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Uncover these 5 hidden opportunities to save time and money

Pauly Paul for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 July 2020

The television series Undercover Boss prompts business owners and executives to leave the comfort of their offices for an up-close look at the day-to-day operations of their companies.

Whether it’s a restaurant franchise or retail chain, each “boss” is sure to find areas to trim costs, improve efficiencies and boost employee morale. There’s something powerful that happens when they spend time with their boots on the ground, instead of behind a desk.

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The same is often true for the dairies with which I work. When owners and managers make an intentional effort to work alongside employees, they often find opportunities to save both time and money. Most importantly, this opens up dialogue with employees to build personal connections and to invite them into the process of revamping protocols or restructuring processes. Ask them for suggestions to give them a sense of pride and ownership in the process.

You don’t have to wear a disguise and go undercover, but you do have to get in the trenches, or, in this case, the barn. Only there, when you are in step with your crew members, doing what they do every single day, can you truly gain an understanding from their perspectives. Make this a priority. Block out time on your calendar. Reschedule nonessential meetings. Stop being too busy to make time for the people you entrust to take care of your cows on a daily basis.

When I get out in the barn and work beside dairy employees, there are five areas where I commonly uncover opportunities for saving time and money:

1. Herd checks – So many dairies do an excellent job of training by teaching employees to check boxes. During herd check, they follow the protocols to a “T.” Perhaps this list took several hours when the protocols were originally put in place, but now, some steps are completed more efficiently, and others are no longer even relevant at all. But has the expectation of the employee changed to reflect that? Has the time cows spend locked up lessened? So often, it has not. Look for ways to minimize lockup time and get cows back to eating, resting and making the milk that makes you money.

2. Breeding – We all know compliance is key to getting cows pregnant, but an environment of chaos will kill compliance. I’ve seen so many shot programs where employees are trying their best to follow protocols but are doing nothing less than managing a rodeo. Lack of restraining methods, broken headlocks, missing eartags: These things make it nearly impossible to do a thorough and accurate job of inseminating cows. Add to that increased stress levels for people and animals alike. How much more efficient would breeding be if employees had the tools to be successful? You won’t know unless you spend a day with them on the job and evaluate the facilities and equipment needed to get it done. The investment in proper equipment may be made up quickly by labour savings and improved pregnancy rates.

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3. Hoof trimming – When economic times were good, it was common practice to run all cows through the chute twice during their lactation, whether they needed it or not. I notice not all cows require that level of maintenance. Spend some time on the next trim day observing cows. Which ones actually need to be looked at? Are there some that don’t? I’ve seen people cut one-third of the expense off of their hoof-trimming bill by pulling out the cows in need of care based on observation versus going straight off of a list. You may even have a lameness monitor within your team already who can alert you to those cows that need to see the trimmer. A good cow pusher knows exactly which cows struggle on their feet. You just need to ask them.

4. Foot bathing – I see a lot of money being spent on footbath products. The “more is better” mentality reigns, with the assumption that additional product will increase efficacy. This is not the case. Read labels to ensure product is being mixed properly and replenished as directed. Watch how solution is changed out and evaluate ease of use and safety for employees as they handle ingredients. In doing this, you may see easier ways to keep the footbath full and clean.

5. Fresh and treated cow pens – Time, labour and treatments may be concentrated on the most vulnerable group of cows in the barn: those that are sick or just fresh. I often notice an arsenal of tests and treatments blanketed among this group, which requires these cows to be locked up instead of resting or eating. Revisit monitoring and treatment protocols. Are employees throwing everything in the medicine cabinet at these cows because that’s what they’ve been trained to do? Are there some things cows are automatically treated for that are no longer an ongoing problem in the herd? Are treatments being used to band-aid issues with the ration? I’ve seen significant savings when employees are taught to only administer medications on an as-needed basis.

Beyond saving time and money on products and procedures, one-on-one time with employees can uncover something even more valuable: underutilized time and talents. Someone may have the skills, competency and motivation to do much more than their day-to-day job. Perhaps they can be groomed for team leadership, or cross-trained in a more challenging task, such as breeding or ultrasounding. Many actually embrace learning a new skill and diversifying their daily routine. The result is happier, more productive employees who are able to get more done in a day without increasing their hours or hiring additional labour. But you will never uncover these possibilities without setting foot in the barn.  end mark

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