Sept. 22 2016 02:18 PM

In a tough dairy year, farmers must work hard to remain positive, both financially and mentally.

As my daughter, Caitlin, and I have written our blogs for Hoard’s Dairyman, we have tried to emphasize the positives of being dairy farmers even though this past year has been extremely hard financially for our family’s farm. We watched with great sadness as our two nearest neighboring dairies sold their herds and went out of the dairy business.

In this blog I thought I would share a few of the actions we have taken to stay positive and survive during these tough financial times.

  1. Family meetings and communication. We have kept all family farm shareholders aware of finances, and we continue to discuss short- and long-term goals and remain open to ideas that might help the farm reduce expenses or improve revenues.

  2. Staff reductions. We reduced staff to a bare minimum. Two of our senior staff retired and two left for other opportunities. We replaced only one and adjusted schedules to still allow adequate time off from work for remaining employees.

  3. Utilizing technology. We are maximizing management by using technology we have on farm. DelPro Activity Monitoring reduced the need to have someone constantly checking the milking herd for heat detection. We are striving for the same labor reduction in heifer heat detection as well. The heifer farm is 3 miles from the home farm, so we expect significant man-hour reductions daily as this system is linked to the home farm, in addition to more accurate data.

    Using programs like PCDart and DelPro to monitor every cow, every milking, and their activity every hour, gives us the data we need to assess any cow that is performing subpar that day. These informational systems assist us in micromanaging our cows with reduced labor and time.

  4. A focus on nutrition. Improving and maximizing forages in our ration has always been a high priority. Adding vapor barriers to our plastic covering and pest barriers over our silages, in addition to upgraded harvesting methods, has helped improve quality of forages and reduced shrinkage.

    We had the nutritionist review all the additives and feed ingredients in our TMR. We check silage moistures bi-weekly and only make small adjustments in the ration as needed to maximize production and maintain proper body condition for our cows. We never cut an ingredient that has long-term health ramifications for a short-term savings. On our heifer farm, we have tried to maximize grazing year-round to reduce costs.

Trying to stay positive and in business in 2016 has been tough. Improving communication with family and staff on the current dairy economy, utilizing technology we already have, improving nutrition, and maximizing forages in the ration while enhancing their quality are all part of our plan to not only survive this year but prosper in the future.

Caitlin and Mark Rodgers

Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. Their “Daddy and Daughter Dairy Together” column will appear every other Thursday on HD Notebook. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.