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How to bring your dairy back to life – Stage 2

Harley Wagenseller Published on 27 April 2011

In a previous article, I discussed three different areas where you can work to save your dairy from possible failure. If you will recall, I had the experience of being asked what it takes to bring a dairy back to life. It’s no small job!

We discussed the need to know your production and reproduction numbers if you’re going to heal. Your feeding must be timely and orderly, because this is your largest expense. Also, don’t overlook the fact that your labor force must be able and willing to implement your protocols for you to survive.

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In Stage 2, we will discuss the health of cows, vaccination programs, good relations with your neighbors, equipment issues and time management.

My next area of concern would be to consider the health of all cows and a good vaccination program. I am surprised when I hear of dairy farms that have little to no vaccination program.

I mean, for goodness’ sakes, we are not a Third World country where the mail only comes once a month! If you think that we can save $300 per month by not vaccinating for leptos and clostridials, go right ahead. However, be ready for strange things to possibly happen!

What – you many ask? Four months later, you may find out that you are having too many spontaneous abortions and when they finally do get pregnant, you have heifers calving at 30 months old. Ouch! Your pocketbook will feel it when you see that extra feed bill from not vaccinating properly.

Your vet can help you get on a well-thought-out vaccination program – it pays dividends right now and in the future. Have your vet and nutritionist work together to get your dry cows and springing heifers looking and doing well.

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I wrote an article in this magazine two years ago about a vet and a nutritionist who did not work together, with disastrous results. Solicit both of these people and your dairy will prosper.

Along with proper vaccines, know the body condition scores (BCS) of your dry cows. What can you do if you have cows that all body score either a 2.0 or a 4.0 at 220-230 days carrying calf? Perhaps what we talked about in the first part of our discussion will have to be applied.

Regrouping cows if it’s possible is one strategy. Do you have the ability to have a “fat cow” dry group? You may possibly affect them for the better. Since cows generally gain weight toward the end of their lactation, if you have the “fat cow” dry group you may be able to feed them so they won’t “grow” anymore.

I was able to do this four years ago. It was this ability that kept this group reasonably close to normal even though they were 450 DIM and 1,800 pounds each. We did not lose any out of this group of 25.

Most of these girls did between 28,000-35,000 pounds per lactation. This happened because the previous administration was not “minding the store.”

Another area where “minding the store” could come into play would be in regards to the dairy’s relationship with the neighbors. How do you communicate with your closest neighbors?

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What if your cows were to unexpectedly get “loose” into Mr. Particular’s nice alfalfa field or Mrs. Particular’s exquisite flower garden? How do you handle a situation like this? If you have little contact with them, perhaps this could be a ticklish situation.

The way to avoid the confrontation is to do your homework. What do I mean by that?

Perhaps you can invite them over for coffee one day and discuss this calmly with them. Explaining things ahead of time and having a good contingency plan if an unfortunate occurrence takes place would surely make for better relations.

Most country people realize that these things can and do happen. Newly converted city people who used to live on the 22nd floor of a high-rise in a large city may not be so understanding of these things.

When cow #2882 eats the petunias, they may be really bent out of shape over this. It may be unwise to make enemies of these people. My recommendation is to bring these folks over as soon as they move in, show them how much you care for the cows, what noises are prevalent at different times of the day or season such as planting, harvesting and, of course, manure handling.

Perhaps twice a year you clean your five-million-gallon lagoon. This is generally a critical time for you. Assure them that if you slop anything accidentally on the road near the entrance that you will clean it up.

Assure them that the smell is temporary. Perhaps a peace offering like a nice sharp cheese, an apple pie, or your favorite ice cream will help as you announce that tomorrow the smell begins! Assure them that you will do this job as rapidly as you can.

What about your other, more well-informed neighbors? Do not take for granted your long-term neighbors either. These folks may be in a position to help our dairies prosper.

How? Perhaps you need someone to buy your bull calves. Could you work out an agreeable arrangement with them? Does another neighbor desire your heifer calves to raise?

Perhaps you need some nice quality haylage as a part of your ration. All you need to do is have a prearranged price for both commodities and a simple contract.

Does another neighbor raise corn for silage well? Maybe some of your dairy manure could help them raise a better corn silage crop. Both parties will benefit.

Another area to be concerned about when it comes to saving your dairy involves the mechanical systems on your farm. What is the status of your farm equipment?

Does your front-end loader look like it spent most of its life being neglected? Can you count six or seven pieces of baling wire holding together key elements of this loader?

Do leaky hydraulic hoses slow your work down? Are there a lot of safety hazards on this piece of equipment?

It may be that you need to assess every piece of feed equipment and decide whether to fix it, repair it, replace it or scrap it. You may have to procure some good mechanical advice in order to make proper decisions.

Looking at the short-term concerns versus long-term needs are very important, especially for feeding at your dairy which, as we discussed in the previous article, is critical to ultimate success for your business.

Also consider your milking system. Is it undersized or maladjusted? This can really slow you down or contribute to issues like mastitis or teat end lesions. Do you have a backup system for emergencies?

If you have a good service company five miles down the road for the dairy, you may not need to have a backup system. If, however, your dairy is 60 miles from parts and service, then a backup vacuum system is a must.

The dairy I helped five years ago had this concern – no backup system. I found a nice used one for $2,000 – good enough for an emergency situation here and there. Definitely an area to consider if you’re trying to help a farm out that needs some TLC to keep going.

Another area to contemplate will be in your time management and dairy supplies. I was forced to put up a sign on the front of the dairy’s main office saying “Vendors Only Thursday 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM,” recalling that I had so many vendors initially calling on me that I couldn’t get anything done, so I limited this to one day a week. It worked.

Another suggestion that worked well for me was to make a chart comparing the three people who wanted to sell me iodine teat dips, soaps and other dairy supplies. We were really able to compare apples to apples, so to speak. We saved more than $2,000 per month that way.

When I arrived at this farm they had previously been in a situation where they had a local supply company “dump” products on the farm, regardless how the dairy felt about them. This situation quickly ended when I announced competitive bidding, since the salesman could no longer do as he pleased.

It was almost stunning to the former salesman that his generous meal ticket was now cancelled.

In this article, we have discussed the importance of a good herd health program. If your cows are not healthy, what future do you have? Are you a good neighbor? Only you can answer that for sure.

It really pays to be forward-thinking when it comes to good relations with people, for many reasons. Let’s not forget how mechanical systems need to be maintained for safety and efficiency on your farm. Time management will aid you in all other endeavors to improve your dairy.

In a future article, I will discuss how to be more energy-efficient, how to improve your financial situation and how a management team could make the difference in your dairy’s survival. PD

Harley Wagenseller

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