Oct. 31 2022 08:00 AM

It can be so easy to get wrapped up caring for the “problem cows,” but our average animals also deserve attention and some true appreciation.

As I walked through our freestall barn early this morning to find the cows that still needed to go through the robotic milker, I was suddenly hit with a memory from my college leadership class from years ago.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck Googling to find the source and specifics of what I’m remembering. However, the gist of it was that leaders need to remember to encourage and support their average and above-average followers rather than spend all their energy on the bottom few that cause problems or don’t want to be there. It’s easy to put most of our focus on the people (or cows, in my situation) who are falling behind or needing an extra boost – it’s our human instinct, after all. But, sometimes focusing on the few who aren’t getting it or are falling behind can blind you from all those who are keeping their head down and doing what’s asked.

Finding fetch cows for the robots entails coming up with a list of cows who need some extra encouragement or a gentle reminder to visit the robotic milker, then going through the barn with that list to find them all, and finally making sure each of those cows successfully gets milked and has a good experience (in hopes that they’ll start going through on their own). Of the nearly 240 cows we have in our robotic milking barn, there’s usually only 10 to 20 cows that we have to go find on a given day. Those few that we have to find obviously get a lot of our attention and time because they need the extra help.

As I made my way through the barn finding the cows on my fetch list, I stood waiting for an older cow to get herself backed out of her stall. And, as I waited, I caught a glimpse of a very pretty red and white Holstein (we mostly have black and white Holsteins, but there are a handful of red ones sprinkled throughout the herd). I see this cow every day, but the extra moment really made me appreciate her.

That’s when the memory from that college leadership class hit me — I had gotten so zoned in on the handful of “trouble cows,” that I hadn’t given all the other cows that produce well, breed back time and time again, lay in their stalls nicely, and use the robotic milker without aid enough recognition. In front of me stood a nice, average cow that is good-natured, a great milk producer, breeds back fairly well, has no health issues, and always goes through the robotic milker on her own. Because of all these amazing things, I seldom spend time working with her or really paying her any mind. But I was reminded this morning of how amazing an average cow truly is and that I should really appreciate them more than I do.

Those average cows are the ones who keep our business afloat – they’re the ones producing excellent offspring to continue improving the herd, and they’re the ones who make what we do possible. So, I encourage any livestock farmers reading this to take a moment the next time you’re out with your herd to pick out someone who’s average – because they deserve so much recognition and appreciation.

Molly 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.