Technology has brought tremendous progress to dairies. But before you purchase a new technological device or system, ask yourself these questions.
By Jerry Corman, Dairy Sales Manager, MICRO, an MWI Company
Dairy producers use a myriad of technology tools on a daily basis. From herd management software to rumination monitoring to feed management systems, a plethora of devices and mechanisms are designed to increase knowledge and aid in decision-making. However, sifting through all of the technology available and determining which tools best fit on a dairy can be a daunting task.
According to precision dairy experts at the University of Kentucky, the decision-making landscape for a dairy manager has changed dramatically in recent years. In large part, many of these changes can be attributed to tremendous technological progress in all facets of dairy farming including genetics, nutrition, reproduction, disease control and management.1
Here are questions producers should ask technology providers and their management team when evaluating technology purchases.
1. Determine Needs
What key challenges must a technology address or fix? Is it a management challenge, a reproductive challenge, a nutrition challenge, all of these, or something else entirely?
This evaluation process should involve an in-depth internal investigation and an honest assessment of wants versus needs. It should not be about finding the fastest, cheapest tools available.
Once you identify the core need or needs, work on determining the best solution to fill that need and prevent future issues through tracking and measuring performance.
Keep in mind that adding technology usually means dairy owners, dairy personal and consultants will have to change current processes and methods to realize the value a systems approach can provide. If the operation continues to do what it has always done and just adds a technology system, it will likely set the stage for failure.
2. Technology Partners
Be sure to work with technology organizations willing to provide continuous training for dairy personnel, excellent service and provide an ongoing technology growth path including regular system updates.
Every system is different and every dairy is different; be wary of one-size-fits-all answers to your questions and folks who just want to sell you something without committing to a long-term value-based relationship. Seek out technology partners with ethics, values and standards similar to those of your dairy.
3. Team Involvement
The selection process should be part of a team exercise—a process that’s aimed at helping your operation meet specific goals and is concentrated on finding solutions individualized for your dairy’s situation and management strategy.
That means getting input from trusted advisors including your veterinarian, nutritionist and key dairy personnel. Also visit with other producers who have installed the technology to learn first-hand how it works on-farm and how they overcame any challenges that can accompany implementing new tools.
4. Implementation Strategy
The technology works. Implementation, however, can be a bigger challenge.
Facilities, personnel and management philosophies differ from one dairy to another, but the technology, while adaptable, remains the same. The key is to address these nuances and increase adaptation flexibility whenever possible to support implementation and on-farm use.
You need to provide strong leadership commitment to encourage team buy-in and employee understanding so that you get the full benefit of any technology you add to your dairy.
Forbes magazine offers this advice2:
- Focus on the outcomes you are trying to achieve and see that your initiative is a journey in which a few turns might be necessary to achieve your goals.
- You likely will have to iterate, make changes and optimize.
- Keep communicating.
- Establish baselines against which to measure your progress and milestones, and continue to analyze that data and seek out areas to improve.
5. Return on Investment
Many dairy owners and managers immediately ask about technology cost. While fiscal responsibility is critical to the operation of a dairy business, cost shouldn’t be your first question. Nor is it really the right question to ask.
Focus instead on the return on your investment. What is the value the technology will bring to your dairy? What will be the impact on your business’s bottom line?
Run the numbers using financial and performance data from your operation to determine how the technology can add value to your dairy. Shoot for a 3:1 or 4:1 return on investment whenever possible.
Keep in mind the benefits of any system will probably not be readily apparent in the first day, week or even month, but stick with it. You’ll need to learn how to interpret and use the data to help you make more timely and informed management decisions—which along with improved animal and financial performance—is the underlying value of your investment.
Again, any time you evaluate new tools for your operation, you cannot do what you have always done, add a technology system and assume positive change will occur. If you choose that path, you will not achieve the expected value because you will not generate the expected ROI. And that undermines everything you have worked to achieve.
1 Bewley J. New Technologies in Precision Dairy Management. University of Kentucky Department of Food and Animal Sciences. Available at: http://www.wcds.ca/proc/2013/Manuscripts/p%20141%20-%20162%20Bewley.pdf. Accessed April 10, 2014.
2 Bernshteyn R. How to get employees to (really) use technology. Forbes. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2011/07/14/how-to-get-employees-to-really-use-new-technology/. Accessed April 24, 2014.