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HERd Management: Keep calm and make a plan

Krista Stauffer for Progressive Dairyman Published on 07 February 2019

I have to have a plan. I am constantly asking my husband, “What is the plan?” It drives him absolutely insane. It’s just how I am. I need to know what the day will look like, be able to glance at the week ahead and know what is coming up next month.

I just need to know a general idea of what to expect. It’s just how I am programmed.

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So you can imagine having a dairy farm and having a plan often do not go hand in hand. You are finishing up chores to try and take the family out to dinner as No. 6199 decides to calve right as you are headed up to the house. You have everything lined out to move heifers from the calf barn to group pens when your tractor tire goes flat and needs a repair. You have all your projects for the year lined out, and milk prices plummet.

There is always something happening on the farm or within our industry to throw off what you had planned.

I will be honest with you. More often than not lately, the only plan I want to make is when we will be exiting this industry. I do not see a future for our farm, nor do I see a future for our children if they were to choose to farm. I feel as though there is no future for farms our size unless we were to sell direct to the consumer instead of through a cooperative. You are more than welcome to disagree with me, but that is my current view of the industry.

With that said, I have no intentions of letting the upcoming year of low milk prices, fairly high feed costs, higher labor costs and higher hauling charges get me down. Well, to be fair, I am married to an eternal optimist whose only dream in life was to own and operate his own dairy … so we are making plans that do not include exiting the industry in 2019.

This spring we will be celebrating 10 years of farming, which is something we are incredibly proud of. We had to fight like heck to get here, and I am sure we are going to fight even harder to farm another 10, but we are making plans anyway. We know, however, we need to make some changes in how we do things and manage things.

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Here are a few things we have implemented or plan to implement in order to be successful:

Land

To get started, we had to lease a farm without farmland. Not having to worry about farming while caring for the cows played a huge role in our success of starting a farm. We purchased our farm two years ago with no farmland. We are now, however, in a position to put our name on some land.

By doing this, we are taking more control over our feed supply and feed costs. We all know with these low milk prices reducing feed cost is crucial. We will be swapping out a feed payment every month straight across for a land payment. With or without cows, land will be of value for us in the future. Think retirement.

Manure

Cows poop whether you own your own farmland or not. In the past, we have applied manure to land we did not farm or receive the benefit from. We purchased a truck to haul manure to fields we would directly receive the benefit from in the form of feed or money. This has been a game-changer for our farm. Now all of our manure makes us money.

Manure management

Increased regulations are becoming more of an issue with each passing year. While we have no issues with our current system using a lagoon, nor do we think it environmentally necessary to upgrade, we have taken the steps to do so. Why? Because regardless of what we think, our state and those controlling it do think it’s environmentally necessary. I strongly encourage you to work with your local NRCS folks to see if you are able to do the same if needed. Our hope is this will help us with quicker load times for hauling manure as well as any future costs with upgrades due to regulations.

Facilities

Our farm is old. There are a lot of things that were broken when we came here. There are a lot more things that have broken since then. The past year, we have really been focusing on making positive changes to our facilities to make everything we do as efficient as possible.

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I strongly encourage you to look around at every single thing you do on your farm and question if there isn’t a better way. A more efficient way. Be open-minded. Be willing to change.

Farming is a way of life I fell in love with not too long ago. Through these hard times, I have to constantly remind myself why we do what we do and that this way of life is actually worth fighting for. The best way to fight for your farm is to not forget it is a business and part of running a business is making plans – plans for each day, the week and for the upcoming years. You should have an exit strategy as a backup, but make plans that don’t include an exit strategy. Cheers to surviving farming in 2019.  end mark

Krista Stauffer

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