It looks like there are few parts of the dairy puzzle we can currently control; operating lines have evaporated and lending options are extremely tight. Feed prices remain volatile, as do milk prices. This makes forward-contracting a terrifying concept if you can’t control the top and bottom of the profitability equation.

But there are many things that you can focus on to help improve profitability while the rest of the markets peak and plunge. These are things you can control within your business, even if you can’t control the things on the outside of your business.

  • Review vaccination protocols. Last fall, our veterinarian suggested to our cattle crew that a vaccination should be given at the pregnancy palpation. We learned that vaccination was added to, rather than replaced, a vaccination a month earlier, so we were spending more on vaccines than necessary.
  • Combination vaccines. Our pharmaceutical supplier showed us new generations of vaccines that incorporate more protections into a single injection. While the individual dose is more, the cost is less than the two vaccines separately, and reduces the labor for the second shot.
  • Injection compliance. We found that some recombinant bovine somatotropin was still in the syringe or else “supplementing the concrete.” It wasn’t in the cow making milk or money. We retrained.
  • Milking routine. We milk three times daily, but had a very different harvest amount on each of the shifts. The night shift, it seemed, was on a totally different prep routine, so the cows never had a chance to let down their milk. We spent serious time focusing on routines so the crews were more consistent.
  • Electronic ID. Paper lists often resulted in transposed numbers, cows marked off the list that were never seen, or worse, the papers never made it back to the office, so we invested in electronic identification (EID). The initial investment was tough, but EID scanners that feed information directly back to the main computer sped up vet checks (we cut six hours for five people on weekly vet checks), increased accuracy and cut out data entry time in the office.
  • Track milk weights. We collect milk weights daily (also computerized with EID). Low-producing cows can be found quickly with simple reports for milk production deviation, then treated, sold or dried-off more quickly, resulting in feed and medicine savings.
  • Employee training. In tight times, it is easier to hole up and communicate curtly to my crews. But, this is the most important time to train for better protocol compliance, understanding the company goals and making the most of employees. If these folks are going to be around when prices improve, it’s my responsibility to develop people I want to keep because they are already onboard and contributing!

Monitor it

We thought everything was going as it should, until we started looking at the week-to-week activities on a spreadsheet.

To help, we developed a tool that we fill in weekly and e-mail to our management team (veterinarians, nutritionist and managers). It covers the number of cows freshening, dead-on-arrival calves, number of twins, number of cows to dry-off, calf weights at weaning, breeding and springer stages, milk per group, DHI results, push-out or discarded feed, feed prices and more. All of these data are generated from reports we made on the scheduler for our dairy management software.

This put information where our management could get to it, with the calculations already done. The spreadsheet is an ever-evolving sheet that we add a new column to each week. This gives all of our team the ability to look at the data to find trends that we can address.

It’s ongoing

All these small things added up to really big money and huge time-savings. And we could all use that!

Mary Kraft dairies with her husband, Chris, near Fort Morgan, Colo.