by Gary Sipiorski
The author is the dairy development manager for Vita Plus of Madison, Wis. He is a member of the board of directors with Citizens State Bank of Loyal, Wis.
Recently, there have been a lot of comments, papers and seminars using the general phrase "Precision Farming." We have all marveled at the global positioning satellite (GPS) technology that was introduced a number of years ago. Combine monitors track yields every few feet in a field. That data is then fed into a computer so specific fertilizer and weed control can be applied the next growing season.
How about the business of milking cows? The first things that come to mind are genomics. As the industry gets even better at it, those hair follicles on that calf's tail will be able to tell you just about everything we will want to know. It may not be too many years before we see robots milking cows in rotary parlors and parallels.
I believe that Danny Klinefelter from Texas A&M has it right when he suggests that to be a successful dairy producer, you have to start out by doing everything just 5 percent better. This certainly is moving toward "Precision Dairying." I realize that 5 percent may not seem like much. It is only 5 cents out of $1. But on a dairy farm where the "crop" is harvested two or three times a day, 5 percent is a "big deal." In fact, "Precision Dairying" is like having that 5 percent edge or advantage.
Some dairy producers may not have ever heard of Danny but they make sure they do things just a little bit better every year, every month and every day. Let's define what 5 percent means:
1. If you are producing 21,000 pounds of milk per cow, 5 percent means an extra 1,050 pounds of milk sales.
2. If your expense rate is running at 80 percent of gross income, 5 percent less means you are at a 75 percent expense rate. At a gross income of $5,000 per cow, that is an extra $250 of profit.
3. If your equity position is at 50 percent, the 55 percent equity position may allow your lender to borrow the extra you need when that next deal comes around.
4. A 5 percent improvement in conception rate will drop those days in milk.
5. What about dropping the metabolic problems at freshening just 5 percent? Think of the extra milk a healthy cow that gets out of the blocks smoother will produce.
6. If you are losing 10 percent of your newborn heifers, a 5 percent drop may mean you can be more selective in keeping heifers or just not buying heifers when your cow numbers are down.
7. Dropping the shrink in your bunkers from an average of 15 percent to 10 percent will save a huge amount of valuable feed tonnage. This could be achieved by inoculating, packing with more tractor weight, covering sooner or using a facer.
Measure to monitor
My point is, are you measuring everything on your dairy close enough to know if you have that 5 percent advantage? If you cannot measure it, you cannot track it. If you cannot track it, you will not know if the 5 percent advantage is just slipping through your fingers.
In today's dairy industry, where margins are as tight as they are, a 5 percent advantage might mean a profit. "Precision Farming" translated means monitoring closeness and exactness. Are you being precise?