancelled WDE, I have the discussion with my husband about another show.”

“So many of these cows have that one day like Barbara, and you may not ever get it back. That’s one of the main reasons why I want a show this year. For all these cows that are ready.

“People say there is always next year, but there may not be next year for some of them.”

Veronica still favourite

People who know cows, know that if they get great care and management, they have the confidence to show their personality and intellect.  

And, of all the great ones Terri has worked with – even though she was reared with Holsteins – it is a household Jersey name, Veronica, who remains her favourite.

“There’s been so many unique and interesting animals I’ve worked with, but I don’t think anyone else looked at you like they knew what you were talking about like Veronica did.

“She was so aware of people. It is 18 years since we bought her, and we worked with her for more than 10 years, and we still tell the stories about her because she was just that smart.

“She had such an appetite, and she was so aggressive at a show. When we would take her out to be washed, Ernie would have to stand the end of the barn and clear the way for her when she came back.

“Because as soon as she got to the door, she knew her feed would be in her stall, and no-one could hold her back. We literally always had the biggest guy we had in our team bring her in, and she’d start getting mad, and Ernie would say, ‘Let her go.’ She’d just storm into the barn, and into her stall, and start eating.

“She was the same in the clipping chute. And, she knew when people were watching her. You could see the angle of her head change. One day we were classifying Holsteins at Arethusa, and we were washing and clipping the cows and the Holsteins were getting all the attention, and that morning we left the Jerseys out.

“When they let the cows back in to feed, we turned around and Veronica had walked into the barn, and she was standing in the clipping chute like she was saying, ‘What am I? Chopped liver?’

“Norman [Nabholz] used to lead her, but I remember one year we took her to Louisville, and she was pissed that day. Norman saw her come out of the chute really mad, she was hauling arse as she stormed up the aisle and into her stall, and he was like, ‘I can’t do it. I’m out. She’s gonna take me for a ride’.

“Ernie was like, ‘We haven’t got time for this’. Norman said, ‘Steve White will do it’. And, Ernie didn’t think he would. And, Norm replied, ‘He will if I ask him’.

“Steve is such a big, broad-shouldered man, and luckily for us he said he’d do it. So, we walked Veronica down to the ring with Norman at the halter and right before Veronica went into the ring, Steve took over.

“And, you could see Veronica slowly look up at Steve, take in his size advantage, and you could literally see her thinking, ‘I’m not gonna be messing with this guy’. She led like a dream that day, and she was Champion.”

Does Terri think she would have led for Norman?

“I think that day she might have taken him.

“Everything she did was always extreme. It was great to be around her. I led her twice over the years – once at The Royal as a second-calved two-year-old when she was Intermediate Champion and Reserve Grand under Steve Borland – and, as a 10-year-old at the Spring Show where she was Reserve Grand. But she was a handful and headstrong. Her great-granddaughter acts just like her.

“Jerseys have so much more personality than Holsteins, and they just draw you in. There’s the rare Holstein that is responsive like that, and Barbara is one of them, so I enjoy working with her, and I love observing her.”
Terri says Jerseys might get sick a little quicker than Holsteins, but they get better faster.

“And, don’t let anyone tell you they don’t eat as much.”

Delicate marketing dance

Terri warns that marketing in today’s world is a delicate dance.

“I think it’s just so important, especially now that we don’t get a Holstein World, and every state doesn’t have their own breed publications. We’ve got to build our own hype, and have our cows in front of people. And, it’s very accessible to do that through social media.

“But, I don’t like to badger everyone, because – when I need to market – I want them to listen.”

Every industry needs leaders

In closing, Terri hopes there is room in the industry for the next generation to come through.

“There are a lot of young people out there who have a strong interest in registered cattle, and they want to take care of good cows,” Terri said. “But I don’t see very many of them going out and buying the farms, or having the income to be the next generation of that.

“All these young people who love to do this – there needs to be the next layers of owners who can afford to hire them, and who can afford to take care of these good cows.

“I hope there are enough people that still get excited about going to the shows and having a nice cow to look at in the barn in the morning.

“Because it does take more work, those kinds of cows do need more care, and in order to be developed to that point…it’s every day – it’s not just once you get on the truck, and head out for the show.”

It’s been said that without someone to set the bar, how does everyone else know how high they have to climb?

There’s no doubt that Terri and Ernie help bring the energy, and the excitement, that makes this industry special and compelling for everyone else. And Terri is a beacon for young women who are aspiring to take lead roles at any level.

Is Dairying Ready for Post-COVID Good “News!”?

As the global pandemic continues, the dairy industry is asking “What’s New?” the simplest answer is one word – “Coronavirus”. At this time, even though the majority of countries and businesses are still very much in the crisis management phase of COVID-19, some are already exploring how they can set themselves up on the right trajectory for growth as they come out the other side. Although it is very easy to fall prey to negativism, it might be both refreshing and forward-looking to actually consider the positive potential for what post-Covid dairying could look like. 

New Priorities

In dairying, there are many variables that are beyond your control which makes it necessary to know what you’re aiming for and what you can actually do. Don’t wear yourself out trying to meet standards set by news headlines, neighbours or anti-Ag activists or unrealistic romanticism. Do what makes it possible for you to maintain your sweet spot during hard times.  Don’t strive for excellence. When we clearly know what our plan is, we are not derailed by criticism. Do you need a home gym? A pool? New family computers? Others not walking in your shoes may criticize but you must make plans that make it possible for your business to continue to support you and your family … that means the children too!

New Dairy Org Chart

It is impossible to be a master of everything. Today dairy managers need to excel at screen time, as animal feeders, as animal breeders and animal doctors. Post-Covid the highest priority will be putting together new teams to efficiently and effectively handle all these special skills. 

Post-Covid there will be new definitions for the collaborations between your dairy everyone else who provides support or derives payments for expertise, consulting or products. We need all that expertise but how will we get it?  No more large group gatherings of 100s at trade shows or farm days. No more conflicting overlapping areas of expertise which waste time and cost money and have been excused by saying, “It’s the way we’ve always done it. We value lifestyle over profit.”

New Business or Old Lifestyle

Post-COVID it well be necessary to admit “Sustainable dairy farming isn’t all about the lifestyle”. You would find it hard to name any other relevant industry that professes to stay the same because of the “lifestyle”. Of course, there are very successful entrepreneurs who support their talents and hobbies through the companies they run.  So back to 24/7 dairying.  You can’t love the living but then continually ask for someone to “subsidize” it with financial support.

Speaking of support, this takes us one step further. Before, during and after COVID, the success of each dairy operation is impacted by every person working to produce products from milk. From ownership to staff to each on-farm provider, the need will be for openness and transparency in all communications in order for support to be relevant and ongoing. The entire staff fears for their futures, their health. Many don’t have savings to fall back on. They fear for their security. Hard conversations will be needed as entire dairy teams work through the challenges of COVID.  Family.  Employees.  Suppliers.  Who is entitled to draw their living from your lifestyle? What will be the difference post-COVID?

New Supply Chain Interaction

One post-COVID visible difference will be that there will be many more who work from home. In these first months, we’ve discovered that jobs no one thought could be done remotely can be handled very effectively with a laptop computer and video conferencing. At the other end of the spectrum, delivery service drivers have become essential to our new lifestyle. We still need police, firemen, pilots, and others to report to work. But many white-collar jobs that are now being done from home will remain there when the crisis passes. On the dairy farm, the winners will be dairy industry suppliers, who will continue to make the interactive business to farm processes easier. The post-COVID winners will be those suppliers and consultants that offer good prices, prompt delivery, and user-friendly websites that provide measurable value to the dairy operation. We could just hang on for now or we can use this time to make all interactions a more cohesive part of the dairy operation puzzle.

New Technology

Unsurprisingly, dairy operations that were furthest along with their digital transformation journey before COVID-19 struck are tending to adapt to the crisis better than their peers. Their technically proficient business models and working processes meant that they were able to pivot more rapidly or accelerate changes already underway. This could lead to complacency or it could be seen as an opportunity to take the dairy to the next level. For some, this could mean turning to or expanding robotics.

The rise of robotics is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it improves productivity and reduces vulnerability to the impact a future pandemic could have on labor. On the other, it carries the fear of leaving people without work. Managing that crisis is an old dairy challenge that needs a new answer. We need to use technology to augment, not replace, people. Robotic technology can do more than simply feed and milk cows.  

New Big Picture Planning

We need to reshape how we grow, transport, package and consume our food. Currently, our straight-line methods involve what some call take, make and waste. We need to find ways to decrease dependency on fossil-fuels and shorten the distance from producer-to-consumer. Continuing the agriculture commitment to mitigating the climate crisis and respecting and improving workers’ rights are part of the new perspective that is vital in order to build strength resiliency. When the urgent part of the crisis has been navigated, we need to go forward with a new commitment.  Interesting ideas are easily accessible and provide an interactive discussion on blogs such as “Less Waster and More Value”)

New Perspective Combining Health For Herds And Humans

In the dairy industry, we have personal experience with biosecurity and how to handle it.  Usually, our cows are the focus of the discussion.  Today it is about controlling an epidemic as it strikes humans. What we really need to develop is how we anticipate, discover and act.  Having the knowledge isn’t effective if we wait until it is too late to act. For example, we already are well aware that most major human infectious diseases have animal origins, and we continue to be bombarded by novel animal pathogens. Yet there is no ongoing systematic global effort to monitor for pathogens emerging from animals to humans. An ongoing systematic effort makes headway in describing and categorizing the diversity of microbial agents to which our species is exposed. We could characterize animal pathogens that might threaten us in the future. We could detect and control a local human emergence before it has a chance to spread globally. In other words, the pandemic has revealed the gaps in our current public health infrastructure.  Will they still be there post-COVID?

New Financial Solutions

Getting a grasp on big picture philosophy is often difficult. It seems easier to move from big picture imagining to down to earth dollars. What will post-COVID dairy financing save, keep or throw away from the experience? It is always easy to cut expenses and weather through until a more normal economy reappears. However, some dairies are thinking of trying new solutions. They don’t intend to reinvent the wheel.  Instead, they are looking at dairy dollars in a unique way.  Weighing the cost of cost-cutting or expenses in terms of what the actual impact is? For example, culling on the basis of replacement cost alone does not consider the cost of poor fertility, high breeding costs and the labor costs incurred.

Dairying is well aware that governments are going to be stretched to their limits in providing fiscal and economic stimulus. At some point in time, the hope is that we will emerge from the crisis stage. At that point, governments – federal, state and local – will be faced with massive debt problems. There will be attempts, realistic or otherwise, to recoup and rebalance the books.  Who will receive new benefits?  Who will be a new pawn?  

While we are always tempted to turn to self-protection, there are always new opportunities to find new ways forward and that could mean investing in new research. Post-COVID it will be valuable to collect and coordinate dairy data for the good of the entire industry. (Read more: “Opportunity Knocks! Will Dairy Answer?”) The goal is to keep successful new genetics and new innovations going over the long term.

New Globalization

As we live through the growing reality of Covid-19, we see governments with wealth turn to prop up their own economies as the developing world sinks into chaos.  New rules and new restrictions are mounting as each country protects themselves and keeps their money at home. At first, this protectionist attitude seems profitable but it eventually begs the new question, “Who is buying our products?” “Who is making our products?” An editorial in Western Producer sums it up this way, “Jumping off the globalization bandwagon will forfeit international advantages created by economies of scale, such as prairie agricultural, the advantage of the developing world in labour and manufacturing as well as incentives for international investment, which mitigate risk from all perils including disease. (Western Producer editorial published June 18, 2020). Will we see a coordinated global response or will we create more division, competition and a growing mountain of regulations?

New Heroes

“We are balancing between amazing acts of courage and heroism as our frontline healthcare providers lean in to take care of people across the nation and the world” says Kimberly MacPherson, teaching fellow at the Haas School of Business. At the same time, there are those who say “in a lot of ways my life has not changed all that much.”  Unfortunately, there are many more who are not so blessed. Now and post-COVID we need to open our eyes and ears to those who need unselfish, hard-working leadership, sharing and humanity.  These describe the dairy industry people and food producers.  That is why people have not been forced to stay home for three months and produce their own food. Heroes do what they do best and don’t stop until the job is done.

The Bullvine Bottom Line 

Post- COVID the new hope is that all dairy producers understand that we all need to work together.  One country cannot survive without the others. Producers cannot survive without consumers and everyone in between. We will find what is new, when we are proactive and create an intentional preparedness plan for a new dairy future.




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Should You Share Your Data?

Have you heard a dairy farmer say … “It is my data! … Why should I share my data? … Just so that someone else can make money from my data! … It costs me to generate my data! … What are you going to pay me for my data?”  In dairy cattle genetic improvement, these comments are often aimed at A.I. organizations or breeding companies who have access to but do not pay, as they once did, for the use of breeders’ individual animal and herd performance data.

Where is this ‘Pay Me’ Approach Coming From?

Breeders today see that their futures are threatened when it comes to revenue from their breeding stock sales. They have much less (if any) income, as a percent of total revenue, from animal and embryos sales than they had thirty years ago. No one is beating down their doors for open heifers, springing bred heifers or quality second calvers. They still participate in type classification and DHI programs, but their officially documented animal data is not being asked for. Grade females with documentation fetch as many dollars from sales agents as do purebreds. High herd performance averages (BAA, milk/fat/protein yield averages, …) do not bring buyers to farms seeking surplus animals.

Why Participate in Animal Improvement Programs?

So, breeders are saying why spend the money to participate in industry offered breed improvement programs?  These breeders know full well that they need the data for their on-farm use but question if organizations beyond their farm gate have the right to use their data without paying for it.

Nothing remains the same forever. At the farm level, animal and herd data once used to generate revenue now has the primary use of helping to keep costs under control.

But … what is the big picture of this matter?

The Data Focus is Now Value Added

The profitable cow for most dairy farmers has evolved or is evolving to a healthy, long-lived, efficient converter, high fat and protein producing cow.  As well, dairy farmers are making extensive use of sexed semen, breeding the low-end females to beef semen and buying systems and technology that enhance herd management and help cut costs.

Every piece of data, old and new, must provide a return on the investment … It must have a value added at the farm of origin level. It is no longer just how much milk, fat or protein or if she classified above breed average.   It is – does she do that and more – calved without difficulty at 22 months of age, conceives on 1st or 2nd service, does not get sick, does not have feet/hoof problems and remains in the herd to at least 72 months of age (completes 4 lactations). The ideal cow needs to be much more genetically and performance wise than she was even ten years ago.

Value Added Answers New Questions

Even though the focus in the press and social media is on the genomics for young animals, breeders want and need to have the profitable lifetime cow. That requires that on-farm finances need to be given a much higher priority for inclusion in data captured and reported than they have been up until now. Without including the dollars and cents relative to a trait – do the trait genetic indexes have worthwhile value?

It goes even further. Some old beliefs may not hold their perceived value. Do wide bodied cows consume more feed? Will a2a2 animals generate more revenue in the future? Are there bloodlines or breeds that are more profitable at converting feed than other bloodlines or breeds?

Viability and Sustainability are High Priority

We need to dig much deeper using more data points so cows, dairy farms and the industry can be viable and sustainable.  More production is not always better. The fact is we talk value added but we are not using the data to actually determine if it is adding value. The dairy cattle improvement industry needs expanded thinking when it comes to using all data.

How Did the Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Get to this Point with Data?

Many often blame the introduction of genomics as the reason that breeders are unable to get back some return for sharing their data.

With the introduction of genomic sire indexes, A.I. stopped paying incentive dollars to breeders that sampled young sires. Payment in return for breeders’ data that was used to daughter prove the young sires. It so happened that, at the same time, semen prices for proven sires dropped and semen sales volume for proven sires went from 80% to 30% of the market. And so, the money was not there for A.I. to continue their young sire incentive programs.

Dramatic Expansion in Data

In this past decade progressive dairy farmers have been purchasing more tools to evaluate their herds in order to improve their herd management practices. Breeds did not change the services they provided while milk recording expanded their scope of services. New entrepreneurial service providers entered the dairy cattle improvement industry and many more services and technologies were offered to dairy farms. The result is that there has been a dramatic expansion in data and data points for cows and herds.

Who Analyzes the data?

Yet in many cases the increased data points are not linked. Dairy farmers must sort through all the data and draw their own conclusions and make decisions based solely on their herd’s data. Of course, all data capture costs money so dairy farms have incurred more expense and yet are having to link the data on their own. No wonder dairy farmers are saying, “It is my data I paid for it all. How do I get a return on my data investment? My data has a value beyond my farm. Am I seeing benefit from my data used by organizations?”

Has the dairy improvement industry not kept up with farmers’ needs when it comes to linking, analyzing and providing information for animal and herd advancement? Likely, that is partially true.  But all is not lost. Organizations are now seeing the need to link all data points to provide more complete answers for dairy farmers.

Everyone Benefits from Sharing Data

When a farm’s data is not available for others everyone looses … original farm … other farms … service providers … the industry.

Here is a partial list of the benefits of shared data for farms and for the industry:

  • Benchmarking
    Broadly based guideposts for animals and herds have been and will continue to be integral for farms to be able to improve. Industry databases containing large volumes of animal and herd data are needed to develop the guideposts.
  • Accuracy of Prediction and Forecasting
    Broad based animal and herd data is needed to know performance and trends. As well as for all stakeholders to predict and plan.
  • Research and Development
    Innovation is critical for any industry to progress. Extensive data along with both public and private funding are needed for research and development.
  • Genetic Advancement
    Large comprehensive databases are needed to expand the economically important traits for which dairy cattle are genetically evaluated. CDN/Lactanet research has shown that half of the progress in on-farm profitability comes about because of the genetic improvement of animals.
  • Product Guarantees
    Databases that include monitoring of location of production, of production methodology, of product identification and of product movement are important for consumers to know that the food they buy meets standards, is safe and wholesome. In the future producers, processors and marketers will be required to guarantee their products
  • Results of Industry Collaboration and Initiatives
    Dairy farmers have been asking for their service organizations to expand and link the services offered. Elimination of duplication, sharing of services and efficiencies within services are important to dairy farmers. To achieve all these animal, herd and farm data is necessary.
  • New Technology and Systems
    The rate of implementation of technology and new systems is occurring at a break-neck speed. The result is more and new information to manage by and for more effective use of labor and feeds. Past animal and herd data are paramount to create the new equipment and management softwares for not only milk cows but also for calves, heifers, dry cows and farm and industry systems.

It is Check-In Time for How the Dairy Industry Deals with Data

Shared data will be the foundation on which the dairy industry will build its future viability and sustainability.

All industries (auto, medical, energy, …etc.) are changing their approach to who has access to individual organizations’ data. It is not who owns or controls the data, – it is who uses the data to implement new.

No person, service provider or industry can exist as an island onto themselves.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

All farm data needs to be used on the farm of origin and in the industry. Sharing data is not a “no way” – it is a definitely “yes do for success”. Opportunity is out there for farms that share their data but, in return, there must be ways to improve income, efficiencies, cost cutting, management improvements, and more. Sharing dairy data is sound business.




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“HEAT BUSTERS. Who You Gonna Call?”

My mailbox and inbox have recently been overflowing with downloads and brochures about HEAT STRESS.  These written pieces are emphasized by capital letters and exclamation marks as many on-line suppliers and consultants provide information, strategies and, of course, their particular product that will combat this costly annual challenge. But great information is no good if it winds up in the garbage.  At the Bullvine we like to remind each other to ask the second question.  “What can I do with this?” If you have the herd contact person, ask the simple question, “What do you think we could do better to handle heat stress in our herd?”  

HEAT STRESS: Early Warning Signs and Symptoms

  • Increased breathing
  • Open mouth breathing (panting)
  • Slobbering
  • Trembling and loss of coordination
  • If they go down, recovery is unlikely

Take action when the first signs of heat stress are observed.  Survival depends upon effective intervention. Be particularly observant during the evening when cattle are trying to dissipate the heat built up during the day. Record observations and measurements.

HEAT STRESS AWARENESS TOOL: The Temperature Humidity Index 

Cows are large and their daily living processes means that they themselves are producing heat, in addition to the heat of the environment that they are living in. The effects of heat stress on dairy cattle are caused by a combination of high environmental temperature and relative humidity. These combined effects are measured by the THI Temperature Humidity Index. And used to assess the risk of heat stress and prevent harmful effects. Studies of THI have concluded that heat stress in cattle is avoided as long as temperatures are below 64 degrees Fahrenheit and when humidity is under 15%.  The optimal temperature for dairy cattle lies between 23 degrees F and 64 degrees F. At a temperature of 68 degrees F and humidity of 80%, a cow is already suffering from heat stress. It is clear that these conditions are repeatedly exceeded for extended periods of time during warmest months of dairy operation.  We can be sure that even though we humans may be comfortable; our cows are already experiencing heat stress. THI adds important analysis information. (for more information Excellent examples of how THI is formulated can be found online)

NEXT: Get Ready to Refine Results Beyond the THI Index

THI started being studied in the 1950s and has been available since the 1980s. There are apps available for doing the calculations.  One application doesn’t fit all situations.  It is necessary to know the predominant conditions in the area you are in as well as the relative humidity. Results are different in areas of dry heat (semiarid climates) or moist heat.  Present-day dairy operations need to plan ahead for the microclimatic changes caused by global warming and pollution. The actual Index also needs continual modification to more precisely interpret 24-hour results over extended time periods. Moving ahead, combining THI, body temperature and other indices (i.e. activity) will make it possible to individualize and effectively forecast heat stress.  

YOUR DAIRY HERD:  Who Else is Hot?  

Calves:  Two recent studies conducted at the University of Florida reported a lower pre-weaning average daily gain of calves from heat-stressed cows than those from cooled cows. As well, calves that experience in utero heat stress during the dry period maintain a lower body weight at least until 1-year-old compared to in utero-cooled calves. Multiple studies report that calves born to dry period heat-stressed cows had reduced efficiency to absorb immunoglobulin G (IgG) from colostrum, resulting in lower serum IgG concentrations during the first month of life.

Dry Cows: An article by Mark Pearce (Dairy Australia May 2016) stated that heat stress on dry cows has a dramatic effect on the development of mammary tissue in the udder and leads to decreased milk production in the following lactation.

KEEP COOL CHECKLIST: Take Immediate Action  

  • Check ventilation capacity and reduce any barriers to airflow
  • Increase ventilation rate when necessary (mechanical ventilation)
  • Make adjustments to achieve effective natural ventilation
  • Make sure all water troughs are clean at all times
  • Increase access to clean fresh water.
  • Keep all feed rations fresh and palatable
  • During hot periods, only have the cows on pasture during the night or during the cool moments (evening, early morning) of the day

COOLING OFF:  Dairy Stress Nutrition Strategies  

There are many sources who can provide advice and support when your herd is facing heat stress.  Don’t overlook the effect that targeted nutrition strategies can provide. Don’t consider the cost input without also calculating the dollars lost to dropping production or rising health problems.  Feed special rations (supplemented with additional minerals and vitamins) at least two times a day. In an experiment conducted at the University of Illinois (Pate et al, 2020 Journal of Dairy Science) the following was reported: “Protein in milk declines seasonally, just like butterfat, and the lowest point is reached in summer. “Heat-stress also reduces milk protein and milk fat depression during summer.” Protect against milk protein depression in summer with amino acid balancing and rumen-protected methionine supplement with a high bioavailability. 


Addressing heat stress from a genetic perspective presents a longer term solution. Relatively new on the breeding scene is breeding for the Slick gene in Holsteins.  It produces a shorter and smoother coat.  This is a gene with dominant heritability (like the polled gene) so that it makes it easier to introduce it into a population.  Sires are now available for carriers of the Slick gene. Slick animals in the tropics have been found to have 30% more sweat gland areas and 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit lower surface temperature.  University of Florida research shows Slick gene cows, 60 to 90 days in milk, produce 10 lbs. more milk per day in hot environments.  As well, calving interval for Slick gene cows was 30 days shorter than for normal Holsteins.

HOT STUFF: The Multiplying Costs of Heat Stress.  

In May of 2013 Hoards Dairyman published an article “How Much will heat stress cost you this summer?” It provided very interesting numbers to support the expensive side of dairy cattle heat stress. “It is estimated that heat stress costs the dairy industry anywhere from $900 million dollars to $5 billion each year depending on the calculation used.  The level of stress experience by an animal and resulting financial losses fluctuate as temperature and humidity go up and down.” “Knowing that heat stress does not typically happen for one day only, consider if a cow suffered heat stress for a period of 45 days; the losses for a 500 cow herd grows to $36,000 to $126,000. If the herd is milking 1,000 cows the losses become even more significant ranging from $72,000 to $252,000. These numbers don’t take into account reproduction losses and extended days open.”  These may not be your numbers but they may inspire you to take a realistic look at the financial impact of dairy heat stress on your operation.


As we move through human learning regarding responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are learning about the effects of crowding and physical distancing.  While heat stress isn’t contagious, crowded conditions are certainly another way that temperature impacts our herds. Cows that have spacious pens or pastures may still come into heated conditions while moving through holding areas. Barn fans are a mechanical solution to the moving air that is needed for groups of animals.  Assessments should be made to determine whether the moving air is actually on the animals or if it is largely blowing down alleys over people movement areas. Sometimes the fans are in the right place but the machinery we use for feeding and cleaning may block effective air flow onto the cows.

HEAT STRESS: Exercise Can Help Cows Adapt to Heat 

Studies have reported that cattle that exercise regularly spend less time in an elevated temperature, so they are less susceptible to hot days.  This can provide the added benefit of more milk components. Tim Rozell, an animal scientist with Kansas State University says, “We see increased protein in milk from exercised cattle. Last year, for example, we exercised pregnant heifers up to three weeks before they underwent parturition, and even 15 weeks or so into milk production, we saw increased protein in their milk, elevated lactose and other improvements in milk production.” Abi Wilson, A K-State master’s student in biology reports, “At the beginning and end of each trial, we take muscle biopsies. We are looking at specific enzymes, hormones and any changes in the skeletal muscle that may enhance their tolerance to heat, pregnancy rates and milk production.”

CLIMATE CHANGE: Will it Make a Dairy Difference?  

According to a recent study, the average number of days that feel hotter than 100 degrees in the U.S. will more than double by 2050. Scorching weather and lack of rain damages the quality of crops and the grass used to feed farm animals. This is even more concerning if weather conditions include the other extreme of too much rain and subsequent flooding. Some scenarios predict that climate change could lead to a 5 to 11% reduction in dairy production per year between 2020 and 2029 after controlling for other factors (see Journal of Dairy Science, Issue 12, December 2015, Pages 8664-8677). Research and extension efforts are needed to promote suitable dairy adaptation strategies.  You might ask, “Do animals beat the heat better by being inside or by being out outside?”  There are arguments to be made that pastured animals may be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than cows that are housed. This is because housing provides shelter and technological options to mitigate the extremes of weather. There are no absolute answers.

HEAT STRESS: Simply Surviving a Few Hot Periods is NOT a Success Strategy 

Making it through to cooler temperatures may seem like a heat stress win which we might attribute to survival of the fittest.  Unfortunately, that attitude means accepting the long-term damage to current and successive generation of the dairy herd. It isn’t something that may happen.  It will damage your herd.

If the gene pool is too slow or too expensive, you might consider a more economical solution such as misting or water evaporation. For many, the solution of water misting seems obvious but, here again, it will depend on how well you manage the resulting humidity.  The plan is that the solution won’t make the problem worse instead of better. 


Multiple forces act on dairy cattle to send their body temperatures beyond normal levels. The goal of dairy management is to make it possible for each cow to meet her full potential for milk yield and fertility, without damaging heat stress. More research is needed to identify improved comprehensive cow-side measurements that can indicate real-time responses to elevated ambient temperatures. With this knowledge, effective heat abatement management decisions can be acted upon in the right way, right now!  It’s your call.




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