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9 Best Practices That Set The Best Dairy Operations Apart from the Rest

The dairy industry is an excellent place to discover people who are exceptional at what they do.  At The Bullvine, we are fortunate to meet and share with these remarkable people on a daily basis.  They tell us of the efforts they have invested in every area of the dairy industry from what they feed and breed to what they value in people and animals.  In short they pursue improvement and growth in all aspects of their dairy businesses. Of course, we can all benefit from emulating these role models.  However, do we really know what sets them apart?

1- The Best Dairy Businesses are People Businesses First

When you’re separating out the best cow managers, you can do it quickly by finding the best people managers.  Super-successful dairy farms recognize that they are primarily in the people business.  From the staff who works directly with the herd to other professionals and consultants, people are fundamental.  Training programs are in place to help new workers become oriented to the job. People are encouraged to help each other. Teams are encouraged, and cross training is expected.  The veterinarian, nutritionist and accountant are part of the team. Workers are considered valued team members.  Opportunities to improve are encouraged and supported. The best managers work to get the best out of staff.  This contributes to lower turnover which is also a characteristic of top dairy farms. Managers realize that, as cow numbers grow, staff numbers grow and managers must be people managers.

2 – The Best Have Clear and Measurable Expectations

The ability to clearly articulate their vision, including short and long term goals, is a skill exceptional managers develop.  Dairy staff are given clear responsibilities, they know what is expected of them and what they are trying to achieve. Regardless of herd size, every dairy owner/manager relies on other sets of hands to complete the work that is necessary to operate a dairy business.  One of the most common disconnects between a manager and subordinate is a basic lack of understanding of what is expected of the job, role or task.  The best operators have developed a disciplined ability in setting clear and measurable expectations not only for those people who are on their payrolls, but for their advisers as well.  There are well-structured crop programs, breeding programs, feed management systems, financial plans, annual budgets and job descriptions are well-structured. There are written protocols for livestock care, treatments and emergencies.  Machinery maintenance is planned and routine. Work schedules are developed, so everyone knows what is expected.

3 – The Best Focus on Production that Produces Profit

A characteristic that truly sets the best apart from the rest is focus.  It is easy to become distracted by opposing opportunities or encroaching challenges. We do this quite often in the dairy industry. Breeding? I’ll use sexed semen.  NO! I’ll try polled.  NO! Genomics is great.  My growth strategy? Definitely large AI companies only! NO! Homebred. All that flailing about creates enormous amounts of headwork and busywork, but it doesn’t guarantee success.  Successful farm businesses have the ability to focus on those things that are important to productivity and profitability.  They are not distracted for long by what others are doing, the newest fad, or the brightest paint.

Three main areas are particularly well managed by top managers:

  1. Milk quality and udder health and improved SCC.
  2. Short Calving intervals which impact milk production internal herd growth.
  3. Time management not crisis management empowered by advance planning and optimum implementation.

4 – The Best Excel at Informed Management Decisions

This skill isn’t about how to make decisions but about how to collect data and use it as a tool.  As an industry, we still do a pretty poor job of utilizing information (financial reports, production summaries, scorecards, etc.) to make informed management decisions, finding the tools, resources, and people needed for success.  Great managers have strong problem solving skills. If things are not going as planned or unforeseen problems develop, they quickly identify the problems, find alternatives, select solutions and make decisions.  Decisions are methodically arrived at.  Once made, they are implemented.  There is seldom much time wasted delaying the obvious.

5 – The Best Dairies USE Records

Dairy records, crop records and financial records are extensively used to monitor all aspects on every operation that achieves stand apart success.  They see collection of data not as a burden but as an invaluable tool.  Records are routinely used for specific purposes and with established benchmarks. Quality control principles are continuously developed to improve the value of the information from records. All levels, employees, managers, owners and outside consultants and farm professionals are solicited for information and insight and action planning.  They build data banks and use the information in working with special teams on the farm and those they consult with. The best farms use technology. Computers and social media are used to enhance record keeping and decision making and for speed and accuracy of problem solving, promotion and sales.

6 – The Best are Always Growing – 10% per year

The target of 10% a year may seem like an arbitrary number. On any specific dairy operation, that number could be raised up or down.  The point isn’t an exact number but the fact that an exact goal has been clearly set.  Top managers target an overall annual growth plan as a strategic business decision. They recognize that the dairy industry has been consolidating for decades.  Scale has become an increasingly significant dynamic for success. Growing size is not the sole reason, but it is one factor.  Beyond the added challenges of more cows this growth means more housing, more crops, more labour, more financing. Growth is desired not for the sake of growth itself but in order to maintain in a competitive position within the industry. Thus, efficiency targets must evolve/grow too.  Aggressive herd management, good reproduction performance and good health program that minimizes culling — can increase 10 % from within.  An alternative is to purchase expansion cattle.  Regardless of the process. It is a necessity to keep the facilities filled with producing cattle.  Best managers have a minimum of underutilized barn space.

7 – The Best Have an Attitude of Excellence

Good leaders know it is important to be aware of what separates them from other contenders as they continually strive to provide the best product for the end consumers. This attitude of excellence boils down to a never-ending attitude of doing the right things and doing things right.  An essential aspect of this is the recognition of the need to continuously improve results.  As farms get bigger it is important for individuals and teams to develop into the new roles.  This rarely happens without setbacks, pitfalls and hurdles. It takes courage to try something different. It is a risk that successful businesses must survive. Exceptional managers know that the must master the challenges that come from markets (milk, feed, land prices), production (milk, disease reproduction) and business (leverage, interest rates, liability). Continuous mastery of all the pieces … is what makes exceptional managers.

8 – The Best Leaders Value Interaction With the Dairy Community

Many people have success but haven’t built strong enough relationships with the community they have the pleasure to serve.  Just ten years ago, you might have asked what difference could one dairy farmer or even dairy farmers from one state or province make, when it comes to the global dairy community?  You were unlikely to be heard unless you were a world class cattle exhibitor, a large breeding company or a well-known speaker or conference trainer. Today armed with social media, handheld camera and dozens of free “apps,” you can make quite an impact.  You can organize a hundred or a thousand people. You can get them in sync with a weekly newsletter or charitable cause or research on issues to make dairying better, sustainable, or more profitable. Digital sharing provides global access so that you can self-market to your truest customers and share your dairy focus with the crowd that matters.

9 – Above Everything Else the Best are Real Leaders

The most important ability possessed by top dairy managers is leadership.  These individuals provide the leadership to get things started, keep them going, and to draw projects to a meaningful conclusion.  It is a person who has extraordinary vision and a strong desire for success. These individuals not only lead in decision-making including making tough decisions, but they also excel in a very unique way.  They know when to admit when a decision isn’t working. They admit it and then they move on. Too often on farms that don’t quite reach the top it is because consensus or vote taking is used to determine a new course of action and leads to paralysis by analysis.  It is rare to find a truly successful business that is really run by a committee of the whole, although, some of the best farms may seem that way. In reality, there is a gifted leader somewhere in the background that knows how to make it appear that everyone is involved.  This is a real gift possessed by top leaders. Some exceptional managers lead average teams of staff and yet produce excellent results.  Some exceptional staff if led by a weak leader produce very average results.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We have keyed in on nine best practices that set apart the best from the rest.  In actual fact, there is one 10th best practice that is necessary to make the rest work.  Only the very best are committed to taking action. The best are never satisfied with the status quo.  At the end of the day, every day, action separates the best from the rest.



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