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Three producers prioritize data used to manage their dairies

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 18 January 2011

Managing data has never been more important. The volatility of today’s markets demands that dairy producers be mindful of every aspect of their farms. At the Vita Plus Dairy Summit last month in Minneapolis, Minnesota, three dairy producers outlined the management systems they use to keep their dairies running lean.

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Sam Dilsaver
Sam Dilsaver is a managing partner in Hillcrest Dairy located near Elmwood, Illinois. The dairy started in 2007 as a partnership between Sam and a family friend in California.

Currently they milk 1,500 cows three times per day at this dairy. The cows are milking between 72 and 78 pounds per day with an emphasis on high components.

Replacement heifers are sent to a custom heifer-raiser, and the farm crops 850 acres for forage needs.

Sam uses DairyComp 305 on a daily basis in order to efficiently manage the dairy. “I think [DairyComp 305] is probably pretty priceless. I don’t know what I’d do without it,” he said. “Once you know how to use DairyComp, you can dive in and generate anything you want.”

Another program he depends on each day is EZ Feed. The farm feeds three different diets – milk cow, far-off dry cow and close-up dry cow. He tries to keep them very simple and not change them often, but when he needs to adjust he turns to his feed program.

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“It’s relatively inexpensive and easy as far as dry matter goes,” he said. “It calculates what the cows are eating and what their refusals are. It’s really easy to just go in and change dry matter, which helps us keep the ration consistent. Plus, there’s no paperwork.”

Sam has begun using QuickBooks to track finances and keeps an eye on the milk plant website to evaluate components and other milk metrics by the tanker load of milk.

In addition, Sam uses RFID technology, which saves him time since he is responsible for all data entry. He says it works really well as long as you have good headlocks, and it has helped the dairy stay in compliance with its Ovsynch protocols.

The key performance indicators Sam tracks include:

• Daily milk production, herd-wide and by shift.

• Weekly pregnancy rate analysis to stay on top of reproduction.

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• Weekly lame cow reports to see how many times a cow is lame and what is wrong with them. This also helps with analyzing the ration, monitoring foot health and providing a list for the trimmer.

• Cull rate to determine why cows are leaving the herd.

• Projected freshenings and dry-off to know which cows need to be moved.

• Health event monitor reports.

Reviewing records helped the dairy increase conception rates after a rough summer. They noticed they were breeding at 40 days in milk (DIM) and switched it to 60, resulting in better conception at first breeding.

Reports are shared with the dairy’s consultants to help them provide the best on-farm recommendations to Sam. A.I. representatives will watch conception rates to see what bulls to keep using and which ones to drop.

The nutritionist will keep an eye on the number of cystic cows. The veterinarian has reports to monitor fresh cow health, and the lender can see the cull rate to measure turnover.

One tool he would like to employ in the future is a heat detection activity monitoring system, which would allow the dairy to capture the cow’s natural heat cycle versus incorporating various reproductive protocols.

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Jason Sheehan
J&K Dairy LLC is a 900-cow dairy owned and operated by Jason and Karen Sheehan near Sunnyside, Washington. In addition, Jason and Karen are involved in Karen’s family farm, Tony Veiga Dairy, which is a 1,700-cow dairy.

Together, these two operations operate as one herd, milking 2,600 cows and raising all replacement heifers. The multi-site dairy has 800 acres with a goal of growing the majority of their forage needs by double-cropping corn silage and triticale.

The two dairies are managed as one herd. All animals freshen at the Tony Veiga Dairy and are moved to J&K Dairy in late lactation.

All youngstock are entered into DairyComp 305 on the day they are born, as are any health issues from that point on.

“We’ve got 3,100 heifers and take a lot of pride in heifer raising,” Jason said.

He said he struggles with using DairyComp to run reports on the heifers, so he will extract the data into Microsoft Excel to sort the youngstock data.

He also uses Excel to track milk production, components and other metrics from the milk plant website for both dairy operations.

FeedWatch is another program used daily on the farm. His feeders check moistures daily and can get the ration adjustments from the program.

“Between DairyComp and FeedWatch, it would be hard to run the dairy day-to-day without those two,” he said. “The main advantage of the programs is that they allow you to truly manage the dairy efficiently. You can check the numbers; see what’s going on.”

The use of RFID helps the dairies cut down on time and mistakes, he said. Jason, Karen and three herdsmen take care of data entry. RFID has cut entry time by 50 percent, he estimates.

“When Karen and I started farming, we had a herdsman that knew every cow,” he said. “We realized we couldn’t do that as we got larger. The data helps more people see what’s going on.”

The key performance indicators the dairies utilize are:

• Daily milk production per cow
• Daily mastitis cases
• Weekly dry matter intakes and feed costs
• Weekly milk components, SCC, MUNs – separating early lactation and late-lactation cows
• Monthly fresh cow metrics
• Monthly reproduction summaries

Data is also used to monitor employee performance. Fresh cow metrics are tied back to the employee who was on-shift when each cow calved. Daily milk weights and a pulsation monitoring program show whether or not the milkers are following protocol.

Collecting and monitoring data can be very useful, but it does take time. Jason relies on his dairy team to help him with this.

“The more data you input, the more data you have to look at,” he said. “That’s why you have consultants to help you know what to look at.”

The dairies’ nutritionist and veterinarian play the biggest role in working with farm data. The nutritionist uses the weekly fresh cow report and DMI from FeedWatch. The veterinarian also monitors the weekly fresh cow report and mastitis cases.

One day he would like to have developing parlor technologies that identify specific markers in the milk and allow for reproductive and herd health diagnostics.

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Todd Doornink
Jon-De Farms is a 1,700-cow dairy owned and operated by Todd and Dean Doornink near Baldwin, Wisconsin. Jon-De Farms is a fourth-generation dairy business, farming a total of 2,000 acres and employing 35 full-time and part-time employees. It raises most of its replacement heifers.

Todd has used DairyComp 305 and EZ-Feed on a daily basis for the last 20 years. The Dairy Profit Manager program, available through their financial lender AgStar, takes accounting into consideration and is reviewed on a quarterly basis.

The DHIA herd summary report is used to monitor somatic cell counts. He monitors the milk plant website to watch the bacteria count for proper operation of his clean-in-place (CIP) system.

“You can’t measure the data if you don’t monitor it. This is critical to managing any dairy,” Todd said. “It allows us to make informed decisions instead of knee-jerk or emotional decisions.”

Todd’s key performance indicators include:

• Daily milk production per cow
• Number of cows milking
• Pregnancy rate for the last 60 days
• Feed efficiency analysis
• Working capital per cow
• Profit per cow

Records at Jon-De Farms are an open book for all consultants involved in servicing the business. “If they can’t get what they want, they can’t help us,” Todd said. The reports are used at monthly and quarterly meetings.

Because of the data, they are able to make proactive changes. For example, reproduction data from a humid summer revealed they will need to find a way to increase cow numbers this spring.

Looking to the future, Todd foresees the use of smart phone technology throughout the entire dairy operation.

Managers could capture data at the cow level directly to their phones and automatically send it back to the main office for more effective recordkeeping, decision-making and management. He’d also like a mapping system for the farm’s large bunker to better track forage inventories. PD

Karen Lee
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