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Modern Dairy Farms: Planning for That Next Change

August 9, 2013
Dairy Farm 1
  

Decisions on a modern dairy farm often involve six to seven figures in cost. The modern dairy owner has to make those decisions after fully researching existing examples and be flexible enough to modify them on the go.

By Stan Moore and Caleb Bruhn, Michigan State University

Dairy farms that are expanding, adopting new technology or starting new enterprises are often looking at capital expenditures of six figures or more. How owners and managers research, adopt and adapt those changes can make the difference between a successful decision and a disaster. As a Michigan State University Extension dairy educator, I have observed that some owners and managers have become more adept at making these changes successfully.

Researching a new technology or practice involves a significant amount of time on the part of the owner or manager. It’s often not enough to just talk to a few sales people and visit a few farms, although that certainly is a start. In order to fully understand the impacts on your operation, you may need to visit farms that are already utilizing a new technology or practice, even in states beyond your own, to get every perspective possible.

Additionally, you may need to actually spend some time working on such a farm. Getting one or two of your top employees involved in the decision making process also makes sense. Employees that gain first-hand knowledge of how to work with the desired change on someone else’s farm will be able to help you adopt the change to your farm and avoid pitfalls in implementation. The more you and your team see, the better off you will be when changing your own operation, because you will be able to leave out others’ mistakes and build on their best ideas with your own.

Adopting a new change on the farm, especially a large scale change, will require a significant amount of labor and capital, very likely beyond what you planned. Planning for additional labor availability and overruns on cost can help avoid a lot of stress and make the transition process much smoother.

Don’t shortchange the process on decisions that are in the hundreds of dollars, like attorney fees for contracts, only to pay out much larger sums in overruns. Once the change is implemented, transitional labor can be scaled back to the number of employees and hours that fit the new operational requirements of the technology or enterprise.

Finally, good owners and managers are quick to recognize when they need to modify the implementation of a technology or practice. It may be that your expectations about the new technology were a bit off, at least in how it relates to your farm. Perhaps labor savings were not where you thought they would be. What changes will you make to bring them in line, or what modifications will you make to insure that the adopted change or technology is still profitable? Perhaps the change is actually having a negative impact on the farm, like increasing somatic cell count (SCC). Can you adapt the new technology or your protocols to address this, or do you need to completely reverse course? Whatever modifications you make, it will help to keep in mind what you know about how others have handled these same challenges.

Good owners and managers recognize new technologies and practices that could be beneficial to their farm operation, act decisively based on thorough research and a firm grasp of how the change should work on their farm and are willing and quick to make insightful modifications to the newly adopted change in order to ensure maximum profitability and sustainability of their farm operation.

For more information, read more dairy news.

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