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0809 PD: Use parlor technology for more informed decision-making

Norm Schuring Published on 18 May 2009

In tough times we’re always looking to make our current tools stretch farther to get the most from our initial investment. It doesn’t matter whether it’s equipment, employees or nutrition – getting more from each area of the business improves efficiency.

This same idea can be applied to the farm’s software programs – more detailed information per animal means quicker and more informed management decisions.

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Picking one out of the group
We often talk about the dairy in averages – average milk production per cow, average age at first calving, average somatic cell count – the list goes on. While looking at averages is typically an effective and easy way to analyze trends, it is difficult to use in evaluating individual animal performance. That’s where your software program comes into play.

Whether you use an off-the-shelf software program, one that was developed and set up with your milking equipment, or one customized and built by your herd consultants, all of these programs are designed to collect and store a wide array of data on each cow. The question begging to be answered is, “Why collect the data if we’re not going to put it to use?”

There are multiple areas that should be analyzed on a regular basis to help distinguish the most profitable animals from the ones that may actually be costing more than the revenue they generate. Here are some simple numbers to consult regularly to monitor individual animals:

• Milk production has by far the greatest impact on farm revenue. Sort cows by milk production to identify the bottom 10 to 15 percent. This is a group to critically analyze on a regular basis. Culling low producers often opens up much- needed bunk space and stalls for the high-producing cows, sometimes increasing production per cow and subsequent herd production as a result of less overcrowding.

• Components are a key source of profits as well as a good monitor of the nutrition program and rumen health. When protein and butterfat levels shift significantly, problems can be identified early, warding off production drops and health problems.

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• Somatic cell counts have a major influence on quality premiums and udder health. Cows that continually supply high levels of somatic cells can reduce profits. Once these cows are identified, a protocol should be put in place directing how they should be handled. This may include testing for mastitis, identifying types of mastitis and administering appropriate treatment. If multiple cows have contagious mastitis, consider milking them last to decrease the spread of infection.

• Udder infections should be recorded and analyzed regularly in order to identify animals that are prone to reoccurring mastitis infections and are especially costly to your dairy. On average, one case of mastitis costs the dairy $200. If one cow comes down with mastitis multiple times during the lactation, the costs continue to build while milk production suffers.

• Milk-out time has a major influence on parlor throughput time and efficiency. Use this information to more effectively group cows for optimized parlor throughput.

• Profitability tracking allows you to identify individual cow productivity and calculate how much profit each generated based on the current milk price. While it would be difficult to track individual dry matter intakes for exact profitability, this tool provides an approximate number for each animal.

Another time expense or added herd benefits?
Routinely analyzing animal performance lists may seem like a large time investment, but without adequate knowledge it’s impossible to know which animals are costing the dairy versus which ones are adding to positive cash flow.

It’s especially important to identify the cows that need special or continuous attention because they can be quite costly to the dairy. Here are a few reasons why these low-end cows should be evaluated regularly:

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• Improved efficiency.
Whether it’s faster parlor throughput or easier cow movement, improving efficiency is one of the best outcomes from individualized animal tracking. Getting more results during every hour of work can help your dairy achieve greater efficiency and ensure each cow is managed for optimal production.

• Lowered costs.
By looking at each animal individually, you can identify the bottom 10 to 15 percent of the herd and choose which cows need to be culled. It’s important to remove the cows that are costing more than they generate, which often includes low-producing, mastitic and sick cows. By removing these cows you can remove many of the costs to your dairy and focus on providing high-end cows with a more comfortable environment.

• Improved employee time distribution.
Each time your employees have to tend to a sick cow it takes away from their other tasks. Removing these cows from the herd can allow your workforce to focus on other tasks to provide the best environment for profitable animals. Trying to manage a whole herd of animals at the same time can seem like a daunting task. But using a software program that allows you to monitor the outliers closely and still keep a handle on the rest of the herd is a viable option. Continue to rely on actual numbers, rather than averages, for the most accurate information about each animal, allowing for decision-making that can optimize your herd’s performance. PD

Norm Schuring Vice President for GEA WestfaliaSurge

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