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Is Your Dairy Up to Speed?

Everyone is in a race for success.  This weekend I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the Indy 500 and the dairy industry of the 21st Century. Change is happening all around us with lightning speed.  If you are to remain relevant to the modern dairy industry, you have got to adapt to the speed at many different levels.  Whether it’s the logistics of getting the daily milking done or calving intervals or accelerated feeding protocols, dairy managers are in a daily race to the finish line.

Dairy Speed Starts with Accelerated Feeding

On the racetrack, the focus is on the car.  In dairying, it’s on the calf.  A good start means making sure there is nothing that will reduce performance at any time.  It also means using every enhancement to get optimum performance.  Nutrition is the fuel, and the first goal is getting colostrum into the calf.  Acceleration is measurable, and many dairy managers now feed calves 3X per day in bottles or multiple feedings per day for calves on automated feeders.  Here is the first place that observation and fine tuning can produce a calf that is off to a competitive start.

A Good Race Position Depends on Speed to First Breeding

Having heifers bred by 10 to 12 month of age, is like earning the pole position in the Indy 500.  It doesn’t guarantee a win, but success is a lot easier from the front of the pack, then from the rear. In driving, it means maximizing the fine details.  In dairying, it means feed, handling, health, and housing must do nothing to delay the breeding maturity of the young animal.

Six ways to fine tune your breeding program for speed

Some breeders love the challenge of establishing an accelerated breeding program.  Others work with service technicians or veterinarians or other consultants.  Regardless of the person taking the responsibility, it is important that right decisions be made from the outset. There has been considerable research done on the methods and benefits of getting heifers to calve at 21 months.

Here are six points that are used by those who have consistent success in achieving this speedy goal:

  1. It starts the moment the calf is born.
  2. Nutrition that’s good enough isn’t an option. It must be the best possible.
  3. When selecting for accelerated breeding, use sires that are average or better for calving ease.
  4. Separate fresh heifers from fresh cows. Do not overcrowd pens.
  5. Observe all heifer pens at least twice a day.
  6. Have a state of the art vaccination and health treatment protocol.

Using mass housing and feeding strategies won’t get you the front of the pack

The Indy 500 consists of 200 laps, and drivers need a plan for every one of them. Strategic planning starts long before the flag goes down to start the race. As you do your research on how to reduce time to first calving, learn from those who have already been around the track on this.  Experienced managers have learned that it works best when fresh cows and fresh heifers are kept in separate calving groups. Some even keep their animals at a different location. While this could require both facility and calf handling modifications, it pays off. Depending on the cost of feed, the earlier calving could pay for the required logistical changes with the money saved on extra months of feed inputs.

A Successful Race Starts with Your Pit Crew

Winning the Indy 500 is a team effort that begins with speed-seeking car designers and engineers and continues to the driver and every member of the pit crew. Success on the racetrack requires seamless collaboration and communication.  Success in the dairy business is built on the same foundation. Everyone needs to know their job and do it to the best of their ability. From breeding decisions to health management and nutrition, every person who has a connection with the heifer makes a contribution to the speed and performance that will be achieved. Watching those Indy pit crews, it is obvious that training, technology and passionate commitment to perfection, are shared traits that make a win possible. Although the focus – and the cameras – may be focused on the one leading the charge, it takes a well-trained team to be successful and lead a dairy business forward.

You Must be Prepared to Persevere

Despite the financial and time-gained benefits, there are many who aren’t prepared to face the challenges of speeding up dairy management.  In the Indy 500, it means persevering through challenges while moving at 220 mph.  The same determination is needing in dairying if you are to maintain your resolve to succeed despite obstacles that come your way on a daily basis. It is necessary to be agile – adapting to change but not necessarily changing course completely. Many tools are available to assist you and your team.  From genomics and genetics to specialty nutrition, dairying is a constantly evolving science.

Being Fast Does NOT Mean Being Reckless

The first motivation for speed comes when dairy managers understand the cost of hesitation or delay. Successful dairy producers know that time is as valuable a resource as money in the bank or herd head counts. But you can’t give up smart for speed.  Even a brief reading of the discussions on the Milk House makes it abundantly clear that discerning dairy breeders are always seeking (and sharing) best practices that will save time and money. This never means change for the sake of change.  Rather — it means recognition that continual improvements are part of the race to the finish line.  Carmakers never stop innovating, designing and re-engineering. The Indy 500 represents the greatest in motorsports technology.  The evolving dairy industry can’t rest on our laurels either. It takes research and data and commitment to build speed that doesn’t hinder the long-term sustainability of the dairy industry too!

There Are Many Ways to Get to the Finish Line

For spectators and cheering fans, the Indy 500 is filled with excitement.  For passionate dairy breeders, the race to dairy success is much the same – but without the cheering and applause on most days.  Building speed into dairy breeding is not for everyone but to those who have tried it, they are excited about the potential for building repeatable successes. Whether it’s accelerated nutrition or accelerated breeding, it takes team commitment to make a winner — in the milk tank, the show barn or at whatever finish line means success to your dairy strategy.

There are NO Guarantees

Even with the best strategies, breeding plans, teamwork, and technology, dairying is not perfect all the time.  As in the Indy 500 unforeseen variables, equipment and strategy can change in an instant – and the outcome is changed too! However — whether you’re racing or producing milk – the passion for the finish line keeps you adapting, changing and showing up — every day – to start the next race to the finish. You can’t imitate a winner.  You’ve got to put in the hard work, sweat and tears. Furthermore — today’s win — on the spreadsheet, milk check or genetic evaluation – doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed for tomorrow. We look to dairy history for continuity but not for repetition. You have to change with the modern times.  And then be even better.

Long Term Wins Start With Every Short Term Race

Whether it’s daily protocols in the milk house or your strategy for breeding, you are in a race to perform at your best every day, every month, every year. What you do every day must combine seamlessly with your strategy for long-term dairy success.  What you are doing at this moment in time will determine when – or even if – you will successfully enter the winner’s circle.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Modern dairy managers must be prepared not only for constant change but also for increasing speed.  We are in a race to find the best ways to improve, to compete and to win.  Bigger, better, faster, more!  Are you up to speed?  From challenges to champions, are you up to speed?  



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