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Ways to avoid dollars chasing pennies

Harley Wagenseller Published on 11 January 2011

It’s surprising to see the many different things people do to save money on a dairy. It’s also very interesting to see how some systems work well and others create chaos. We could look at some examples!

1. Paper towels versus cloth towels for wiping cows’ udders
2. The pros and cons of speed milking
3. To have a night cowman or not

This piece is going to give you some definite ideas to help you avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

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Paper towels versus cloth towels
The pros and cons of paper vs. cloth make for some great discussions. Let’s consider some pros and cons for paper towels.

Under the pros: The initial cost is very low for a case of paper towels. Most people realize the margins of profit on paper towels are generally only single digits. Another pro: Use them once – you’re done – no maintenance.

Under the cons: Paper is waste once you use it. You have two choices to dispose of it. The first choice is to burn it, but that is becoming a more difficult choice because of burning bans in so many places and the ever-present danger of that beautiful hay you have in the barn going up in flames from a wind-driven spark.

The second option is to put it in a dumpster and have it hauled away two or three times a week or more at $20 to $40 per trip. That can get quite expensive every month if you are on a large dairy.

Also, on some farms they don’t do a great job on policing their dumpster areas and you see paper towels all over the ground! This is unsightly and makes a bad impression on the general population as a whole.

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The pros for cloth towels are: They can be used over and over ‘til they are almost threadbare or the material quits wiping and absorbing, and the cost of cloth towels has come down from over $2 apiece to below 75¢ apiece.

The quality continues to get better also. Another pro for cloth is that machines are equipped to handle huge loads if you purchase the right professional washer and dryer to handle the number of cows you milk.

The cons of cloth towels are: The initial expense will be $5000 to $10,000 or more, so if you make the commitment to cloth and three months later change your mind and go back to paper, you have made an expensive mistake!

Also, do not overstuff your machines because if you put more than a correct amount inside, you may not like the results of your washing. Of course it’s the dryer that actually “sanitizes” your towels as the bacterial killer, not the washer.

It’s very important to have good equipment. Definitely plan ahead on paper vs. cloth because in the short term, paper is the answer but in the long term, cloth towels are the best.

To speed milk or not
What, you may ask, is speed milking? In the 1990s the term began to spring to life as larger dairies began to look at things such as throughput turns per hour or cows milked per hour. Such terms really sound good as you sit in front of a banker asking for a $700,000 loan to revamp your milking set-up.

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Because if you can “create” an extra $500 to $1,500 more cash flow every day, your banking institution may be making out the check as you present your financial statements to them! Wow, you may say – how can I do this – where do I sign up?

But hold on just a minute. How can you make this work? Let’s examine both sides of this issue again. Let’s say you milk 1,500 cows a day 3X.

If you have a double-25 parallel parlor with an efficient three-person crew, you can really move some cows through in one hour. It could work like this: 60 minutes ÷ 12 minutes per 50 cows = five turns per hour or 250 cows per hour.

Let’s suppose wash-up takes 45 minutes 3X per day. In six hours you could milk 1,500 cows.

Since not every cow group is exactly the same – some are slower or more nervous – a “foot cow group” or a brand-new heifer group would obviously slow you down. So let’s stretch that six hours to do all cows to 6.5 to 6.75 hours.

If wash-up takes you 40 minutes each time, that could potentially leave you with an extra two to 2.5 hours each day that you could milk an extra 250 – 500 more cows each day.

That could translate to an additional $500 to $1200 per day. We have just considered the pros of speed milking.

What are the drawbacks? First, do not complain if upon release of 25 cows, you see some that look like they were not completely milked.

Remember – you are sacrificing an individual cow for the greater good of the whole group. Some people simply could never tolerate this. Every cow must have an udder like a wrung-out dishrag.

Assuming your milking crew is sharp and doesn’t deliberately miss individual quarters, you may either move all slow-milking cows into one group, concentrating all such cows into the “slow group,” or sell any such cows to your neighbor who takes every individual into account.

The worst thing you can do is criticize your milkers for missing five lbs of milk when all they hear at milkers’ meeting is “Faster, faster, faster – more throughput!”

Another con is that the flow outside the parlor is now altered.

For herd health persons, maybe that fresh cow pen that they usually work on at 7 a.m. has been milked at 4 a.m. or the feed schedule seems too crazy because you have a cow logjam with the feeder feeding this group at a predescribed time and the cows have had no feed in front of them for three hours. All things to think about when it comes to speed milking or throughput.

To have a night cow person or not
As with the two previously mentioned issues, you could debate this over two cups of coffee at least. Perhaps, as an owner, you have contemplated whether or not this additional person could be an asset or a liability to your dairy.

Let’s consider the pros: A properly trained night cow person could be the difference between 12 percent stillborns annually or 2 percent stillborns annually. How does that work?

Let’s suppose for a moment you have a 2,000-cow dairy; 12 percent of 2,000 = 240 ÷ 2 (50 percent bulls, 50 percent heifers); 120 heifer calves x $400 (value of one heifer calf alive) = $48,000 worth of heifers lost plus 120 bull calves x $75 (value of one bull calf alive) = $9,000 worth of bulls lost vs. 2 percent of 2,000 – 40 calves (50 – 50) 20 heifer x 400 = $8,000 + 20 bulls x 75 = $1,500) $57,000 worth of animals lost vs. $9,500. How much are saved animals worth to you?

Other pros are: A night person could keep feed pushed up every couple of hours, if not busy with calving, along with taking care of down cows in the parlor, fresh cow problems, etc. Also, it could keep the day herdspeople from feeling that they are perpetually on call, that they are never off-duty.

The cons are: If you have a night person who is not reliable, never checks his calving cows hourly, sleeps in the corner of the hay shed, and is having a party at 2 a.m. with his buddies out back of the property; in other words, if the management team just didn’t trust the arrangement to work or gave it a no-confidence vote, it may be tough to implement this night person.

If, however, you can get a reliable, observant individual, it could be a very profitable move for your dairy.

Conclusion
We have discussed some ideas to help you think more fully and creatively about almost any situation regarding ways to avoid dollars chasing pennies. Be as logical as you can when doing this. Sometimes people get very emotional about certain things on the farm.

A former neighbor of mine, a really great man, spent over $1,500 taking care of a cow that was only worth $250, when you take into account the time, energy and money he spent on her.

Your dairy cannot afford to stay in business if you do things like that. Remember, do not be “penny wise and pound foolish.” PD

Harley Wagenseller
  • Harley Wagenseller

  • Dairy Manager
  • Blakes Landing Farms
  • Email Harley Wagenseller

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