Growing pains – a good thing?

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Editor’s note: This is a follow-up to the case study reported in the September 2012 edition of this newsletter by Luciana Jonkman of Progressive Dairy Solutions, Inc.


Since last reporting on this central California herd in September 2012, we have all kept our feet on the accelerator in all the areas we set out to impact.

In late 2011 (start of the dairy), the goals were to improve transition performance, feed management and cow comfort. Today, many of the production and cow management goals are being met and plans are being executed to increase return on feed, facilities and cow investments. We now face challenges of expanding the herd and how to best approach roles and responsibilities for owners and team members we hire.

Since the fall of 2012, the dairy has increased the herd 300 cows to 1,800 and has plans to reach 2,000 milking by August. Much of the growth has been internal and a result of diligent execution of protocols and record-keeping. With a 12 percent increase in animals so far, and another 13 percent in the next few months, we need to carefully consider how we modify the pen demographics, adjustments in feed, ROI expectations, and total farm management to support the expansion. Things to consider could be:

  • Do we make another high or mid pen?
  • Do we expand the fresh pen area so that we stay under 90 percent headlock stocking rate?
  • What about the maternity area? If we are not expanding it, how does our management of that facility and the timing of the cows moving in change to maintain excellent transition?

And so on. After spending the first year in "getting our feet under us" mode, it's time for expansion mode and with that comes challenges.

As the expansion has progressed, new people have joined the team. More cows have calved per month, more cows milked, moved, and fed every day.

It was obvious to the leadership that the feeder had the longest day and needed the most support. Previously, the feeder would lock cows up for the breeder, give shots for sync program, clean mangers, prep silage, hay and premixes, feed all lactating animals at the home ranch in addition to feeding support stock on two other locations about three and six miles away. He was getting in and out of the feed truck and loader 75+ times a day, consuming nearly two hours of his time and turning his day into an 11-13 hour day.

What we saw on the Feedwatch graph was that cows were not getting fed with any regularity in delivery times, and loads varied widely in mixing times. Feeding appeared to be an after-thought that worked around the manpower schedule rather than an intentional activity centered on cows, comfort and consistency. Cleaning out mangers only happened when there was time, which every reader of this article knows doesn't happen unless you plan on it.

Not all businesses can make this leap but this dairy was able to hire more support for the main feeder. The support has allowed feed to be prepped daily for the main feeder, mangers to be cleaned regularly, feed and mixing times to be within minutes from day to day, accuracy to improve 5-10 percent (still working towards 95-98 percent accuracy on ingredient loading) and many more positive things have come from this release of pressure on the man the puts 60-70 percent of the income through his hands.

Everything happens through people, and this is why putting people in places of highest importance became a focal point for this dairy.

All areas of the business need support as we grow, so how will we succeed in appropriately supporting all our people economically?

Many times I would hear that one leader had an idea for a certain employee, but then another leader had an idea for the same employee and that employee was torn as to who he needed to help first. This often created undue tension on the leaders.

This expansion was putting pressure on facility, hired manpower and operating owners/leaders. This pressure has forced us to look at roles and responsibilities for owners and hired labor. In addressing roles and responsibilities, we intend to find where more support is needed. We also hope to establish who can be held accountable for what people and/or activities over a given timeframe.

Ultimately, running the business with a team of people who know what they are expected to do each day and why it matters that they do it a specific way along with how their performance is assessed. Undoubtedly, communication is the key to accomplishing team goals and understanding team members. We continue to work towards a clear understanding of each leader and member of this dairy’s workforce roles and responsibilities in the business. We feel that once we have a handle on our human capital, we can move the succession/legacy planning for the future generations.


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