Editor's Note: John Gilliland, dairy operations manager at McArthur Farms in Okeechobee, Fla., spoke recently at the Southwest Nutrition & Management Conference in Tempe, Ariz. McArthur Farms Inc. has four 2,000-cow dairy units. Here is an excerpt of his presentation.

As technology gets better and new feed additives are introduced to the dairy industry, I have become more and more dependent on consultants to help determine what products are useful to improve production and herd health at McArthur Farms Inc.

Having a competent consultant team helps when making these decisions. I rely heavily on their expertise to understand the science and research behind products. The two main consultants are our veterinarian, Dr. Frank Bernard, and our nutritionist, Dr. Blaine Ellison, who also is a veterinarian.

Other consultants also working with McArthur Farms Inc. include an entomologist, geneticist and employee-management consultant.

Dr. Bernard is on the farm an average of 14 hours per week, spending his time evaluating records, working with hospital-barn employees and observing cow management. Dr. Ellison spends two to three days per month on farm, walking through cows and talking to herd managers about the herd status.

Dr. Bernard and Dr. Ellison are a large part of the management team at McArthur Farms Inc., and are involved with many of the management decisions.

As the dairy operations manager, I try to keep an open mind when I am approached by a company to look at a new product or to do an on-farm trial. If a company wants to make a presentation about a product, I always like to have either my nutritionist or my veterinarian, or both, present. When approached by a vendor, I want to know:

  • Is this a reputable company?
  • Is there any scientific research?
  • Does the representative have any on-farm experience?
  • What is the cost?
  • Who is the supplier?
  • What is the return on investment?
  • Is the company willing to accept responsibility for negative results?
  • Does the company want to help with an ongoing problem or do they just want to sell a product to anyone?

If we decide to participate in an on-farm trial, then there are more questions:

  • Will the record-keeping system detect the change?
  • Is the change practical?
  • Who will monitor progress?
  • Who will analyze the data?
  • If it is a feed additive, can you sample the TMR?
  • What other changes are taking place, such as weather, calving season?
  • Who pays for testing?