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Four costly mistakes on your dairy

Harley Wagenseller Published on 30 June 2015
dairy farm

Oftentimes we are so busy with the daily routine we fail to stop and think if the things we do are cost-effective or not. Let’s consider more ways to save time and money by avoiding these four mistakes.

1. Not planning ahead for success

Every dairy that wants to progress has a well-thought-out plan for the future. This is a little different from your mission statement. A mission statement goes something like this: “To make the highest-quality dairy products, in state-of-the-art facilities, using the most well-trained workers, with the end user (the consumer of your fine products) having the ultimate time of their life” or something like that.

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You get the idea. Having goals that further that mission statement is what we are talking about. What can your dairy do in the next six months, the next year, in two or five years? These are all goals that your ownership and management team need to know.

Examples of a six-month goal may be: Reduce somatic cell counts from 220,000 to 150,000. This may also raise milk production 0.5 to 1 kilograms of milk per day and also increase milk quality premiums.

A one-year goal might be to upgrade the mixer wagon or install a plate cooler. If you have a financial goal to do this, especially if it is in writing, everyone works toward this because, again, your dairy will benefit in so many different ways from these purchases.

In two years’ time, your goal may be to have cleared that 80 acres down the road so you could keep your far-off dry cows on pasture year-round with some kind of weather protection available. This could free up more freestalls for milking cows.

Perhaps a five-year goal could be selfish, such as playing golf a half-day once a week or volunteering at the senior citizen home for a day each month. Your dairy could allow that with enough advance planning.

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Whatever your plans for the future are, make sure of one thing: Have them in writing. Place your goals in a prominent place where you can see them often. Talk about them with all the principals involved, and make it happen.

2. Pet peeves that cost you money

This could be a big topic, you say. Where do I begin? There are so many areas where pet peeves cost you. What about things like cows that are constantly loose on the wrong side of the fence? Workers who leave the keys in the “on” position so that when you need the tractor, it’s dead as a door nail?

How about not cleaning up around commodity sheds, where “spill” or overflow seems to breed millions of extra flies? What about going through pen gates and not leaving them in the proper position? That’s an aggravation for both people and cows.

Failure to put your thinking cap on and identify these annoyances can cost you big dollars. The solution: Worker meetings where both problems and solutions are laid out for all to hear. Appropriate discipline given for failure to follow protocols usually does the trick. If not, perhaps someone will be let go.

3. Not knowing your cows that well

It’s amazing to me that people are surprised I know all 230 milk cows at my current employer by their udders. When you milk the same cows day after day, what’s your excuse for not knowing? What I realized more than 30 years ago is that learning is neither a burden nor boring. Your cows deserve this from you.

I have known people who just go through the motions milking after milking and have no clue who they are working with. If you are in tune with your cows, you know who the leaders are, the dominant cows, the “friendlies” in your herd, the ones that like the right side or the left side of your parlour, the ones that come in first and the ones that always bring up the rear.

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Train yourself to perceive subtle changes, such as: Why does 607 have a bigger udder than usual? (Did she get missed on the night milking?) Why is cow 387 in Group 1 when she is normally in Group 2?

If you are in synch as a milker or herdsman, your cows and your boss will greatly appreciate it. It will require discipline on your part. Thinking is the first step. Use everything in your power to utilize and develop that capability and you’ll be in for some great surprises.

4. Not learning to think on your feet

Napoleon Bonaparte once stated: “A leader has the right to be beaten but never the right to be surprised.” In the course of a day, many challenging situations can come up on your dairy. Cow issues, people issues and machinery issues. How do you handle them? By learning how to think on your feet.

That is the opposite of some people, who are in a rut and have decided to stay there. If you see every day as a challenge, you’d be surprised how efficient you can become and how much can be accomplished. Oftentimes your senses heighten when you challenge yourself.

Perhaps you are ready to put up silage. You have Plan A ready to go – and then one of the pieces of your silage puzzle doesn’t materialize. Have you given thought to Plan B now that Plan A has faltered?

If you have learned to think ahead and have done your homework, you will be able to move forward anyway. Good business people spend time researching the possibilities.

Being able to think on your feet is the result of training and discipline. Good athletes know no one else can do the training for them. Dairy owners and managers need to have the same mindset. Thinking takes time. It’s the preparation for being able to think on your feet. First you walk, then you run, then you sprint.

Remember, building that stamina is up to you. If you don’t work at it, it’s not going to happen by wishful thinking. So take to heart what Napoleon said. See yourself as a leader, starting right now.

You are self-reliant, responsible, and you will not be unnecessarily surprised by the vicissitudes of life. Don’t overestimate preparation, and you will certainly succeed. Your dairy will thank you for it.

I hope you have thought about some of the things we mentioned here. Some of them are almost concurrent with each other. Running a dairy farm is no small task. With so much money involved, it is certainly no small thing to avoid costly mistakes.  PD

PHOTO: Photo by PD staff.

Harley Wagenseller

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