Those of you who follow me on social media, you may have read the quote;
“attention and motivation can be wasted by doing the many things we should not do and not doing the few things we should”
I thought it would be worthwhile highlighting the things that I think we should be doing to improve our business as well as the things that we shouldn’t waste time focusing on. Poor margins have made us all focus more on costs something which high milk prices made us forget. Hopefully this is a trend that will continue going forward for the benefit of our industry. However, understanding what can and what cannot be cut without affecting performance in the long term needs to be understood.
The things we SHOULD be doing
- Getting cows pregnant with an effective repro plan for your herd. If you have not already got one, put one together and implement it in conjunction with your breeding adviser and veterinarian. Open days, and empty cows cost you money as do not identifying your DNB cows.
- Managing the feeding process. The focus here should be on reducing waste at the clamp and during feed out. Are the feeder operators efficient and accurate? Are the parlour feeders correctly calibrated?
- Implementing a hoof health protocol. Regular foot trimming, foot bathing and hygiene are essential if hoof health is going to be maintained and improved.
- Focusing on transition cow management. Lying times, diet, feed space, lying space and group changes are all important points to consider.
- Putting together a feed plan for the coming year which is designed to make best use of forage while adequately meeting the requirements of the herd.
- Monitoring costs and building up an understanding of how the different costs influence performance and profitability.
- Ensuring your calves get adequate, quality colostrum.
- Reducing the number of followers in the pipeline by ensuring heifers calve at 23 months.
- Work with suppliers who are there to help, support and advise you. For example what additional services does your feed supplier offer?
- Talking to the different milk buyers. Getting the right milk contract is essential.
- Making sure all the stakeholders stay informed – bank, finance companies, employers, suppliers etc.
- Take the time to manage and develop a strategy.
The things we should NOT be doing
- Cutting costs that compromise herd performance, health and fertility. It is important that the cow does not know that the milk price is low. Remember it’s not her fault, so why punish her? Under this cost cutting heading we can quite easily put a list of the 7 deadly sins that will come back to haunt you in the medium term.
- Increasing the interval between routine fertility checks to save vet costs
- Stopping reproductive management programmes
- Turning dry cows from high yielding herds out to grass
- Keeping freshly calved high yielding cows out as late as possible on autumn grass
- Reducing feeding levels to fresh cows
- Cutting back on the frequency of hoof technician visits
- Stopping 3x milking to save labour costs
- A lot of nervous energy can be expended worrying about things we cannot change. Focus on the things you can influence and improve.
- Leaving young stock out too late so that it effects ADG and increases age at first calving
- Do not waste money on things that cannot demonstrate a return on investment
- Do not use cost accounting and do not simply look at the effect of a change on cost per litre; look at the effect of the change on the business as a whole.
It is important that you take time out to look at the things you need to be doing to improve; those things that are beneficial to the business and that you develop a strategy to introduce them. Implementing change or different ways of doing things is not always easy. Quite often employees have ways of doing things that may not fit in with the goals of the management. In some cases it may well be that the management are unwilling to change as they fail to see the benefit or quite simply they are tied to the 9 most expensive words in business: “that is the way we have always done it”.
The word motivation features very strongly in the opening quote. Change can only be implemented if there is motivation to do so. Milk price has been a great motivator for herd owners to address their costs. However, on larger units which are run by employed staff, milk price is not so important to the people doing the work. Motivating people to change the way they do things or to do them because they improve the performance of the business is probably one of the most difficult things to do. Quite often it is worth remembering that seeing the results of action is the best motivation. It is better than trying to motivate people to take action.
Dr Huw McConochie
Head of Dairy Technical Services