Goals are important, but unless the systems on your farm—like technology, animal environment and people—support your goal, it will be very difficult to achieve them.
What Does Change Involve?
In my most recent article, I introduced what change could mean for your dairy, asking questions like are you open to change, and are you able to change your thinking? “We have always done it this way” is a common theme when people are considering their future and do not see how or why they need to change. So many elements of our lives are infiltrated with factors that force change upon us, even when we cannot see it.
We have been taught in our leadership and business courses that if you do not set goals, you will not have anything to aspire to. We have also heard, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” This is still true, but if we only focus on the goal and measuring it, it may still lead to failure.
When implementing change, you have committed to opening your mind to a new or different way of working. This can be difficult for the first few days or even months until a new system is working with a team that is no longer changing people on staff. When the business experiences change, it is hard enough for a committed team to embrace and execute, but if there is a constant change over of people, then it is even more difficult to work out the “kinks.”
The first step to successfully introducing a change is understanding if your farm and team can support it or if your systems need to change for the new technology to work as it should.
Changing On-Farm Systems
System 1: Technology
Parlours and rotaries are still the most popular types of milking equipment used on farms. In the past 10 years, more herd management technology has gone onto farms than in any decade prior. Historically, producers focus on milking as many cows as possible and using simple systems for handling pregnancy diagnosis. The cull list is simply populated with open, low production and late lactation cows. Conducting DHI measurements once every four to five weeks provided many owners and managers with the tools they needed to manage their herds. Milk meters and herd management software were first introduced in the mid to late 1980s, but the culture of daily data collection for management purposes was slow in uptake for many years. As the age of managing cows for production, health and reproduction has intensified, especially with herd sizes increasing and margins growing tighter, daily data collection has become a necessity.
New systems often introduce new information, while also requiring the use of existing data output. Your protocols for using older equipment may have been successful in the past, but in my work, I often witness an inspiring transformation when people working through the change process begin to see success. In the article, “Efficiency-driving technologies for rotaries and parlors” written by my DeLaval colleagues Kristy Campbell and Patrick Wiltzius for Progressive Dairy, they explain how a farm’s systems and protocols allow the technology to accelerate.
For example, a holding pen has nothing to do with attaching milking equipment, but how the producer manages the holding pen directly influences how cows arrive to the parlour or rotary, impacting milk harvested per worker or per unit of time. This system therefore needs to support the goals of the business. Having a goal of so many cows per hour or kg/lbs of milk per hour certainly aids business discussions and cash flow, but unless there is a complete system in place to support it, frustration may occur when the dairy falls short of its goal.
System 2: Animal Environment
Barn design is a popular topic of the past 15 years and another system within a dairy operation that can influence success. I remember the first time I saw the concept of the transition cow area presented at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners conference by Dr. Ken Nordlund in 2006. My first question to him was how do we sell this to the bankers? His response was that we show them the results. In the 1990s, engineers and bankers drove the concept of the least square footage per animal in dairy freestall barns. When Dr. Nordlund presented what he had developed in Wisconsin, the concept was optimal square footage to aid cow behaviour and health, which leads to improved production and fertility.
I recently spoke with a nutritionist and farm advisor who shared with me that one of her clients visited a free-flow robotic barn milking 60 cows per robot with minimal fetching. The robotic prospect commented that there was a lot of “wasted space” in the freestall area. The nutritionist’s response was, “If you think that this is wasted space and choose to build your barn differently, you will need to change your goals. This barn is part of a system that supports this farm’s goals.” Of course, we like to think that we can do things differently, but until we have the experiences to provide the knowledge, find a system that exists and matches your goals. Learn everything about that system and focus on replicating it. Once you have the system and the goals, then you can exploit it and try to do more than what is expected. However, if you build a different barn but want the same goals and find yourself frustrated and utilizing a lot of negative energy every day, it should not be a surprise. Now you need to explore what this system can support and realign your goals accordingly.
System 3: People
People also play a pivotal role in a dairy’s success. When it comes to implementing new technology, the role of employees working with the technology needs to be clear: Who will work with and use the technology and who will train the people working with the technology? Adult learning on the fly is far from a formal education. People all learn differently, but a common theme is that they learn when they need to learn. From my experience, keeping sessions short is the best way to deliver information. When working with the producer or staff there needs to be clearly defined objectives that address what the person wants to know or needs to know before the new technology arrives. This must continue during installation and after start-up to meet and exceed expectations.
The Take Home Message
Technology, animals and people form a trifecta that the dairy producer must manage. With support from advisors and technicians, farms can optimize the systems they have built to help them attain their goals. Understanding the system and what it can provide is critical in successful change