Large dairies are responsible for the majority of the growth seen in the dairy sector. It is a trend witnessed across agriculture that as farms grow larger, so does efficiency and profitability. While herds with 500 or more cows make up less than 10% of total farm numbers, they produce two-thirds of the nation's milk supply.
Large farms try to achieve scale by shipping a tanker load of milk every day or every other day. Four hundred cows, averaging 80 lb. of milk per day, achieve this volume. But size alone doesn't guarantee labor efficiency, says Gordie Jones, a dairy farmer, veterinarian and dairy performance consultant.
Jones has seen far too many facilities that don't have a clear idea of what their purpose is. The barns and farm layout sometimes lead to bottlenecks and require more people to get work done. This leads to inefficient use of time and labor as well as higher operating costs.
"With no plan, the facilities will dictate management," he says. "Dairy facilities are tools. They are tools that let you implement your plan."
In his career, Jones has helped design the facilities for Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. Jones is also a partner in Central Sands Dairy, a 4,000-cow operation near Nekoosa, Wis.
Labor Plan for a 4,000-cow Freestall Facility
- Two herdsmen
- They are responsible for fresh cow exams, data entry, breeding and taking care of the hospital cows. They move cows from contemporary groups, in the afternoon, like dry cows to transition cows and fresh cows to breeding pens. The replacement would work as a hoof trimmer or vet checker when the primary herdsmen are present.
- Eight milkers, four per shift
- They pre-dip, identify mastitis cows, wipe teats, attach milkers and post-dip. Two cow pushers, splitting shifts
- These "cow hunters," as Jones calls them, bring cows to and from the parlor. The cow hunter should be the first person to identify sick or lame cows because he or she should be trained to notice abnormal behavior. Cow pushers are also responsible for cleaning the inside bed rows.
- Two manure operators, splitting shifts
- Either scrapes, vacuums or pushes manure to a handling system. They clean dry cow pens once every 12 hours and clean the outside row beds. Once every shift, they push cows with the hunter person. They are also responsible for crossover alleys being cleaned daily and cleaning the waters three times per week.
- Two maternity technicians, splitting shifts
- Examine the close up pen every hour. Move stage two labor cows to just-in-time calving pens, assisting in labor after two hours. Feed colostrum to newborn calves. Once per shift, they act as the roamer on the rotary for the fresh pen. Because of the flexibility in their schedule, they also push feed up.
- One feeder, with a replacement
- Feeds all cows when the pen is empty in the morning and determines the next day feed based on amount of pushouts left. The spare feeder beds the cows when both are present. One day a week the back-up is a facilities manager doing tasks like lawn mowing or plowing snow.
Jones notes he does have relief help for weekends and vacation days. His system requires 17 full-time employees operating the dairy daily, meaning approximately 235 cows per employee. This labor efficiency, Jones says, is the "competitive difference in large dairies."
Note: This story appears in the April 2017 issue of Dairy Herd Management.