While many dairy farms in the U.S. and abroad are trying to dig their way out of the most recent milk price crisis, a 200-plus person group of producers and industry, mostly from Canada, met in Toronto, Ontario, last week for the First North American Conference on Precision Dairy Management. Perhaps, Dairy Farming of the Future would have been an appropriate name, as well. The plethora of high-tech equipment couldn't help but make us think of our industry's next generation of managers who prefer push-button controls to back-breaking work. But, the bigger question on our mind was - who can afford this right now? One exhibitor at the conference touted an in-line NIR (near infrared) feed control system. The technology has the capabilities to monitor and alter moisture, ADF, NDF, and much more in your ration as it is being mixed. Could this be the link that removes the variation between the ration formulated by the nutritionist and the ration actually mixed and fed?

Feeding wasn't the only focus of the meeting. Robotic milking was a natural fit under the precision dairy management umbrella. The conference's coordinator, Jack Rodenburg of DairyLogix and the Vetvice group has authored an article that will be appearing our March 25 issue about optimal barn design for robotic milking facilities. If you're thinking of going robotic, you'll want to read it.

Breeding, a not so obvious fit to precision dairy farming was also discussed. Getting cows bred has become an Achille's heel for many dairy farms, but we must admit that public relations has, too. One U.S. veterinarian presenting at the conference blasted the U.S. dairy industry's reliance on timed A.I. protocols because of its potential to become a public relations nightmare. He pointed to the potential expanded use of activity monitoring to manage heat detection instead of OvSynch protocols. Another heat detection tool discussed was in-line milk sampling for progesterone levels.

Ephraim Maltz, of the Volcani Institute in Israel, has been researching precision dairy farming technologies for many years. He reminded attendees that decades ago, individual animal care was the norm when farms were only home to a few cows. Today, cows tend to be managed in groups on large farms. "We can now manage the smallest production unit again," he says when referencing the variety of tools now available to manage cows individually and precisely.