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If cows aren’t producing up to par, maybe they need a career change

Mark Kirkpatrick Published on 19 November 2009

High costs and low milk prices have dairy producers examining the efficiency of their operations. By increasing the emphasis on an individual cow’s production rather than the herd as a whole, producers can cut wasteful spending and make better-informed management decisions, including whether a cow should be culled.

Understanding the value of each cow helps determine which animals are not profitable when compared to the majority of the herd. It’s important to keep all the stalls filled with productive cows. By refining individual measurement, it can be determined if a particular stall is better filled with a replacement heifer rather than a low-performing mature cow.

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One way value can be determined is through a record system that ranks each cow. Inputting certain parameters, such as heat detection rate, the average value of a heifer, the value of a cull cow and milk production, will lead to a calculated value for every cow being assessed. If a baseline number can be decided, it’s easier to figure out which individuals are not producing and what measures need to be taken to reach profitability. A producer may find that they are better served to part ways with a particular animal.

Ranking individual cows can be achieved through one of several record systems available to dairy producers. The software uses different criteria such as marginal feed costs, conception rate, heat detection rate, voluntary wait period, value of milk, heifer cost, cull value and cull rates to assign a relative value, value of a pregnancy and breakeven milk for each cow in the operation.

Astute producers use this system often, constantly updating the inputs to determine the value of each cow weekly. Determining if particular cows need a career change may provide an additional benefit.

In recent years, there has been a push to produce as much milk as possible out of a dairy unit, which has resulted in overstocked operations. Overcrowding actually hurts a herd’s overall milk production. As individuals are removed and operations move closer to proper stocking density, operations have even improved unit milk production and saved feed costs from fewer mouths to feed. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at

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—Excerpts from Pfizer Animal Health news release

Mark Kirkpatrick
Veterinarian
Pfizer Animal Health

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