Labor is the second largest expense on a dairy after feed costs. The benefits of labor efficiency can total up to a sizeable contribution to a dairy’s bottom line.
Labor efficiency is a function of four components: the operating process, training requirements, efficiency monitoring and feedback.
Operating processes are a recurring set of activities towards a desired outcome. An efficient operating process attains its goals with a minimum amount of external resources.
A conventionally managed dairy’s operating processes are designed with the premise of unknown cow condition which complicates the process.
For example, a conventional fresh cow program is constructed on the fact that most health issues on a dairy take place within the first 30 days in milk. This process then prompts a dairyman to inspect every cow, sick or healthy. However, only about 30% of fresh cows will suffer from postpartum health issues. Inspecting all fresh cows results in a process that is 70% inefficient (in use of labor, treatments and the economic impact of disrupting the healthy cows’ daily routine).
This inefficiency is further increased when one considers that, typically, sick cows are identified after the appearance of clinical signs which requires more aggressive (and expensive) treatments to be administered. Early identification of fresh cows with health issues (due to monitoring data and management) focusing only on these cow enables a more efficient operational process.
Graph of a cow with a severe health issue evidenced by a rapid decline in rumination. Immediate rebound in rumination is a clear indication of effective and timely treatment.
A closer inspection of dairy operations reveals that the bulk of the conventional management processes revolves around finding the cows that need attention.
Finding and/or setting up cows for attention is a “skills-dependent” process and skills require training! In contrast, the electronic monitoring procedure requires only the ability to find cows from a list, requiring a lesser degree of skill and fewer resources to be invested.
Monitoring the efficiency of the operational process and providing feedback to employees challenges the conventionally managed farm. How can the herd manager know that all the sick cows have been identified? What method does he or she have to verify the cows were fed on schedule?
In an electronically monitored herd, labor efficiency monitoring is much easier. A finite list of cows needing attention is provided by the monitoring system. If the listed cows have not been attended to, a process isn’t complete.
To ensure that the outcome of a process has been achieved, a monitoring system can be utilized to enable real-time insight to cows’ response to the actions of the employees. See the how a delay in feeding time affected this pen of cows below.
Comparing real-time pen rumination pattern (purple line) to two-week pen rumination patterns (gray line) shows a four hour delay in feeding time.
Having accurate real time information about individual cow status (health, reproductive status and wellbeing) simplifies the challenge of managing a dairy herd. In heat? Breed her! Sick? Treat her! Neither of those? Leave her alone!