The author is a partner and large animal veterinarian at Thumb Veterinary Services in Deckerville, Mich.
Mark Fox, D.V.M.

It is always nice to achieve a winning season! Like so many of you, I have witnessed both winning and losing “dairy seasons” over the last four decades. Volatility in the major commodity markets has increased in a dramatic way, even causing anxiety in producers with “nerves of steel.” Our dairy markets, at times, seem less predictable than the weather, fluctuating between record lows and record highs.

Some good news is that healthy margins so far in 2022 have allowed for a variety of improvements on farms, such as new facilities for enhanced dairy welfare, newly purchased equipment with improved efficiency, updated feed storage, or land and cattle acquisitions.

Many of you, no doubt, have heeded sage advice from your lender and past experiences to pay down debt and lines of credit, build additional cash reserve, and perhaps prepay some expenses. The “dream team” list of investments, in my eyes, are cattle, people, and family.

The cattle — your herd

Cow health investments yield big returns. This is where I spend a good amount of time and effort as a dairy veterinarian. I chuckle, at times, when my great clients describe me as a “prevention vet” rather than a treatment vet. It became apparent to me early in my career that prevention just works!

We still have conditions and disease that occur and must be promptly treated, but I like to propose using the “fountain of youth” bolus. No, I am not selling this bolus; I will dispense it freely. You are the responsible party to purchase and deliver the ingredients!

Focus time and expenditures on weak spots on the farm. What areas of concern or weak links do we observe? Examples may be in calf health and performance. Is there too much disease? Are too many treatments needed? Young calf housing and management investments often yield big returns.

The same applies to transition calves. Is more space, rest, or better air quality needed?

Many a dairy producer has realized the huge improvement in heifer breeding programs by simply providing adequate bunk space and utilizing self-locking stalls to make the work more efficient and easier. Rodeos are for entertainment, not profit.

Ask your dairy team members who are doing the daily tasks. They recognize the “pinch points” better than anyone. Often times, modest investments create favorable work experience, less injury, and better attitudes!

Refurbished calving and transition cow facilities yield huge dividends rapidly. As I’ve mentioned in the past, think about those “six freedoms” of pasture that we can nicely provide our modern confinement herds: air, light, water, feed, rest, and space (from Cow Signals).

I am constantly reminded of the huge positive effect rest and space have on our herds. Many of you, too, have seen the dramatic improvement in transition and fresh cow health with these two ingredients.

Much has been gained with technology utilized on dairies today. From heat detection to health and activity monitoring to camera and drone applications, all are being successfully used around the globe. Many dairy farms have won season after season because they coach the power of base hits.

Like the ole’ Minnesota Twins of a couple decades ago, my late father-in-law Bob (an avid Detroit Tigers Fan) explained to me that the home run is great, but it is the runners on base and a solid string of base hits that wins games. It’s just like the dairy farm . . . every play matters! Playing “small ball” by doing the fundamentals well rewards with winning seasons.

The people — your team

Investments in human resources are not always as easy as buying that needed skid steer. We all admire a team that shares the same ambitions, goal, and desires for that farm.

Perhaps this is the year to participate in a formal or informal focus group emphasizing human resource training. Our practice has spent time with continuing education, workshops, and farm team mentoring. I thoroughly enjoy sharing ideas and strategies, and many employees appreciate the opportunity to learn and to also share their ideas and experiences.

We all can learn from each other. Everyone benefits from a listening ear and some needed encouragement. (These two ingredients are free in your fountain of youth bolus! They work, and they’re “easy to swallow.”)

Plenty of additional continuing education opportunities are available on local, state, and national levels. Tailor your time and expense in areas of opportunity. For example, consider National Mastitis Council regional meetings for milk team members or nutrition conferences for those seeking more feeding expertise. Trade shows, regional dairy conferences, and the like all require time and expense, but they offer nice returns. I have also witnessed farm owners allowing time off to visit other dairies.

As summer is waning, get together with your farm team for an end of summer picnic. Inviting the farm team and their families, and neighbors as well, shows them you care. Thank them for all they do when you’re gathered together.

Connecting with your employees in a personal way can go a long way in making them feel important and valued. Try, as much as you can, to interact with them often. They should know that they are needed on the farm. Have conversations about their work and what they would like to see. Human resources are all about respect, value, and appreciation for others.

Family — your family

Don’t forget to spend time and resources on your most cherished investment . . . your family. There are many of our readers who, perhaps, have had a tough year. Support one another, be flexible, accept the hardships, and choose to use resources to meet new challenges.

It’s what we do on the farm, and it’s that much more important for our families. So, keep investing in your family as you do your farm team. Stay connected, build trust, and keep communication open, because we can learn from each other as we interact. Be encouraging and give praise often. Our farm life, the cows, employees, and everything else that is included in it, is vitally important. But, our family and relationships are the fundamental units in which we grow and learn about ourselves and about others.

Whatever your “dream team” of investments is, make sure it’s in your cows’, farm workers’, and family’s best interests. A well thought out plan for your farm will help you complete your projects efficiently. And, keeping your family at the heart of your investments is a great decision to make.

Take time in your circle to give thanks, pausing for a much-needed break to refresh the soul. God bless.