The author is professor of animal sciences at Kansas State University, Manhattan.

Another year has arrived in our dairy industry. What will it bring? More rain when needed? Better milk prices? Greater success in your dairy business?

A new year is always a time to look back and reflect on the past and the present. In addition, it provides an opportunity to make changes that bring more satisfaction in your job of providing one of mother nature's most perfect foods - milk.

There are no silver bullets when improving reproduction. However, better communication, reduced bottlenecks, follow through with employees and proactive approaches all can work.

Some needed resolutions
1. Are you managing too many things in your dairy business? Are you delegating responsibility to your employees and giving them the authority to carry out assigned tasks and protocols?

Often we tell people what to do and walk away. The better solution might just be showing them or working alongside them to create a greater understanding, especially when dealing with our own children. Feeding cows is a good example. Is the ration designed on paper by the nutritionist the same one that was mixed by the feeder and the same one consumed by the cows? Carefully managing details and clearly communicating with others is a talent.

Be it resolved to improve communications to avoid misunderstanding. One wise person said that "although it is essential to communicate for understanding, it is more critical to communicate to prevent misunderstanding."

2. As a dairy producer, you rely on many people to be successful. Do you have regular sit-down, worthwhile meetings with your management team? If you are using outside consultants as part of your team, is everyone on the same page? Does your team function well or is there too much finger-pointing? Is your veterinary practitioner involved in all the details of your fresh cow protocols, vaccination program, breeding program and mastitis prevention? When your milking machine supplier or other salespeople present you with the newest widget, is your management team involved in reviewing its merits?

Reward competent people on your team. Counsel together to find the best solution to problems. In other words, lay the problem on the table, don't express your opinion to start, seek input from everyone and then make a more informed decision. Synergism occurs in these council sessions - the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Be it resolved to identify and address all bottlenecks that limit success.

3. Good team leaders "inspect what they expect." Seek your employees' ideas. Because your employees are "where the rubber meets the road" every day, they often have great insights to making procedures work more smoothly. Asking their advice validates your trust in them as a team player and leads to greater job satisfaction and a more harmonious outcome.

Be it resolved to follow through with your employees when changes are implemented to assess whether the new strategy is working as planned.

4. Are you satisfied with your herd's pregnancy rate? What can you do differently to improve your A.I. breeding program? Could you do a better job of identifying more cows in estrus?
We have new tools to help identify estrus-related traits such as measuring activity. Currently, nearly a dozen companies are marketing activity monitoring systems. These systems utilize different technologies to assess activity, but nearly all compare each cow's activity to her own recent past. Cow activity clearly spikes during estrus: more time is spent walking, mounting, sniffing, butting and bellowing in lieu of feeding, ruminating and resting.

Be it resolved to investigate new ways in which you might more successfully identify cows in heat, including the time-tested method of watching cows.

5. We often hear frustrations expressed by dairy producers and veterinary practitioners that program X or Y is not meeting their expectations for producing pregnancies. When testing the same breeding programs in multiple herds, it is common to find differences in herd pregnancy rates. Not all programs work similarly in all herd situations. As you know, many factors influence fertility and can limit the success of the best-designed and proven A.I. breeding program.

Some of these factors include:

  • Feeding program (adequate energy and proper proportions of bypass and rumen-degradable protein)
  • Cow comfort in free stalls and elsewhere
  • Somatic cell count (mastitis reduces conception rates and can cause abortion)
  • Gentle handling of cows during movements to the parlor and elsewhere
  • Good hygiene in calving pens, in far-off dry cow pens and in free stalls
  • Plenty of fresh water
  • Good footing
W. D. Hoard penned his tribute to the dairy cow 128 years ago: "The cow is the foster mother of the human race. From the day of the ancient Hindoo to this time have the thoughts of men turned to this kindly and beneficent creature as one of the chief sustaining forces of human life."

Be it resolved to sharpen those old fashion but critical husbandry skills and better care for this wonderful creature we call the dairy cow!

6. Last, but never least: Be it resolved to spend more time with your spouse and children. Those kids grow-up too fast and too soon leave the nest. Take advantage of each day because you never know when it will be your last. Have a successful new year.

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