I love it when dairy farmers ask me questions. Sometimes they ask the right questions and sometimes there are questions they should be asking me. As a veterinarian, it is difficult to sometimes point out things to a farmer about their operation. Sometimes there are lots of things we need to address and we need to do a few steps at a time. As a business owner, I ask questions about how I can improve my business. I ask various people these questions — employees, farmers, consultants, and other veterinarians.

So, what are the questions you should be asking your veterinarian?

What is the No. 1 bottleneck on my farm?

You might view your veterinarian as someone who just palpates or ultrasounds cows for pregnancy, or perhaps he or she is the person who treats sick cows or designs treatment protocols. But he is the one person who can be involved in all facets of your dairy operation. He can be involved with and have expertise with heifer-raising, milk quality, reproduction, health, nutrition, and cow comfort. I know the answer to this question for every one of my clients’ dairy operations, but very few have point-blank asked me this question. If we cannot remove the No. 1 bottleneck on the farm, everything else we are doing is not maximizing its potential return. You might have a different answer than your veterinarian, but you should consider what his/her answer is to this question. Once we identify what that bottleneck is on the farm, the next step is to take action to correct this bottleneck. Sometimes this is a big step —either in terms of management, labor or facilities. However, removing the No. 1 bottleneck on a farm is one of the most important areas to address in evaluating your operation.

How can I reduce my treatment costs and improve effectiveness of treatments for sick animals on my farm?

I think one of the biggest impacts a veterinarian can have on ANY size farm is evaluating your treatment protocols. It is very common for a veterinarian to see wasted drug costs due to inappropriate treatments or misdiagnosis. Ask your veterinarian to review your treatment protocols and to review your treatment records. Evaluate your drug inventory and compare it to the number of fresh animals over a given time period. If you do not keep treatment records, it is very difficult to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness and cost efficiency of your treatments.

What should I be using my veterinarian for and what should I not be using my veterinarian for on my dairy?

On some farms, we see missed opportunities in the name of reducing veterinary expense. Ask us what we should be doing. Often, there is an area on the farm that we can help and it is being overlooked. Likewise, there are things I do on farms that I should not be doing. I can train employees or owners to do some of these things, and this money could be put to better use hiring me to do something else.

Can you evaluate my facilities and cow comfort?

This should be done on a routine basis on the farm. Have your veterinarian walk the entire farm and ask him or her for suggestions on what needs to change to improve animal comfort. A comfortable animal is a healthy and productive animal. It is our duty to design facilities and handle animals so that they can live a comfortable life. Too often, we see facilities in need of an update that are causing injury and lameness to animals. Ask your veterinarian for an assessment of the comfort of your animals.

Consider what questions you want your veterinarian to answer for you. Ask us and expect an honest assessment.

Some of the biggest improvements I have seen on dairy farms were after a critical assessment. I always tell people that if they ask me a question, they are going to get an honest answer — even if they don’t want to hear it. Be prepared to ask your questions and be prepared to work with your veterinarian to improve your farm for future success.