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Identify bottlenecks in operations to improve management
Six animal management systems work together to drive performance
The management of a dairy farm involves combining a number of tasks into processes, and those processes into systems that accomplish goals.
For example, wiping a cow's teats to remove soil and manure is one taskthat is part of the process of attaching milking units to a row of cowsin a milking parlor. The process of attaching one row is in turn part ofa system to get the cows milked. Goals can be identified in regard to theoutcome of the milking system, including cows per hour, somatic cell countsand bacteria counts.
In a similar vein, a system exists to get the cows fed. One process wouldbe mixing a load of feed and delivering it to the cows. A task in this processis loading the proper amount of corn silage onto the mixer wagon. Goalsfor the feeding system can include averaging 5 percent refusal, and havingthe TMR test within 10 percent of specifications.
Six separate systems
I believe six separate animal management systems can be identified ondairy farms. These would include feeding, milking, breeding, facilities,replacements and health maintenance. These systems are interactive. Forexample, feeding impacts breeding, replacements and health. Facilities impactall of the rest. The total performance of the farm depends on the combinedeffect of the execution of these systems.
On any farm, one or more of the systems previously listed are going torepresent a "weak-link", or "bottleneck" in the overallperformance of the farm.
One of the major challenges for a manager is to identify that weak link,and to correct it. A challenge and an opportunity for dairy practitionersis to help managers in this effort.
We are in a unique position to do so because we know our clients' operations,and also the operation of other similar farms. We can know what works forothers, and what is likely to work on a particular client's farm.
In order to serve in this capacity, we need to have an understandingwith the owner or manager. He or she must be willing to pay for the timewe invest in providing feedback to them.
In essence, we need permission to bill for the time we spend observinghow tasks, processes and systems are excuted. When we spot a bottleneck,we need to report that to the manager, so that they can remedy it.
Here is a reasonable scenario. You go to a large dairy to do reproductiveexams. You finish after two hours. You then take a walk about the farm.You pause and watch the man loading the feed wagon, noting mixing times,and how carefully he appears to be watching the scale. You go to the calfbarn, noting the condition of the grain in the buckets, and the cleanlinessof the pens. You stop and talk to "calf man" and learn how heis treating scours and respiratory disease.
Next, you can walk past older calves and heifers, noting body condition,manure and overall "thriftiness". You next travel through thedry cows, and finally onto the milking herd. You note cud chewing, stallusage, manure consistancy and body condition. Finally, you stop at the parlorand just kind of "hang out". The milkers note your presence, butsoon fall back into their routine. All of this takes roughly a half hour.
Then, you go to the manager's office, and review records with him foranother half hour. If you use an hourly rate, you have added an hour's worthof billable time with no expense. And at least 80 percent of the time, youwill have noted at least one significant item that is valuable to the manager.
The end result should surely be a "win-win."
A word of caution; the manager must be discrete when he intervenes witha worker due to your observation. If farm employees perceive you to be a"spy", they will strive to keep you from knowing what really goeson.
Helping smaller farms
How about if your client has a 60-cow dairy, where he and his wife provideall of the labor? Is there opportunity to work with that farm? Not to thesame degree, but smaller farms often appreciate some interest and some feedbackof their management.
There is a real opportunity to make record review a part of your billabletime on the farm, and to benefit the producer by identifying productionbottlenecks. You can also facilitate a process to eliminate these problems.
One tool that makes this type of activity more productive is a digitalcamera coupled with a laptop computer. After obtaining consent, take pictures,or make short movies, of tasks or processes that are carried out efficientlyand effectively. Then, use these as teaching aids on other farms. You canprolong your visit with more billable time and almost no additional costin this manner.
You will have both managers and staff crowded around your laptop, makingobservations and asking questions. Your value will be enhanced, along withyour job security!
One of your functions should be to help your client(s) correctly identifythe true bottleneck. For example, if the calving interval or days open ishigh in a particular herd, the manager may decide to begin a timed artificialinsemination (AI) program to correct that. This is your chance to introducehim to using pregnancy rate as his reproductive monitoring tool. In doingso, you will have to examine both heat detection rate and conception rate.You just may find that heat detection rate is okay, but the conception rateis very low. In this situation, timed AI will likely add cost, but bringlittle improvement.
Just like our client's farms, our practices have tasks, processes andsystems built into them.
One system every dairy practice needs is one to provide consulting servicesto appropriate clients. This is the "weak-link" in some practices.How about yours?