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1109 PD: Winning the fresh cow game

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Dairy basics - Management
Written by Tom Fuhrmann DVM   

Trimming fresh cow losses and reducing treatment costs are crucial steps to winning the game of tight margins in which we are all now engaged. CrossoverIf I can help you with some simple ideas to involve your team and to implement a strategy, you may be able to minimize expenses and control involuntary fresh cow cull losses.

Your group of fresh cow workers is a team because they are or do these four things: they have a coach; each team has competent players; they play according to the rules; and they play for one purpose – to win.

The coach
Many large dairies have workers who seem coachless; yet without supervision a team isn’t a team. Look at Phil Jackson as an example. Over his illustrious coaching career it was he who pulled together the superstars and everyday players to win championships when other coaches failed with the same players.

I see herd owners and managers who expect maternity technicians, herdsmen and feeders to know what and how to do everything on their own. That simply doesn’t work.

The coach must assemble the team, define the players’ roles and force compliance. Without that coaching, good workers fail to calve cows properly, treat sick fresh cows correctly, feed transition cows accurately and fail to focus on doing the right thing. Owners and managers must exert management energy, which is the coaching effort to lead workers and manage work.

Competent players
The fresh cow team includes maternity personnel, herdsman and his or her workers and the feeder. Each player has a critical role.

Birth canal tissue can be stretched, torn and then become more susceptible to infection when maternity technicians don’t assist calvings with appropriate hygienic procedures and manipulations. Sick fresh cows won’t be identified early and treated aggressively if herdsmen don’t evaluate each individual fresh animal daily and examine the sick cow candidates correctly. Conversely, drugs are wasted and treatment costs escalate when inappropriate overtreatment is used in place of good judgment by trained and focused workers. Transition cows will suffer from indigestion, DAs and ketosis if feeders don’t monitor and react to variations in feed consumption daily.

Competency results from training workers who want to learn. The coach determines player attitude and either cultivates that attitude or replaces workers who demonstrate lack of it. Then training is the “hear, see and do” coaching effort that converts the individual into a role player on a focused team.

Rules of the game – SOPs and protocols
SOPs and protocols are the “rules by which players play.” They are the “this is how we do it here” of the game plan. Along with the herd veterinarian and nutritionist, an owner or manager determines (writes out) and teaches each step, process and procedure to workers. Then just as coaches supervise practice sessions and become the referee, the manager must monitor workers and push them to the standard of performance acceptable to him or her.

Maternity personnel should be taught the signs of labor and given criteria about when and how to intervene when dystocias occur. They need protocols to define exactly how to process post-calving fresh cows and how and when to feed colostrum. Similarly, herdsmen need to be taught specific criteria to evaluate fresh cows from the front and from behind to identify potential sick animals. They need SOPs to examine and diagnose these candidates and protocols to treat them. SOPs and protocols are the playbook from which coaches coach and players learn.

To win – Know and achieve goals
While working from herd to herd, I see fresh cow involuntary cull rates as low as less than 4 percent in some herds but greater than 15 percent in other herds (number of dead and culled animals less than 60 days in milk divided by the number of animals that calved during the same period of time). So what is “winning” for you and your workers? Establish your goals and compute your results each month; then compare results with goals. I suggest monitoring dead and culls less than 60 days in milk (D&C < 60 DIM) and monitoring dead on arrival (DOA) rates monthly. If you want some guidelines for what others accomplish, here are my suggestions in Table 1*

Set your goals, collect the information daily, compute results monthly and share the results and goals with your team of workers every month.

Winning isn’t everything – it is the only thing in today’s tough economic times. While the sports team analogy might seem simplistic, I think it correctly identifies the basic steps to fresh cow involuntary cull control. And the management energy to be a good coach isn’t expensive, it’s priceless.  PD

Tom Fuhrmann DVM,

*Tables omitted but are available upon request to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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