New Use for Technology--Employee Engagement

Published on: 15:51PM Jun 12, 2015

Lee Pattison is always looking for ways to keep employees on his 700-cow dairy engaged and motivated.

Pattison’s herd rolls along at 34,000 lb. of milk per cow, butterfat is above 1,200 lb. and protein exceeds 1,000 lb.  So it’s absolutely crucial his 13 employees are at the top their game to keep his cows at the top of theirs.

One of the ways he’s doing it is through the adoption of new technology. “We expanded to our present 700 cows in 2007, and decided that that is as large as we want to grow the herd,” says Pattison. He dairies near Garnavillo in northeast Iowa. “So we need ways to keep good employees interested in what they do.”

But without expansion or some new project to plan, it’s difficult to keep top employees engaged and motivated. His solution: Adopt new technology that benefits the operation, improves profitability and challenges employees to use it to its best advantage.

Several years ago, he purchased automated feeders to raise baby calves. More recently, he purchased  activity and rumination monitors to improve reproduction and herd health.

Pattison’s 21-day pregnancy rate had been hovering at 19 to 20%. Since installing the activity monitors, the preg rate has jumped to 25% on an annual basis, and as high as 30% in a month.  Pattison attributes about three points of the preg rate increase to the activity monitors, and the rest to employees who are actively using the technology to find cows in heat.

“Our employees are lot more willing to look at the computer to see when cows are in heat than to stand out in the pens watching for heat,” he says. In fact, his herdsperson is now willing to breed twice a day if the cow’s activity increase suggests she’ll be in better heat in the afternoon rather than in the morning when most of the breeding is done.

“That seems to have helped conception rate,” he says. And it demonstrates employees taking ownership of the technology to do a better job.

Pattison had hoped to move away from heat synchronization drugs and rely solely on activity monitoring. But that didn’t pan out. His insemination rate dropped below 60% when he did that. Now that he’s on a synch and re-synch program, the insemination rate is back over 60%. Between March and April, it jumped to over 80%.

“The biggest advantage we’ve found to the activity monitors is finding open cows before first preg check. If they’re open and come into heat, we get them bred and save 21 days,” he says.

Employees use the rumination monitors to closely watch the fresh pen, which houses 16 cows.  He’s milking these cows 6X. Consequently, he doesn’t want to have these cows stand in the lock-ups a minute more than needed. Pattison’s crew use the rumination monitors to see which two or three fresh cows might need attention each day, rather than lock up all 16 cows to do visual and temp checks. 

Pattison has invested in just 390 collars for his 700-cow herd. Collars go on two weeks before calving and come off at the 60-day preg check. “The few cows we miss after that preg check aren’t worth the $40,000 it would take to have collars on all the cows,” he says.

An accountant by training, Pattison says he has invested about $60,000 in the activity and rumination monitoring devices. But given current results, he figures he’s on a two-year payback schedule. The return on investment is 20%. More important, his employees are fully engaged in getting cows bred and fresh cows healthy. It looks like everyone wins.