Editor's note: The following case study was handled by Ken Casebere, dairy nutritionist with Vita Plus who works out of central Michigan.

A dairy in Michigan was simply “going through the motions” and not moving forward in any meaningful way.

“Cows were being milked, cows were being fed,” says nutritionist Ken Casebere with Vita Plus. “It was just not to the detail (that I wanted),” he adds.

For instance, Casebere wanted to see the farm improve reproductive management by going to an estrus synchronization program rather than simply breeding on standing heat.

Production-wise, the farm was OK, but not stellar, with average milk per cow per day in the lower 70s.

In this case, how do you get the farm to make the necessary changes?

It was a family farm, with different family partners having different responsibilities. One person was in charge of the crops, another person in charge of the farm’s finances, and so on.

It was a “little bureaucracy,” with family partners having specific roles in different areas of the farm. Often, a partner would complain about the job that another partner was doing, even though the person doing the complaining might not have a good idea how the job should be performed in the first place.

So, in order to achieve change, Casebere had to figure out a way to get everyone together on the same page.

Regarding the possible implementation of an estrus synchronization program, he talked to each of the family members individually, hoping to bring them to the point of consensus. He also got support from the herd veterinarian.  

It worked! The farm implemented a synchronization program.

Casebere had worked with the farm for approximately 10 years and had built up enough rapport with family members that they listened and respected his judgment. And there was certainly an element of politics involved. 

It illustrates an important part of his job.

Much of his time is spent helping dairies work out personality differences so everyone can work together more effectively. Whether it’s a group of family members ― as was the case at the Michigan dairy ― or fathers and sons or husbands and wives, there are situations where he can help smooth out differences by providing technical expertise or an objective point of view. There have been times, for instance, where he notices a son making mistakes and then helps the son correct those before they become an issue with the dad.

He gains credibility by being a sounding board and caring about his customers on a personal level.

“My friends are the people I work with and interact with every day,” he says. “My customers are my best friends.”

Casebere will always remember the advice that his grandmother gave to him years ago: Treat everyone you work with like they are your dad or grandfather.