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Is planning a priority on your dairy?

Chuck Schwartau Published on 07 October 2009
As we finish harvest and start moving towards spring, most farmers’ thoughts turn toward planting. It is a natural, seasonal process of renewal on the farm. Before planting, though, there needs to be planning.

Crop farmers have pretty well developed the habit of looking ahead at seed, fertilizer and chemical needs for the year before they actually make their purchases.

Unfortunately, that same habit of planning well-ahead does not seem to be as well ingrained into the minds of dairy business operators.

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In fact, taking time for planning seems to slide down the list of priorities on many busy dairies. The daily routine takes precedence over a longer-range look at the business.

An important element of the “Dairy OnTime” program conducted by University of Minnesota Extension and other partners this past winter is ‘planning’.

Quality management and the goal of ‘no defects’ requires deliberate planning so the farm operates smoothly, efficiently and profitably. Time for planning doesn’t just happen by itself on most farms. A manager has to establish his or her own planning time.

To accomplish the goal of planning time, consider the following points from the Dairy OnTime project:
• Select the best time for you to work on the important tasks, not urgent ones.
• Clearly define your planning time. Don’t leave planning to when you have time or need to do it.
• Make planning a priority. This may require you to set rules for yourself to prevent time theft, and it will require discipline.
• Set a goal for each week, and measure yourself against it the following week. Keep checking yourself until planning time becomes a habit.
• Include implementation time so identified tasks really are done.

Look for creative ways to reach your planning-time goal. It can be difficult to get all the key players together at one time. It needs to be a time the owner/manager and other management team members are able to sit together and closely look at the direction of the farm. Look for a time when others can take care of operations.

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Management time, especially for planning, never just appears – it has to be made. Some other activity on the farm or in the home needs to be set aside for a specific amount of time so the necessary players can sit together without interruption. This needs to be done on a regular basis and a priority for everyone involved.

If major items need to be discussed and decisions made, it might even be helpful to get away from the farm. Keep notes of your planning discussion. It is not only important to decide upon an action, decisions must also have action plans that include who is responsible and a timetable for when it should be done.

The record can be a simple check sheet listing the action, the person responsible, the timetable and a column for progress reports. Keep that record for future meetings and refer back to it so everyone is held accountable for his or her assigned tasks.

Set achievable goals for yourself and your team. Don’t make plans to solve all the issues at one time. Determine the most important goals that have a chance of achievement and work on those first. Some like to call this “picking the low-hanging fruit.”

This enables you to get the goals that will make a difference out of the way fairly quickly, give you a sense of achievement and allow you to go on to other important tasks after those are reached. Because part of the planning process means evaluating previous decisions, schedule planning time regularly so evaluation takes place in a timely fashion and so adjustments can be made early if they are necessary.

If you don’t conduct evaluations in the planning session, set specific times for just that purpose later, and stick to the schedule. Early and small adjustments to a plan can prevent going too far down a track that is not productive or profitable.

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Don’t just plan to start planning. Make planning a high priority and specific action on your dairy farm. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at

—Excerpts from University of Minnesota Dairy Connection, March 2008

Chuck Schwartau, Regional Extension Educator – Livestock, University of Minnesota

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