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Go ahead, dairymen – impress me

Dan Leer Published on 10 June 2013

I don’t want this article to make me out to be more important or any more special than any other person who visits your dairy, but I have been invited to quite a few dairies over the past 14 years as a hoof trimmer.

I enjoy seeing what families can accomplish through the dairy business, but I’ve also seen the financial hardship that can result when dairying does not go as planned.

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Through the years, I’ve seen several things dairies do that really impress me. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the average herd size is about 72 cows per farm.

So right away I’ll admit that the size of a dairy can impress me, but it certainly is not the most impressive part of an operation, or even in the top five on my list.

As a hoof trimmer, my visits do not occur on that one day of the year that everything is spic-and-span and the whole farm is ready and waiting for the critical public to come for a tour.

My visit happens as needed – whether the dairy is ready or not. Whether I visit a dairy once a year, biannually, every other month or every two weeks, these things still impress me:

1. A clean, uncluttered milk room. It is one that glistens or sparkles when you venture in and makes you check your boots for fear you will dirty the floor. It often even smells clean and leaves the impression a great deal of care has gone into producing the milk stored in that tank.

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2. A special-needs area adequate for the herd size. I find this part of a dairy facility to be the most commonly undersized and underappreciated area of most dairy farms I visit.

Maybe some dairies are optimistic that their cows will not require special needs for a long period of time. While an empty special-needs area might be profitable, the one that is realistically sized and being well-used impresses me more.

3. Knowledge and awareness of cow health and record-keeping. This is where the size of the herd can make the most difference.

A smaller herd (under 100 cows) might have an owner or manager that knows every detail about each cow, including her sire or dam, her milk production level last month and last year, her classification (if registered), her present lactation needs and even her estimated lifetime production.

A herd manager that can retain that much knowledge about his or her cows shows a lot of care and impresses me. Not every manager will mentally retain this information. It is possible to keep these types of records through electronic ID or accessible on a mobile device.

4. A good calf-raising and heifer-raising program. Dairies that impress me have too many animals to milk. This is a result of the dairy family’s tremendous amount of care for youngstock.

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For example, a dairy that I visit every three weeks has been in the position of having too many replacement heifers for their facility’s permitted capacity. The dairy got there through good management and a very limited use of sexed semen (only 5 to 7 percent use on heifers).

The dairy was able to sell one-third of its herd (40 cows; this was a small herd) to a nearby dairy who was expanding. Within five months of selling the cows, he replaced those cows out of his own inventory of heifers and was back to 90 percent. This was only possible through his top management of calf and heifer raising.

5. Good, helpful employee management. Once in a while, I arrive on a dairy and its employees are ready for me. As I pull in the barnyard, one man will help me align my rig, two other workers will unload gates and help me set up equipment.

By the time the chute is ready, another employee has gathered a pen of cows. Efficiency is great, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s about going the extra mile.

For example, I sometimes see employees finish up in the parlor and not only wash down the equipment, but scrub the walls. These type of employees finish one job and move on to another.

At dairies like this, extra help shows up 20 minutes before I finish; they help load the gates and hook up to my rig. On these dairies, it seems there is a full complement of help and enough that the employees still have enough flex time to attend family activities, church, sports, etc.

One such dairy I work with has the top herd average in the county, but it’s because they have their priorities in the right order – for themselves and their employees. They put faith first, family second, friends third and Fresians fourth. That really impresses me.

I seldom get to farms that have it all together and can impress me in all of the above categories, but I do enjoy visiting dairies that can manage to excel in one or more of these categories.

So, go ahead dairymen, impress me and your other visiting dairy consultants. I bet it will increase your bottom line, too. PD

Leer is a hoof trimmer from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

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