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Kevin Spurlin, Extension Agent, Grayson County, spurlink@vt.edu

A heart monitor that “flatlines” indicates impending death if something isn’t done quickly. Dairy managers may be tempted to stagnate in the status quo, and that can spell trouble for the dairy operation’s future. Don’t let your management benchmarks ‘flatline’!

The October DHI herd summaries for Virginia from 2008 up to 2016 reveal some interesting facts. First, there were 98 fewer herds on test in 2016 than 2008. The lower number of herds on test is not necessarily an indication of herds which have exited the business, but we know many have in Virginia. Another fact from the Virginia summary is that the average number of cows in test herds has increased from 164 in 2008 to 215 in 2016, mirroring national trends in herd expansion.

The next set of statistics may be the most revealing about management trends from October 2008 to October 2016. First, the average cow is producing 2,487 more pounds of milk annually from 21,474 lbs. in 2008 to 23,961 lbs. in 2016. From October 2008 to 2016, services per pregnancy have declined (3.3 vs 3.0 on all cows), pregnancy rate has increased (14.6% to 16.6%), and average SCC score has declined (3.1 to 2.7). To summarize the past 8 years of Virginia herds on test, we can say there are fewer of them, and they are bigger and produce more milk. These herds have done so while improving metrics such as reproductive efficiency and udder health. It is not a simple fact that lower producing farms have exited and thus are not pulling the average down. If you look at the DHI rankings printed in the Virginia Dairyman, most of the herds at the top in both editions are not producing the same in 2008 as in 2016. Those herds are consistently moving forward. That’s the point! Dairymen who were average in 2008 and are still at the same point are now below average. This data alone does not help us explain cause and effect relationships behind the trends, but the average 2016 dairyman is doing a better job than in 2008. Notice I didn’t say they were perfect, just better.

Now it is time to critically consider your own operation. Which benchmarks are flat, not improving measurably in the last 5 or 10 years? Once you identify those, pick the one most impactful to your operation’s success and determine to do one thing in 2017 to make that benchmark move in a positive direction. If you are struggling to identify where to start because you know there are several areas you would like to address, it may be helpful to bring in an outside consultant to provide an honest, external assessment of your operation. Often the easiest way to start cleaning a house is one room at a time.

Another way a dairy operator may breathe new life into their own management is to simply get away. Everyone needs some time away from the rigors of their livelihood and business. It helps refocus, reassess what is important, and reinvigorate. Being away may make the heart grow fonder, stimulating new ideas and rekindling the fire for the dairy business. If being away feels too good, maybe it is time to think about a farm transition plan to bring in new energy or gracefully exit dairying.

Make a commitment as you start 2017 to progress in one area of your dairy operation this year. Pick one area in one room to clean, and you may find that the whole house gets a facelift because progression usually doesn’t happen in one big event, but in small steps over time.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

December 22, 2016

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