By Jakob Vogel B.Sc (Agr.)
Although the snow accumulation over the past couple of weeks has been a humbling moment for the up until now, mild winter, the truth remains -spring is approaching.
With spring, comes planting season and following that is the intense forage season. As we approach the busy season, it is normal that producers will have less time to spend in the barn to focus on the management that often helps achieve higher yields and performance during the winter months.
Acknowledging the multitude of other variations that come along with spring and summer, including temperature fluctuations and forage variations, producers should remember all the factors that remain in their control including feeding times, reproduction and milking procedures. The amount of time available to spend in the barn will surely be less, which means that producers must prioritize which parts of their routine are to be kept, and which can be afforded to be done on the rainy days or during the lulls between forage cuts. Essentially, how can producers rearrange their routine to reduce the management impacts on performance during the busy time of year?
I understand that the daily operations of a dairy, stem much further than the traditional “chore time” routine, but for simplicity sake, let us start with milking/chore time. When prioritizing the factors or tasks, remember which of these tasks yield a direct impact on performance and how we can re-arrange these tasks to better suit a busier schedule?
Look to the ration:
For producers that are feeding once a day, rearranging feedings to happen in the evening may help, not only with heating of the feed throughout the peak heat of the day, but it can also allow you to get to the fields faster. Now, for full disclosure, moving feeding times to the evening, does have its down side considering the better part of the day will be spent completing other tasks and the feeder will most likely be fatigued. No matter the decision being taken in respect to feeding time, we need to ensure that the batches are being done accurately and precisely.
To the producers that are feeding multiple times a day, keep up with this habit. However, it may be beneficial for you to delegate some of the feedings to an employee, or another member of the family during the busy season, to allow for more jobs being completed simultaneously. If you have a competent milking partner and delegating the feeding is not an option for you, another option would be to start milking with the person, then start the batch while your partner continues to milk. This way, multiple jobs are again being completed and will allow you to re-focus on the narrow window for planting.
What about reproduction?
Most producers are hardwired to complete as many jobs as possible by themselves. However, something that we often need to remember is that there are many resources available to assist, especially during the busy times. When looking at reproduction, it is important to make sure that heats are being detected and that semen is being delivered successfully to the cow. During the busy time of the year, we can often hear the phrase “I’ll get her later” however, that can easily lead to that cow being forgotten or inseminated at sub-optimal times, ultimately leading to a missed heat and her remaining eligible in the next cycle. Although at the time, one cow being missed or reappearing the next cycle may not seem detrimental, we need to remember that the planting/forage season can last upwards of five months. When we add up all the eligible animals to be bred in during that time, and we assume that easily 20 per cent of them will be delayed by at least one cycle, this can have a severe impact on performance for the following six to eight months, all depending on the aggressivity of the reaction. Depending on the size of the farm, and the objectives – this delay in reproductive performance and delayed increase in average days in milk and days open, could easily justify the upfront expense of calling in a breeding service during the busy season.
Still focusing on reproduction, during the busy season, it may keep things easier to synch cattle more frequently to plan and maintain a sense or organization. This may not be a solution for all producers, however – a discussion with your veterinarian may be of use to reduce the impact of delayed breeding in the busy season.
Keeping up with milk quality
Milk quality has a direct impact on profitability when accounting for the milk out of the tank, as well as additional treatments required to cure cases of mastitis. During the busy season, tasks such as bedding can sometimes be forgotten or done inadequately. Although, the race to finish the barn chores during the busy season becomes more common place, the importance of adequately bedding the lactating group cannot afford to have corners cut.
Although there are many points in successfully running a dairy, there are compromises that are often made during the busy seasons of spring and summer. Although every farm is different, there are choices that can be made and tools that can be taken advantage of during these times in order to reduce the long-term impacts on the financial efficiency of the farm.