Profit in the Details: Variation is a Warning

April 5, 2011 11:58 PM
Dan Little blue
DAN LITTLE, DVM, manages DairyNet's Dairy Solutions Center in Brookings, S.D.
You can contact him at or visit

Albert Einstein has often been quoted as saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

An application of this thought can be found in the relationship between dairy efficiency (DE) and somatic cell count (SCC) due to its extreme variability.

DE is calculated by dividing the amount of energy-corrected milk (ECM) by dry matter intake (DMI). The average DE of the herd in the chart for the month of January is 1.44 lb.

At first glance, it may appear that the SCC levels in this herd parallel the changes in DE. However, since an improvement in SCC results in a decreased value and an improvement in DE causes a
decrease in values, these relationships indicate that one variable does not cause the other. Process variation and procedural drift may be contributing to the poor results for both parameters.

Obviously, the SCC levels for this dairy are quite high, with an average of 465,000 cells/ml and a range of 330,000 to 595,000 cells/ml in the 31-day time frame. Similarly, DE has a low average of 1.44 lb., with a range of 1.3 to 1.66 lb.

Consider your own dairy operation: Which management factors might be common to feed efficiency, as well as milk quality? For optimal results, both areas of the operation require a similar approach to training and management, even though the processes and procedures involved are different.

Bonus Content

Consistency and Control

Control Chart

I often see evidence of training and evaluation shortcomings that impact multiple processes on a dairy. For example, variability in stall management and parlor procedures certainly has an impact on herd SCC. The same training factors that result in poor compliance for milk quality may have a similar effect on accuracy of feed mixing and delivery, variability in feed quality, and variation in transition and hospital pen management.

Controlling variation in any system requires that the employees clearly understand the goals of their dairy. Management personnel must train, evaluate and retrain employees until the goals and objectives of the dairy are being met on a consistent basis.

Which areas of management are creating "insanity" on your dairy? Take some time to consider alternative management approaches that may help to decrease the amount of variation in your operation.

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