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5 costly mistakes on your dairy

Harley Wagenseller Published on 31 March 2014

We in the dairy business at times seem to just go through the motions without thinking about the cost of our daily routine, good or bad. So let us consider a few areas in which our daily routine may be costing us big money.

1. Not investing in good cows: I was involved in a very well-managed 2,000-cow dairy after I went to Utah State University. The owner had a real knack for purchasing the best Holstein heifers money could buy. It was always a pleasure to work among such good cows.



The real goal was to always keep the income from milk sales as uniform year-round as possible. To that measure, it was often seen that the cattle trailer was on the move two or three days a week to the Chino markets. This gentleman tolerated no slackers.

The thought behind this: If you have problems or will not produce, you are going to be between two slices of bread very soon. We have given you all the chances to make it; we are not going to keep dumping money into you while we keep feeding your milk to the calves or pigs.

The plus side is that we have nice heifers who give 90 pounds or more every day right from starting point. Investing in good cows always pays dividends. It keeps your cash flow going up.

2. Believing that drugs are the answer to all your problems: “Just give her another shot.” If you have either said that or heard someone else say that, perhaps you should think twice. You can’t keep cows in mud or constant heat and expect great things to happen.

Any time a cow is stressed, her somatic cell count is going to be elevated on a subclinical level. If it gets bad enough, it is going to be elevated to a clinical or visible level. This is when we sometimes feel the need to hit the panic button. “Get the drugs” – the ampicillin or ceftiofur or tetracyclines. Dump milk for two to three weeks and still no relief in sight.


The best thing you can do is clean up the dirty areas of your farm. You can accomplish more with a shovel than a needle. It is sometimes difficult to get out of the mindset that drugs are the answer to all problems. Some of you have bean classically trained to believe that drugs are the only way to go.

Don’t get me wrong; I can use them too. I just went from a skeptic to a believer in using less and less when I saw the benefits of being cleaner in everything related to a cow.

In one year from adopting a “get everything cleaner” for the dairy, we went from 21,000-pound average to a 27,000 average, SCC went from 300,000 to 180,000 and from spending $3,000 a month to $700 a month on drugs and the vet. Honestly analyze your situation, and you might be surprised at what you can change.

3. Not listening to your experienced workers: The very first article I ever wrote for this fine magazine was about ownership that did not listen to their senior workers, who had well over 50 years in dairy cows.

What a sad thing when ownership will sometimes allow partisan thinking to overcome common-sense handling of dairy issues. The fact that they had a “buddy” as their nutritionist can sometimes be a detriment to correct thinking.

“Why, we went to college together; he wouldn’t do anything to sabotage the dairy,” they say. But the facts can’t lie if you have eliminated all other issues, such as the correct ingredients in the ration being mixed and delivered to the cows, proper fresh cow protocol is being followed, and yet every third cow has a displaced abomasum.


When the ration looks like Captain Crunch cereal throughout, you know what the culprit is for a fact. Friendship should not get in the way of truth. Listen and investigate to get to the root of the problem. Let those experienced workers help you operate a more successful operation.

Perhaps by means of weekly meetings you can have valuable input from those people in the trenches who often feel a very strong attachment to those real workers on the dairy – the cows themselves.

4. Failure to use and listen to consultants: Your cows just seem like underachievers. Perhaps your nutritionist’s ration is balanced properly for the following ingredients: NDF, ADF, carbs, etc., and still meets your financial constrictions. Your reason for not following his recommendation is that you have always done it a certain way, and you’re not about to change.

Or your feeding plans flip-flop from week to week. Ouch! Consultants with a proven track record (verifiable results) can keep you moving forward toward your financial goals. Or perhaps your veterinarian notices some unusual trends on the past few repro visits.

Will you heed the advice when they point out to your management that preg rate and conception rate are lagging behind where they were the previous six months? Will pride get in the way of making some needed changes? Only you as the owner or manager can honestly answer those concerns.

5. Ways to save capital for your dairy: Have you explored all the possibilities of saving money for your farm? Have you compared costs when it comes to all your dairy supplies? You may be alarmed when you start comparing prices on teat dip, cloth towels, etc., from one company to another.

We made a list of all the dairy supplies on our dairy among three different vendors and were quite surprised to find out that some deals were much better than others. Sometimes one must put the financial welfare of the dairy ahead of purchasing supplies from your college buddies.

Honestly sit down with you management and ownership team and make a budget that will help you scrutinize every area of the dairy and see if you can come up with an extra $10,000 for next year.

Your long-term future in the dairy business will only get brighter. In a future issue, we will explore five more costly mistakes on your dairy … and the solutions. PD

harley wagenseller

Harley Wagenseller
Dairy Manager