Cull the Bottom 5% Take out problem cows sooner rather than later

March 4, 2009 06:00 PM
Ethan, Maryjane, Barry and Josh Myers, the management team at Myers Dairy Farm, are looking everywhere to trim costs.

When your 1,100-cow herd is rolling along at nearly 25,000 lb./cow 3X with a somatic cell count well below 100,000 and a bacteria count of 2,000, the last thing you want to do is mess things up.

So any cost-saving changes the Myers family makes at its Union Grove, N.C., dairy are going to be carefully thought out. "Our first rule is: Don't fix what's not broke,” says Barry Myers, who leads the five-member family team and 18 employees.

At the same time, the family is looking everywhere for savings. Meeting with his nutritionist, Myers decided to pull some yeast and other additives from the ration. At 10¢/cow/day for these goodies in all lactation diets, Myers will save more than $100/day.

The other thing he plans to do is cull problem cows. "We're trying to take out the bottom 5%—50 to 60 cows—as rapidly as possible,” he says. Any cows with high cell counts, chronic feet and leg problems or other ailments are being beefed.

"I have neighbors who say they'll let employees go and take on the work themselves,” Myers says. "I'm not sure that's a good idea because it takes away from the management end. It's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.”

The family will also continue to look for little things that can add up to big savings. Switching to bulk calf feed from bags will save $80/ton.

A few years ago, the dairy switched to a new type of teat dip cup designed to conserve dip. The cup fully immerses the teat with dip, but brushy fibers surrounding the lid brush excess dip back into the cup.

"We save about 70% of the dip using the new cup,” Myers says. But the brushes can get dirty quickly, especially when the cup is used for predipping. "So we're also real strict on cleaning and drying the cups between each shift.”

Myers firmly believes in saving for a rainy day. He likes to have several years' surplus of corn silage on hand in the fall. Well-preserved silage just feeds better, and having that much forage on hand is good insurance against drought or other calamities such as the current cost/price disaster. "In the past, I have had to feed hand-to-mouth, and I really don't like it. So over the years, we've built up silage inventory,” he says.

His high-production groups are currently feasting on 2007 corn silage. His low-production groups and heifers are getting corn silage that was harvested in 2006—which was a drought-stressed year.

"We have a pretty good inventory of silage built up, and we could rotate some land into soybeans as a cash crop this summer,” he says.

The family double-crops the 1,050 acres of corn ground with small grains. The grain is taken off either as silage or hay in late spring/early summer. So the Myerses have some time to evaluate their feed inventories and the markets before abandoning some corn silage and planting cost-saving, cash-producing soybeans.

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