Winning the fresh cow game

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Trimming fresh cow losses and reducing treatment costs are crucial steps to winning the tight margins game in which you and everyone in our industry is now engaged.  If I can help you with some simple ideas to involve your team of workers to implement a strategy, you can minimize expenses and control involuntary fresh cow cull losses.

Your group of fresh cow workers is a team because they are or do these four things: every team has a coach; each has competent players; to play according to "the rules"; and to play for one purpose ...... to WIN. 

The Coach -
Many large dairies have workers who seem coachless; yet without supervision a team isn't a team.  Look at Phil Jackson as an example.  Over his illustrious coaching career it was he who pulled together the superstars and everyday players to win championships when other coaches failed with the same players.  I see herd owners and managers who expect maternity technicians, herdsmen and feeders to know what and how to do everything on their own.  That simply doesn't work.  The coach must assemble the team, define the players' roles and force compliance.  Without that coaching, good workers fail to calve cows properly, treat sick fresh cows correctly, feed transition cows accurately and fail to focus on doing the right thing.  Owners and managers must exert management energy which is the coaching effort to lead workers and manage work. 

Competent Players - The fresh cow team includes maternity personnel, herdsman and his/her workers and the feeder.  Each player has a critical role.  Birth canal tissue can be stretched, torn and then become more susceptible to infection when maternity technicians don't assist calvings with appropriate hygienic procedures and manipulations.  Sick fresh cows won't be identified early and treated aggressively if herdsmen don't evaluate each individual fresh animal daily and examine the sick cow candidates correctly.  Conversely, drugs are wasted and treatment costs escalate when inappropriate over treatment is used in place of good judgement by trained and focused workers.  Transition cows will suffer from indigestion, DA's and ketosis if feeders don't monitor and react to variations in feed consumption daily.

Competency results from training workers who want to learn.  The coach determines player attitude and either cultivates that attitude or replaces workers who demonstrate lack of it.  Then training is the "hear, see and do" coaching effort that converts the individual into a "role player" on a focused team.

Rules Of The Game .... SOP's and Protocols - SOP's and protocols are the "rules by which players play".  They are the "this is how we do it here" of the game plan.  Along with the herd veterinarian and nutritionist, an owner or manager determines (writes out) and teaches each step, process, procedure to workers.  Then just as coaches supervise practice sessions and become the referee, the manager must monitor workers and push them to the standard of performance acceptable to him/her.

Maternity personnel should be taught the signs of labor, given criteria about when and how to intervene when dystocias occur.  They need protocols to define exactly how to process post-calving fresh cows and how and when to feed colostrum.  Similarly, herdsmen need to be taught specific criteria to evaluate fresh cows from the front and from behind to identify potential sick animals.  They need SOP's to examine and diagnose these candidates and protocols to treat them.  SOP's and protocols are the play book from which coaches coach and players learn.

Winning ...... Knowing and Achieving Goals - While working from herd to herd, I see fresh cow involuntary cull rates as low as less than 4% in some herds but greater than 15% in other herds (number of dead and culled animals less than 60 days in milk divided by the number of animals that calved during the same period of time).  So what is "winning" for you and your workers?  Establish your goals and compute your results each month; then compare results with goals. 

Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing in today's tough economic times.  While the sports team analogy might seem simplistic, I think it correctly identifies the basic steps to fresh cow involuntary cull control.  And the management energy to be a good coach isn't expensive, it's priceless.



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