Dec. 9 2022 08:00 AM

Small changes can yield big results; sometimes we just have to take a step back to see them.

During this time of year — when we’re thinking about new beginnings and new goals — it’s important to take a step back and look at your operation with fresh eyes. After never-ending, busy days, it can be hard as a dairy farmer to think about the big picture or to avoid getting stuck running on the hamster wheel. Most days, it is all we can do to get our regular chores done, let alone extra tasks or general pondering of what’s next.

My family definitely had some “ah-ha” moments over the years related to how we do certain chores, the way facilities are set up, schedules, and so forth. While some of those moments have transpired from careful consideration and research, others have come at more spontaneous times as brief lightbulb moments.

It’s so easy to form habits and mentalities regarding how we do things on our farms but taking a moment here and there to think about better or more efficient options can lead to some simple, yet (dare I say) life-changing discoveries. You don’t need to sit down for hours at the table with a notepad to discover straightforward changes and improvements — some quiet time thinking while driving the tractor might be all it takes.

Whether you rethink the way a few gates swing during your daily chores or contemplate bigger changes after generations of “this is the way things have always been done,” a couple modifications here and there can help your dairy operation on its journey forward.

Now, I have to give credit where credit is due. My mom recently amazed me with an uncomplicated and extremely sensible idea to switch the way two little 4-foot gates swing in our calf building, a barn that houses our newborn through weaning-aged calves in a group-housing setup. By switching the way these two gates swing allows much simpler ways of moving calves between groups, as well as easier training of new calves to use our automatic calf feeder. This is something we deal with multiple times each day, and it literally took years for us to take a step back and realize a simple switch would be remarkably helpful.

One other way to achieve those ah-ha moments is by inviting in a completely new set of eyes. Whether it’s a neighbor, friend, industry professional, fellow dairy farmer, or someone who has no dairy farming background at all, having someone who doesn’t look at your farm every day raise questions or thoughts on improvements may help you see things from a new perspective that could be beneficial.

So, as you move into 2023, don’t forget to think about goals and simple changes — both big and small — that could help you and your operation continue to improve. Wishing you all the best this new year!

Molly Ihde (Schmitt)

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.