Editor's note: The following Practice Builder is excerpted from a presentation at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in March by Gordie Jones, veterinarian and managing partner of Central Sands Dairy in Nekoosa, Wis. 

One simple thought to help dairymen, veterinarians and nutritionists understand dairy farms is to break them down into circles. If we understand the circles of dairying, we can look at any size dairy farm and find the bottleneck without being overwhelmed.

There are three circles on every dairy farm that we need to understand.

The first circle is the 24-hour circle or what does a cow do for 24 hours a day. How often she is milked? How long does she spend in the parlor and holding area? When does her feed arrive? How long is the manger empty?

All of these questions are easy to answer when we know the 24-hour circle of a herd or pen of cows.

The second circle starts at the maternity pen: what does a year look like in the life of a cow? Where does she freshen? When is she moved into the fresh pen? How long is she in the fresh pen? When does breeding start? How many rations does she get fed? When is she dried off? How many dry-cow rations is she fed?

The third circle also starts at the maternity pen: what do two years look like in a calf’s life? When is she fed colostrum? How much colostrum is she fed? Where is she housed and fed until weaning? How many heifer rations is she fed? Where is she housed until breeding age? When is she bred? When does she move into the close-up pens? How is she handled at calving for the first time?

If you really understand your circles, or circles on the farms you work with, you can start to identify the bottlenecks to the performance you are trying to achieve and correct them.