by Tamara Scully
Success depends upon good management in every aspect of the dairy. The 2017 Operations Managers Conference, presented by Cornell University’s PRO-DAIRY program, and the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, focused on the topic “Precision Management: Merging People, Cows, Crops, and Technology,” with extensive presentations, panel discussions and keynote speakers addressing the many facets of management needed to make a dairy successful.
Overseeing the employees, the dairy herd and the crops — and learning to utilize today’s technology as a tool to do so — was the mission and the message given to the hundred plus attendees.
While cows are often the focus on the dairy, maximizing cow production requires optimal human management. Employees have to be reliable, understand and follow protocols, be held accountable for any breaches or oversights, and be motivated to help the dairy succeed.
“Human resource management has to be recognized as a very important component of what we do,” Rick Zimmerman, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, said. “They (employees) are not only assets to our business, but they are assets, and they are colleagues.”
Managing employees doesn’t happen effectively if the workplace isn’t a safe environment, one where everyone is expected to contribute to, as well as benefit from, the dairy’s success. Creating a culture which motivates employees to achieve, honors their strengths and become loyal team members is the goal.
According to Tom Wall, the Dairy Coach LLC, there are simple tools which can be implemented on every dairy to build a successful team. Managing the team isn’t an afterthought, but a full-time focus. Managing requires overseeing everyone, giving them the tools to succeed and ascertaining that the entire team understands the procedures, goals and mission of the dairy.
Managers need to pay attention, maintain order, build trusting relationships and create opportunities. Recognizing work well-done, and holding accountable those whose work habits are sub-par, depends upon communicating expectations clearly. Written job descriptions, protocols and rules need to be communicated and clarified. But it doesn’t stop there.
It’s an ongoing process, and effective managers need to continually assess whether or not the work is consistently being done correctly. They need to productively handle any situation where it is not. It’s about clarity, discipline and accountability, Wall said. These three traits are the building blocks of a strong foundation; one that generates good habits, and achieves the desired results.
Employing cameras on the dairy to monitor employee performance isn’t spying: it’s a legitimate and smart business practice, Wall said. It is a management tool that allows one to oversee all aspects of the dairy, and all shifts, to effectively insure that all team members are onboard with the dairy’s goals, and doing their jobs.
The industry is moving towards standards of animal care. Training and documentation, from the dairy farm to the milk processor, as the focus on animal well-being and worker health and safety intensifies, needs to be uniformly implemented. The National Milk Producers Federation Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program is being utilized across the industry to protect animals and humans, via training, monitoring and documentation, Lisa Ford, Cayuga Marketing, said.
Optimal herd management means keeping the cows healthy, happy and productive. Knowing when the environment is impacting this goal, and determining what to do about it, was the focus of the workshop presented by Curt Gooch, Cornell PRO-DAIRY Program. Gooch spoke of heat stress, and the increasing likelihood of more frequent and intensified heat stress conditions due to the impacts of climate change.
Recognizing the signs of heat stress, knowing what conditions cause heat stress and having a variety of tools to handle heat stress incidents is key to keeping cows healthy. Heat stress causes future-reaching impacts on cows and their calves, not only immediate drops in productivity or well-being. Sprinklers, fans, misters, and foggers can all be used to alleviate heat stress concerns. Knowing the climatic conditions under which heat stress occurs, and working to prevent these conditions, as well as mitigate their impact when they do occur, is critical.
Monitoring cows using technology, such as rumination or activity monitors, can insure well-being by detecting changes in behavior sooner than might be possible by observation alone. Health Index Scoring (HIS) takes into account rumination and activity data, plus life cycle stage, to identify animals with metabolic or digestive disorders. Dr. Julio Giordano, Cornell University, discussed research data on the performance of this type of automated health monitoring system.
Other precision dairy cow monitoring applications were the topic of a presentation by Dr. Jeffrey Bewley, University of Kentucky. Dr. Bewley spoke of the benefits of using technology to: track estrus; detect mastitis, lameness and calving; and to find disease. Tools such as ear or neck tags, rumen devices, leg bands or parlor technology can all collect cow and milk data. This data provides a wealth of information that can alert producers to potential underlying health concerns at both the individual cow and the herd level.
Proper nutrition is the basis of dairy cow health, milk quality and production. Optimizing nutrition means supplying the feed needed, in the correct amounts, at the correct time, and doing so in an economical manner. Monitoring all of these aspects, and seeing just where efficiency is being lost, is the key to proper feed management on the dairy. David Greene, Dairy Field Technical Specialist with Diamond V, spoke of ways to maximize feed management.
Gaining feed efficiency requires many steps, Greene said. Efficient feeding means having the proper ration formulated, mixing it properly and feeding it accurately and on time. Cows shouldn’t be sorting ingredients. Feed push-ups need to occur regularly, once every 30 minutes, for the first two hours post-feeding. Supplying fresh water — which is needed for milk production as well as cow health — is another aspect of feed management.
Growing the best forages to meet your herds needs, harvesting and storing them to maintain nutrients, and doing so in a safe manner, cannot be overlooked. Managing shrink from the field to the feed bunk is essential for farm profitability.
Using low or no till practices, cover crops and precision planting equipment to enhance soil health and fertility was the topic of a presentation by Jeffrey Jordan, of Table Rock Farm in Castile, NY. With more than 1,000 milking cows and over 700 acres of silage corn, plus several hundred more in haylage crops, the farm has been recognized as an industry leader in forage production and management. They have been working with Cornell University researchers who are studying the results of various tillage techniques, and fertilization practices.
The 2017 Operations Managers Conference enabled attendees — farmers, researchers and industry representatives — to enhance their understanding of effective dairy farm management, providing the tools and resources needed to enhance dairy productivity through precise management of cow, employee and crop.