What Are You Thinking About?


While the rush of the dairy business and finance occupy most of our waking hours, there are a few things that can just help improve the bottom line (short-term) and some others which may have a long-term impact.   Take a minute and consider the following questions.


1.         What are you doing to set up a plan for family members and/or trusted employees to become owners and operators?

Don¡¯t wait until you are dead, but begin the process of estate planning now.  Contact a good attorney who specializes in estate planning.  With the average age of principal operators being in their mid-fifties, my fear is that we will have a lot of operations gobbled up by inheritance taxes unless steps are taken now.

2.    Do you have a lot of cows that are thin?

There are several reasons that cows might be thin.  They could be sick or they might not be getting enough to eat.  Do you have enough bunk space per cow (approximately 2-feet)?  Are your 1st calf heifers able to compete with the older cows for bunk space.  A study done at Purdue found that 1st calf heifers housed separately in one group produced 5-10% more milk primarily due to greater time spent eating. 

3.    Are your vaccinations up-to-date? 

Sometimes we fail to keep our biosecurity measures on schedule.  Once an animal gets into the milking herd, most farms tend to vaccinate all at once with booster shots on a similar schedule.  How about the heifers?  Do you have them on a schedule also?  Work with a vet and get on track.  One lost fetus and the loss of a subsequent lactation is money lost!  The same would hold for sheep, goats and beef cattle.  Keep your biosecurity current!

4.         Have you ever noticed that the tires on your car or truck seem ¡°softer¡± during cold weather?

With under-inflated tires on any vehicle, there is greater ¡°flexing¡± of the tread and sidewalls.  Check the air pressure recommendations and inflate accordingly.  This may lengthen tire life and save a little money on your tractors, trucks, spreaders and wagons.

5.         Do your cows seem to be taking longer to milk than usual?

Have you had your milking equipment, including pulsators, checked and serviced?  How about the vacuum regulator and filter?  I still find that when I go into a parlor, there is often a unit or two on which the short air tubes have holes or have been cut off so that they are too short on one or two inflations.  As you know, this can alter the angle with respect to the teat and affect performance.

6.         How often do you check moisture content in your forages?

If feeding with a mixer wagon many farms just ¡°load it in¡± to the prescribed weight.  Silage moisture levels may change by as much as 10% depending on when the forage was placed in the silo.  As a result, your ration could have considerably less dry matter than you and your nutritionist were planning upon.  This under feeding can occur also during a ¡°rainy spell¡± when the silage is wet down and thus weighs more than it did prior to being soaked.

7.         Do you have cows that won¡¯t use your freestalls and lie in the alleys instead?

When cows won¡¯t use stalls, either the cow is hurting and is not comfortable in your stall, or she may not be able to get up once she has been lying down.  We watched some recently acquired cows arise at the UMass Dairy in Deerfield and saw that they struggled getting up in our stalls which were designed circa 1974.  The head-to-head stalls had a 2" x 6" which separated the two stalls.  Some chain-saw alterations immediately provided the cows with the ability to lunge forward when they were getting up.  I can¡¯t believe we put up with this phenomenon for so long!

8.         How regularly do you meet with your employees?

Researchers in farm labor often cite employees not being on the same page as the owner/manager, and it usually stems from a lack of guideline and goal communication.  Many managers communicate with individual employees but often don¡¯t get the group together to discuss the farm operations and issues.  Many farms have found that a weekly meeting for a half-hour ¡°headed off¡± some problems, let employees identify what they saw as problems, and established more of a team-approach to the operation.  In an economy where good help costs money, we need to make sure that we are creating an environment in which employees are valued and are encouraged to participate in decisions.


Dr. William Graves

Veterinary and Animal Sciences

University of Massachusetts

Crops, Dairy, Livestock News. Vol. 5:1, Spring 2001

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