I love baseball and look forward to the start of the season each spring. Sure, it’s just a game, but there are some lessons from baseball that we can apply to raising dairy cows, whether you are a fan or not.
Play the percentages
In baseball, managers play the percentages and they usually go with what has a higher likelihood of success. Left-handed hitters bat against right-handed pitchers and vice versa. Certain batters will be in the line-up against certain pitchers because of their record against that pitcher and fielders shift to cover the hitting tendencies of batters (like the famous Jim Thome shift).
Does this mean that right-handed batters can’t hit right-handed pitchers? No. Does it mean that batters always hit to the same spot or that the past will repeat itself? Certainly not.
In dairy we talk about recommended practices for milking prep, vaccination, sire selection, calving-ease sires for heifers and much more. Does using those procedures mean that we will always get the result we want? No.
None of these guarantee 100 percent results, and we have all heard of someone who doesn’t follow the recommended procedures and gets by without it, but percentages do play out. To be consistent and for best results over the long run, it is best to follow the practices that have been proven to be effective.
View the big picture
Decisions need to be made that consider a whole complex of factors, whether it’s dairy or baseball.
Picture this baseball scenario:
- Sixth inning with two outs and the team is down by a run
- The pitcher has been OK, but he has thrown 100 pitches already
- The number eight batter gets on base and there is now a man on first and second
Who will bat in the ninth spot this time? There is no question that it will be a pinch hitter for the pitcher. But if any of those factors had been different, then the pitcher would more likely bat.
In dairy, picture this scenario: You haven’t changed a thing, but all of a sudden it seems that the herd has declined; butterfat dipped to 3.3 percent, cows are getting sick and many are going off feed.
Even though you didn’t intentionally or directly change anything, something obviously changed. Maybe it was the digestibility of the fiber that changed because of a difference in feed moisture. In a case where fiber is marginal, things can be OK for a while and then change dramatically when something changes just a little.
Cows respond to the whole combination of factors, the ration is just one of those things. Humans have a tendency to isolate one factor to blame for the failure of the entire system, cows don’t. Our job is to better understand the combination of things affecting the cow and make adjustments as needed.