Closely monitoring herd performance is vital to a successful dairy operation but is critical during economic downturns. Operations can achieve greater success by establishing advisory teams with their consultants. Milk production, somatic cell counts, pregnancy rate, culling rate, and income over feed cost are just a few of the metrics available for monitoring among dairy advisory teams. It does not take long to see the list of metrics to monitor and discuss grow and grow, especially for teams that have functioned for a few years or shifted gears. As the list of metrics to monitor grows, less time is spent with the team addressing current issues. Prioritizing the list of metrics to monitor can allow for appropriate time spent with both current issues as well as long term trends. Here are a few questions to consider when maximizing the time available to the advisory team while keeping key data and information involved with the process.
What are the goals and objectives of the team?
This is a good place to start. What are the current goals and objectives the team has identified? With this list, teams can then identify what metrics would be best to monitor to track goal and objective performance. Successful teams will have a continual cycle of defining needs, setting goals, tracking progress, achieving/maintaining goals, and evaluating success and evaluation. As such, the metrics monitored should change to address the changes in goals for the team. Check out these resources for more on team goals and objectives:
Why are we looking at this metric?
If there is not a quick answer to that question, then it may be a metric to be retired from future team discussions. This question relates back to the previous topic of goals and objectives. There needs to be a relevance to monitoring a metric, typically in relation to tracking progress or monitoring a previous goal’s achievement. If the metric is only useful to one member of the team and doesn’t relate to past or current goals and objectives, it may need to be sidelined from routine discussion within the team.
How are various metrics being tracked?
Consolidation can be a key component to limiting discussion time on metrics. Think about all the various sources of data available to the average dairy: milk production, components, and quality from the cooperative, test day records, financials, etc. All of these potential sources can provide insight into a goal but may require several reports and sources to capture all the metrics of interest to the team. Try using a spreadsheet (such as the Penn State Extension Dairy Team’s Monthly Monitor ) to summarize several metrics in one report. By consolidating them down into one report, it will simplify not only going over the metrics, but teams will also be able to see some of the historical trends of the numbers as well.
Being creative in data tracking can also save time. With a little computer skills, providing graphical representation of the metrics can improve and enhance interpretation of the metrics, thus reducing the time spent reviewing and discussing them. Just be sure whatever graph you apply actually fits the data being tracked; keep it simple.
What are the economic considerations to these metrics?
Farm financials can be challenging to understand, let alone discuss in a team setting. There are a few ways to minimize the stress of these metrics while benefiting from reviewing them regularly. First, pick a metric like income over feed cost (check out Income over Feed Cost for more information) that can be monitored more easily and routinely than some financial ratios. Second, decide which financial metrics relate back to the goals and objectives of the team, and choose how often to review them. Depending on the metric, quarterly or annual review may be sufficient to help make progress. Finally, benchmark the operation against itself. Knowing where an operation is and the progress made are just as vital as trying to compare to an industry benchmark.
When are metrics being shared with the team?
Having some prep time individually can definitely increase the efficiency of data use by any team. I’ve found that if the metrics (such as test day records and production information) are summarized and provided to team members ahead of time for review, then the discussion during the actual team meeting can be spent on other areas. Another benefit to providing the summary prior to the actual meeting is the ability for members to digest the data and formulate questions, so they are prepared for quality discussion at the time of the meeting. With the data out ahead of time, a good team routine can be established. The discussion on monitored metrics may be first on the agenda with a time limit (typically 5 to 10 minutes), thus freeing up team time for other agenda items. Don’t forget, just because they are reviewed in the beginning, doesn’t mean you can’t revisit specific metrics if they apply to discussions later in the meeting.
The metrics used by an advisory team play a vital role in tracking and monitoring the progress related to identified goals and performance of the individual operation. With all the data currently available to a dairy operation, it is easy to reach data overload, and potentially hinder constructive discussions during the limited time of team meetings. By asking yourself the above questions, and making some minor revisions to your metrics, that valuable discussion time can continue to thrive in your team meetings.