Use post-season evaluation to assess the harvest

Posted on October 27, 2015 in Dairy Performance
By Chris Wacek-Driver
Hopefully, the 2015 harvest season’s efforts have rewarded your farm with adequate inventory and quality feed for the year ahead and will be reflected in profitable milk production and healthy cows.  Equally as important, we hope all this was accomplished efficiently and safely.

With the last tire on the bunker and the machinery cleaned and put away for another year, it’s tempting to think all that’s left of the 2015 harvest year is to feed it.

Despite – or maybe because of – the challenges faced during harvest, we might want to brush off a post-season evaluation.  But that means you miss the opportunity to boost communication and foster significant improvement for next season.  The time after harvest is ideal for discussing successes, concerns and disagreements that occurred.

The value of post-harvest evaluations
Good communication prevents issues from simmering and re-emerging later.  This involves listening to all team members and all ideas.  Often one person’s idea, while it is still fresh in the minds of all, can lead to significant improvement for future years.

Perhaps a misunderstanding or mistake can help reinforce why a procedure is done a certain way.  It may highlight a real or perceived “failure” within the system.  Instead of dwelling on that perceived failure, use it as an opportunity to improve the next time.  Work with teammates to develop a better plan to manage those unexpected or undesirable circumstances.

It is simply amazing to see creativity and solutions develop when egos are put aside, constructive feedback is provided and accepted in a respectful environment, and all ideas are considered.  It is extremely effective to take time to reflect on recent performance and develop a better plan after “the heat of the battle” has passed – especially if it is carried out in a caring, non-threatening way.

Finally, if the failure occurred due to a situation beyond the team’s control, acknowledge that fact and move beyond it.  Spend time developing a better plan if the situation develops again if possible, but don’t dwell on things that were out of your control.

Measuring success
Successful harvest operations and dairies likely agreed on common objectives and goals prior to the actual harvest.  These objectives include a myriad of issues, such as forage quality and quantity goals, harvest efficiency and timeliness, storage plans, and communication objectives.  These goals should be pulled out post-harvest and examined (with real data if possible).  The success or failure in reaching the goals should be shared with all members of the harvest team.

Common questions to start this discussion may include:

  • Did we meet our forage goals?
  • Were those goals realistic?
  • How can we do better?
  • What concerns and disagreements surfaced?
  • What situation developed that made reaching forage quality and quantity goals difficult?
  • Were the equipment and amount of labor adequate?
  • Was communication and monitoring of set parameters and goals adequate?

Post-harvest is also the time to gather the data to determine if meeting (or not meeting) the goal was perception or reality.  As the year progresses, make the harvest crew aware of whether the forage is meeting the planned goals.  Summaries of the forage as it actually is fed out and how animals are doing should be reported back to members of the harvest team.  Doing so can bring about a commitment to the process.

Combine this data with the thoughts, ideas and opinions of your forage team.  Use it to pinpoint the source of any problems that may have occurred as well as highlight strategies that proved successful.

Ultimately, the decision to make changes to the system and plan may rest with a manager or a few key people.  However, these conversations can help those individuals make more informed decisions, leading to better pre-planning and plan execution in the future.

Hopefully, you feel the 2015 harvest was, for the most part, executed efficiently, safely and effectively.  Don’t forget to take some time out to celebrate the successes.

This article was originally written for the October 1, 2015 issue of Progressive DairymanClick here to read the full article.

About the author:  Chris Wacek-Driver is the Vita Plus forage program manager.  She grew up on a farm outside of Denmark, Wis. and attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where she earned her bachelor’s degree in dairy science with an ag business minor.  She went on to receive her master’s degree from UW-Madison.  She conducted her research focusing on forage quality at the USDA Forage Center under Dr. Larry Satter.  In particular, she studied forage fermentation, the role of microbial and enzyme additives, and their effects on dairy animal performance.  Wacek-Driver has been a Vita Plus employee owner for the past 21 years and worked in dairy technical services prior to her current role.  She has a passion for working with dairy producers to help them with on-farm feed inventory, feed management, forage fermentation and production, and dairy nutrition.  She resides on a 240-acre farm along the bluffs of the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin. 

Category: Dairy Performance
Employee management