Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

0509 PD: Management improvement is priceless

Tom Fuhrmann DVM Published on 13 March 2009

Tough times require dairy producers to make tough decisions, develop a greater dependence upon workers and return to improved management.

Managing is organizing work, training and motivating workers and measuring results. Being an efficient manager has never been more important than it is today. The following two examples are based upon real-world experiences I’ve had over the past two years. They illustrate methods to reduce losses during these tough economic times.



Example 1: Manage fresh cows to reduce involuntary cull rate.
A. An 1,800-cow dairy has a 12 percent dead and cull rate for fresh cows less than 60 days in milk (DIM).
While not a particular concern for this dairyman at the time, his maternity workers, herdsman and feeders receive no feedback on this loss and are unaware that their work procedures could improve fresh cow performance. Close evaluation reveals that fresh cow feedbunks are empty a couple of hours before feeding one or two times each week. Maternity workers have dead-on-arrival (DOA) rates of approximately 10 to 13 percent each month. And fresh cows are locked up approximately two hours daily as the herdsman and his assistant take the temperatures of all fresh cows that are less than 12 DIM. They treat uterine infections with systemic antibiotics in the fresh pen based upon rectal temperature only.

B. The dairy owner determines to work with his veterinarian, nutritionist and workers to reduce this involuntary cull rate. They are able to improve:
1. Feed delivery – By training the feeders to read feedbunks, adjust feed amounts to fresh cows daily and time their feed delivery when fresh cows return from the parlor, feed delivery is timely and adequate. Feedbunks are never empty.

2. Calving management – By teaching maternity workers the signs of labor so that intervention and calf delivery are correct, delivery is more hygienic and less traumatic to both cow/heifer and calf. The dairy’s DOA rate drops from 13 percent to 7 percent.

3. Fresh cow management – By focusing the herdsman to evaluate fresh cows by himself daily with a system that maximizes his cowmanship skills, fresh cow treatment improves. He uses a thermometer, stethoscope, palpation sleeve and ketosis test strip only on sick fresh cow candidates and performs an abbreviated physical exam to determine: “Is this cow sick? What is her problem? How sick is she?” One worker (the herdsman) is responsible for results. He continues to treat mild uterine infections with systemic antibiotics in the fresh pen, but he treats more severe infections as well as other fresh cow problems he now detects (e.g., indigestion, DAs, ketosis) in the hospital pen with an assistant worker.

4. Worker awareness – Everyone knows the results attained by the team. Monthly management meetings are initiated. The tough economic times are discussed with workers, and they are challenged to step up in accordance with the training they have received and to make the systems work exactly as described. Results are evaluated each month.


C. This management change results in reducing the dead and cull rate to 7 percent or a savings of approximately 75 cows per year. Savings to the dairy is greater than $100,000 per year – priceless.

Example 2: Changing milking routine to reduce labor costs
A. This dairy milks 1,800 cows three times per day (3X/day) with three milkers and a cow pusher per shift through a double-30 parallel parlor. Milkers work at a pace to turn the parlor five times per hour and milk 1,800 cows in approximately six hours with ample time to clean the equipment and the parlor. Everything is spotless and milkers enjoy a seven- to eight-hour work shift.

B. The dairy owner works with a specialist and his milkers to change the milking routine to using just two milkers and a cow pusher who work at a pace to turn the parlor four times per hour; they have to work steadily but milk 1,800 cows in 7.5 hours. The cow pusher is trained to take an active role in the parlor when he is not out getting pens of cows. The herdsman assists with the morning and afternoon fresh cow pen milking; the calving technician assists with fresh cow milking at night. The parlor remains spotless because each shift works nine hours and overlaps with the succeeding shift to clean the parlor, wash towels and stay caught up.

C. This management change results in milking the same 1,800 cows with three fewer milkers. Savings to the dairy, approximately $75,000 per year – priceless! Management improvement is one of the most cost-effective efforts dairy producers can make during tough economic times. While we can all agree that we should always operate at a high management level, tough times can stimulate us to take a deeper, tougher look at management improvement opportunities.

Involving and challenging your workers is a crucial component of management improvement. Investing in your outside service providers as well as thinking out of the box might lead you to management improvement that is priceless. PD

Tom Fuhrmann DVM
Consultant and owner
Dairy Works