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0308 PD: Dairy production and management records

Jodie A. Pennington Published on 04 February 2008

Proper management is the key to success in any enterprise, and the dairy business is no exception. Each successful producer must have records which are accurate and reliable to make sound management decisions.

Records of identification and pedigree, production, feed, reproduction, health and costs help producers:

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1. cull the least profitable cows
2. feed for most efficient production
3. make precise management decisions for greatest returns
4. select animals with the greatest genetic producing ability for herd replacements and for breeding a better herd for the future

Methods by which records are maintained vary with farms and the individuals who keep them. Some include computers while others include card files, tags, color coding and wheels. Computers are more prevalent on farms with more than 150 cows because they allow information to be summarized more easily than doing the summary by hand. But card files or similar systems can allow for relatively efficient summaries compared to a single notebook of all information in a chronological order. Most importantly, records must be kept up-to-date. Incomplete or incorrect records can be misleading and result in less-than-optimal decisions.

Dairy producers benefit from production and cost information on cows in their herd as well as from efficiency and management data. Data obtained from many herds are used in herd summaries and analyses, which determine where the strong and weak points are in the herd. Although the most common type of production record used in these types of comparisons is Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) or Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA), many types of records are available.

As herds increase in size, less individual attention can be paid to one particular cow. As a result, larger herds now require more effective tools for making decisions concerning the management of the dairy. These decisions are based on information summarized by a computer which allows the dairy producer to have management reports available to him for an individual cow, a group of cows or the herd. These reports then allow him to improve the quality and effectiveness of his management by using information in a condensed form.

Not all dairy herds will require computerized records, but these systems include custom management reports that can be tailored for the needs of that particular dairy farm. These management reports should cover all areas of herd management including: production, nutrition, reproduction, inventory, replacements, financial and health. Everyone manages differently, so these reports should have the ability to meet the specific needs of any dairy. Printing the reports should be easy where a single command gives the producer a complete, up-to-date report. The reports should be easily understood and could serve as a temporary or permanent record.

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Major management areas
Milk production records, including pounds of milk, fat percentage, protein percentage and somatic cell count, are integral parts of any dairy management record system for groups of cows and are best for individual cows. Also, feed records should be for each group or cow and include feed inventory records.

Reproductive records should include calving, breeding and fertility data as well as date of birth, date of all estruses or heats, breeding dates (including the sire used) and results of veterinary checks (including pregnancy checks).

Health records should include all vaccinations, all diseases the animal has had and the somatic cell count data from the analysis of the monthly milk records. Reasons for culling animals and problems on a specific day should also be included in the records.

Financial records should include the price of the milk per hundredweight and allow manipulation of the data to calculate costs per hundredweight of milk as well as various other financial analyses. Financial records are now beginning to be used extensively in production testing programs as well as in programs for consultants and veterinarians. These summaries of financial records can provide a comparison which indicates where herds may best make improvements as compared to similar herds across the state.

Also, records now allow dairy producers to project what an individual cow may produce in the remainder of her lactation and a financial analysis can indicate the financial results of culling her. In turn, this may indicate whether it is more profitable for the manager to cull her, keep her or cull another cow. In other cases, these records may project his cash flow for the next month, year or other period of time using reasonably valid assumptions of future prices and yields.

Herd summaries and comparisons
The dairy producer should choose a software program that best suits his needs. The program should provide: analyses of milk production, feed, reproduction, health and financial data and allow for comparisons among individual cows within the herd, groups of cows within the herd and a comparison to other herds in the region and across the country. The data should allow dairymen to determine how they compare to other dairy producers, so they can determine the strong and weak points of their operation. This comparison allows dairymen to determine the areas they can most improve in their herd management.

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The collection of raw data should also allow dairymen to compute management reports which will provide them with herd summaries. These allow dairy producers to manage their herds more efficiently, so they can spend less time with their records and manage only animals needing attention on a particular day.

Records also should provide dairymen with sufficient financial and management information, so they can determine which cows are the least profitable and if they should be culled from the herd, or if it would be more profitable to maintain her in the herd at one particular time.

Individual animal records
By storing lifetime health information on each animal in the herd, producers have immediate access to health history. For example, all health activities and treatments of an individual animal should be available on a management report if needed. Also, it is important to be able to retrieve a management report listing all animals which have had a particular disease (i.e., acute mastitis) or a management practice (i.e., dehorning), so producers can see if a particular disease or condition exists in their herd.

Interfacing with automatic data retrieval systems
Dairy records, especially in larger herds, are best suited for interface with computer-linked data retrieval systems, so the dairyman does not have to spend large amounts of time following each individual cow or group of cows. Data on the computer should be easily transmitted to a mainframe computer or used with a personal computer on the farm. The producer may use information from the management summaries to determine if animals are producing milk efficiently.

The computer software purchased by the dairyman should consolidate various kinds of information into a single report quickly and accurately. These reports should be compared to other reports on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

A critical part of any successful computer system is ongoing service and support. In selecting a dairy management record keeping system, a producer should select a system that has professionals who understand the computers and are willing to provide backup support to the record keeping system. It is also important to select a system which has professionals who will train the producer to enter daily events such as calving, cows bred, diseases, etc. and allow him to tailor the custom reports to the specific needs of the dairy. By the end of the training session, the producer should feel confident using the records and know that trained professionals are available to assist him if he has problems.

Use of graphics in the management system
All computers can store, list and print data. However, many software programs now include graphic displays for ease in evaluating the information and to assist in decision making. You may obtain graphs of individual cows, groups of animals within the herd or the entire herd. These graphs are not essential in a record keeping system but are sometimes much easier to understand, evaluate and use than data tables. For example, breeding and health information displayed graphically quickly shows if the reproductive performance of a group of cows or an individual cow is within the goals established by the dairy producer.

Graphs may also be used to indicate health problems. For example, graphing out the incidence of retained placentas during the year may indicate one particular time of the year when a greater percentage of retained placentas occurs in the group or that the incidence has recently changed.

Timelines of an individual cow may show her calving date, her first heat date and her breeding dates, which may indicate if there is a problem in terms of her conceiving.

Dairy Herd Improvement records
Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) records provide information for producers to use in improving the production efficiency of their herds. DHI records are computerized and may be maintained on a desktop computer, on a computer with a link to a mainframe or on a mainframe only where the information is collected in written form on the farm and mailed to a location for entry into the mainframe computer. For many dairy producers who do not have a computer, DHI records offer a similar record keeping system without the investment of dollars in the computer system and time in learning to use it.

Several management reports may be defined by dairy producers with DHI records and used in their management program. These reports may be adapted for various parameters that the dairy producer considers important in his herd management in an identical manner to those options described earlier. Reports are available for culling guides, management lists of practices to be performed at various ages or times postpartum, heifer management reports, lactation graphs and calving records, herd health records, inventory for animals, feed and semen, somatic cell information and a herd analysis package, which compares either individual animals or the herd to similar animals or herds in the region. PD

—Excerpts from University of Arkansas Extension website

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