Lessons learned from 40 years in the industry
Julie Ainsworth, Retired CentralStar Records Analysis Consultant
I’ve had the privilege of working with many dairies during the past 40 years. Throughout this time, a few key lessons routinely emerged, and still exist as opportunities on many dairies, today. As you read, keep your future in focus. Consider what you want your future dairy herd to look like, and be accepting of the change necessary to get there.
Raising more heifers than you need almost never pays.
If you speculate and raise more heifers than you need in hopes the market will be good when it’s time to sell, it’s a risk. On the other hand, you will never lose money by raising the optimum number of heifers.
A well-designed replacement plan includes utilizing the best combination of dairy and beef genetics with conventional semen, sexed semen, and sometimes embryos to maximize genetic progress. Work with your CentralStar team to determine appropriate inventory needs. Then devise a plan for breeding the best cows in your herd to elite genetics and the bottom-end to the “right” beef sires that will yield more revenue on the beef market.
There is still an opportunity to improve heifer-breeding efficiency.
Getting heifers moved into the breeding pen in a timely manner, along with good heat detection, is necessary to accomplish maximum-breeding efficiency. The best herds reach 70% or greater heat-detection rates for both cows and heifers.
If you are struggling in this area, consider why? Often, lack of labor is the key reason. When that’s the case, consider using a professional A.I. Specialist or CowManager®, an electronic heat-detection and health-monitoring system. Both will save you time and labor and put focus to this key area.
Major opportunities exist to lower heifer non-completion rate.
Many farms don’t have a handle on heifer-raising costs, including the expense of partially raising a heifer and having her die (or sold) before she makes the milking herd. Animal husbandry and reproductive efficiency are key to keeping this low.
Genetic tools can help you select for improved calf livability and wellness, as well as animal-health products. Creating a pregnancy is only half the battle; raising healthy calves is the other half.
High somatic cell counts (SCC) drain profits in more ways than just removing premiums.
High SCC lowers milk production, causes increased culling, results in poorer reproductive performance, and the type of bacteria involved changes the severity of those things. While cleanliness, strict adherence to protocols, and properly-working equipment are the basis for producing quality milk, there is more that can be done.
Selecting sires that excel in multiple indicators of mastitis resistance, like Mastitis ResistantPRO®, will assist in creating a healthier herd. Even still, having data from monthly DHI testing is critical to identify individual cows with high SCC scores, monitor trends, and pinpoint infected cows. Beyond monitoring, identify the cause of infection with the Complete-16 Mastitis PCR test, to guide more informed and effective treatment decisions.
Having data is key to finding where profit opportunities exist.
You can’t troubleshoot a problem or area of opportunity without having data to do it. Remember, anecdotal data and observations are notoriously inaccurate! SCC, energy corrected milk, and genetic data for individual animals is key information often missing from a dairy’s records.
Monthly DHI testing provides data that paints a picture of areas of opportunity and lost profit. At a cost of pennies per cow, routine DHI testing easily pays for itself and adds profit to the bottom line through improved management in many areas.
Overcrowding always has a cost.
Some herds manage overcrowding better than others; but, even in the most well managed herds, it catches up eventually. Cow comfort, bunk and feeding management, lameness, and grouping strategies all play a part, here. Experience shows it’s often an uncontrollable event, such as heat stress, that “knocks the herd for a loop” and limits production performance or increases culling.
Every facility has a limit to the amount of milk that can be produced in it. Crowding more cows in does not mean more milk is harvested. With good DHI data, you can make more informed decisions. Monitoring production and SCC trends helps to identify if adding more cows is generating more high-quality milk, or if it is having the opposite effect. DHI data can also be used to cull unprofitable cows, reducing the expense to manage them (vaccinations, treatment, etc.), while improving comfort and performance of the rest of the herd.
Transition cows are the cows from whom all blessings flow.
Taking good care of these cows results in maximum production, good reproductive efficiency, and low-disease rates. It is especially important to avoid overcrowding bunk space with this group.
Herds that have the best performance have 30 inches of bunk space per cow, four inches of water space per cow, comfortable stalls, good cow cooling, and a well-balanced ration free of molds and mycotoxins. Herds that are large enough also benefit from separating first-lactation heifers from older cows. CentralStar consultants can help in this area.
Genetics are an investment in your future.
Your breeding decisions, today, influence the type of cows you milk in the future. What kind of herd will be most profitable for you in the future?
Work with the CentralStar team to determine genetic strategies that meet your milk market and operation goals. Genetic consulting plans using StrataGEN® or the Select Mating Service® save time, manage inbreeding, accelerate genetic progress, and develop animals that meet your goals. Also, never overlook the most elite genetics available, such as those in NxGEN®, simply because of cost. Investment in genetics routinely and reliably has one of the greatest ROIs of any you can make on your dairy.
These lessons might seem obvious; however, they routinely show up as opportunities on dairies. If you’re unsure where you stand with any of these areas, or recognize you need help, ask your CentralStar team. CentralStar’s consultant team is well-trained, passionate, and eager to help you.