The Manufacturing Mindset

Think like a manufacturer to make your dairy farm more efficient

Data is valuable — when it’s put to good use. Here’s how to think about it.

Your dairy farm is a kind of manufacturing operation. You may not like the sound of that, but think about what happens in a manufacturing plant.

Manufacturers produce a product at scale while driving costs down and improving product quality. A plant will break down the work into processes, and then track and analyze those processes.

That’s exactly what a well-run dairy farm does.

To accomplish this there are four things you must do on your dairy farm:

  1. Use the software you already have to its full potential.
  2. Put it all together.
  3. Give everyone access.
  4. Interpret what you see.

Here’s a quick look at each of these points.

Use the software you already have

There are a host of metrics to consider in the management of your dairy farm, such as pen moves, health events, feed cost, and more. If you’re already using software, are you using all the capabilities of these systems?

What about farms that don’t have feed management software at all? If you don’t have a feed management system, you’re blind to mixing errors and other problems. Get something.

Put it all together

This is the challenge in dairy right now. We have an overabundance of data. While most of it is good, it’s stored in separate silos.

You may be using a legacy system, Excel spreadsheets, on-farm, or cloud-based servers to manage your data—or a combination of all of these.

A good dairy management system should manage your farm’s data, keep it encrypted and regularly backed-up in the cloud, and save you time while providing insights about your operation. Ideally, the software would collect data from your milk processor, herd management and feed management systems and store the information in a database. Then it would provide the reports you need to optimize your farm.

Give everyone access

It’s not uncommon for one person on a farm to take care of “gathering data.” But it’s also important to share data with your team.

For instance, if you’re troubleshooting a recent 0.1-pound drop in butterfat (BF) yield, getting informed input from the herd manager, feeder, and nutritionist is vital to coming up with the best solution. Each will have insights into their specific area of the operation. For example, the feeder will have valuable input on what has changed with forage piles and commodity deliveries over this time frame.

When everyone has access to the farm’s information, you get a complete picture of the situation to identify problems and develop informed solutions.

Interpret what you see

This is where everything comes together to create value for you.

In the scenario above, the initial concern about the 0.1-pound BF yield drop is just the starting point. As you dig deeper and get more information from others on your team, you will likely get more clues. The nutritionist’s report might also reveal a 2-pound DMI drop. You continue to ask questions of everyone to get the full picture.

We need to use a manufacturing mindset to manage our farms. We gather a mountain of data that can be used to improve every process. The keys to using this data are quite simple:

  • Collect good data and use your software systems to their full potential.
  • Integrate all this data onto a single platform. This is the most difficult step, but it can be automated and it does not have to be expensive.
  • Give everyone involved access to this platform. Everyone on your management team offers different insights.
  • Figure out a simple way to analyze your processes. You’ll save time and your farm will become more profitable and efficient.

Kelly Bean, along with his son Keegan, founded Dairy Margin Tracker in 2014. Dairy Margin Tracker's purpose is to help dairy producers make better use of their on farm data. Kelly has worked as a dairy nutritionist and spent almost a decade managing dairy farms in Michigan where he learned every aspect of dairy farm operations. He was born and raised on an upper Midwest dairy farm.