Use your data to increase efficiency and profitability

Posted on March 3, 2021 in Dairy Performance
By Mark Case

Every dairy farm has opportunities to improve efficiency and profitability.  One way to do this is to harness and make sense of your farm’s data.

Zoetis and Compeer Financial analyzed 11 years of herd data (beginning in 2006) from 489 year-end financial and production record summaries, which identified six key drivers of profitability on dairies based on net farm income.  They found these “Six Dairy Financial Drivers” account for 85% of the variation in farm profitability.

By diving into the data behind each of these factors, we can determine what management steps can have the biggest effects on efficiency and profitability.

1. Somatic cell count (SCC)
Herds with high SCC have lower pregnancy rates and greater death losses.  According to the study, for every 100,000 cells-per-mL increase in bulk tank SCC, milk yield declines 5.5 pounds.

Culturing high-SCC cows can help you understand what pathogen is causing the problem.  You may need to adjust mastitis protocols, milking procedure, milking parlor maintenance, water quality, feed hygiene, bedding and/or cow comfort.

2. Energy-corrected milk (ECM)
The study showed the difference between the top- and bottom-third herds was about 20 pounds of milk per day.  High-ECM herds show an improved 21-day pregnancy rate, lower feed costs per hundredweight, fewer days open, lower death loss and reduced somatic cell counts.

If your herd dynamics are off – such as greater than 40% two-year-old-cows or greater than 180 days in milk (DIM) – it can impact production.

Monitor milk starts and peaks.  If cows have slow starts, they have a hard time peaking like they should.  Investigating data around transition – stocking density, health events and stillborn calves – can help you determine if it warrants a change in management, environment or nutrition strategy.

3. Net herd turnover cost
The study showed a $1.08-per-hundredweight difference in net herd turnover cost when comparing the most-profitable and least-profitable dairy herds.  What strategies can help you manage your heifer needs without causing a hole in supply?  Raising the right number of heifers is important, but raising the right heifers is important too.  Genomics and mating programs can help you raise the right heifers.

4. Death loss
The study found the difference in death loss between the top third of herds (4.3%) and bottom third (10%) was $138 more per cow per year.

Consistent recording of when and why cows die allows you to more quickly identify and mitigate the causes.  Most death losses occur during the first 60 DIM.  If death loss is too high in this time period, evaluate transition and fresh cow programs.  A low death loss percentage indicates good animal husbandry skills critical to higher net farm income.  Consider whether you have the right team members in the right places and whether they’re well-trained.

5. Pregnancy rate
The most profitable herds had an average pregnancy rate of 27.4%.  A high pregnancy rate helps ensure your herd is in the optimal range for DIM.  For every 10-day reduction in DIM, average herd milk production increases 1.2 to 1.7 pounds per cow per day.

6. Heifer survival rate
The highest-profit herds averaged a heifer survival rate of 95%.  The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association’s Gold Standards can be used to set benchmarks, evaluate your operation and prioritize tasks to improve heifer survival rate.  Keep close tabs on the quality and timing of colostrum feedings, record heifer health events, and track growth rates over time.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Your farm’s data is of no value if it sits in the computer, a spreadsheet, or a notebook and is never reviewed.  Track and organize your data in a way that is easiest for you to frequently review it and mand make management decisions accordingly.  At Vita Plus, we have programs to help farms monitor and track their information over time.  Contact your consultant to learn more.  These types of programs can be instrumental to success by helping you understand exactly what is happening on the farm, which, in turn, helps increase the long-term efficiency and profitability of your business.

This article was originally written for the February issue of Progressive DairyClick here for the original article.

About the author:  Mark Case is a Vita Plus dairy specialist and territory manager.  He earned his animal science degree from Michigan State University.  He has worked as a dairy consultant since 1994 and has been a Vita Plus employee owner since 2002.  Based in western Michigan, case enjoys working with dairy producers to problem-solve bottlenecks in their operations to increase performance and profitability. 

Category: Business and economics
Dairy Performance
Technology and data management