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Barn blindness

Published on 07 May 2019

When you see and work with the same animals every day, it is natural to have some biases and de-sensitivity to things you see constantly or things that change slowly over time. “That is how she looks every day, so it must be normal.”

Barn blindness is about becoming immune to the problems, the opportunities and challenges on a particular farm because we have looked at it for so long through the same lens.

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I think one of the easiest examples of barn blindness that most people get is in terms of growth. When you see a calf every day, it’s hard to notice it’s growing. But leave for a couple of days and come back – it looks like a new animal in the calf hutch.

It is important to remember we all have a certain frame of reference for what is normal and, over time, the abnormal may become normal.

Have you ever had someone come to the farm and point out a lame cow you didn’t notice before? Or have you looked at some other cows and thought immediately how much better yours were? Barn blindness describes any time we don’t see the animals in our barns correctly. Sometimes it’s thinking our cows are a lot better than what they really are. Or it can also be thinking that our cows do not have a functional flaw when they do. This can be a problem that goes unnoticed for far too long.

This is where resources, discussions and even assessments from dairy consultants, a nutritionist or your veterinarian become valuable. Having an outside person come and give you an honest evaluation can be helpful in identifying sick, lame or abnormal animals, detecting flaws in your ration ingredients or preparation, and pinpointing areas for milking routine improvement. They can help remove barn blindness to ensure you’re taking a trained eye to the assessment of your farm and herd.

Another beneficial way to combat your biases is through the use of technology. Pedometers and rumination monitors can track changes and alert you of these cow changes before you would normally see them. When a cow becomes ill or lame, it will affect the readings on these devices very quickly, even in mild cases.

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If purchasing new technology or hiring a consultant doesn’t fit into your farm budget, then here is something I would recommend. All of us have friends, neighbors and fellow dairymen or maybe even a local collegiate dairy challenge team nearby that can serve as temporary consultants.

Invite them to your farm and take them on a tour. Ask them, “What issues do you see? What opportunities do you see? What resources do you see? What could be done differently than how it is being done today?”

Not that you are going to take all of their advice. But getting a fresh set of eyes on a resource, on your herd and on your farm, gives you the opportunity to be captured by improvements, new prospects and to understand there is far more potential to your herd and farm.

Barn blindness can lead to some of the bottlenecks on a farm that separate the top herds from the average herds. It is beneficial to open your eyes and see how identifying these bottlenecks and problems sooner can lead to a more profitable dairy farm in any economy.  end mark

Audrey Schmitz
  • Audrey Schmitz

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