How to make the right decisions as dairy farms change faster

Last week Nantwich Farm Vets held a dairy fertility conference in Cheshire, featuring American dairy expert Steve Eicker.

DAIRY farmers should have a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for when they are making decisions about management and technology changes on their farms.

This was the message from Steve Eicker, a New York-based dairy consultant. Dr Eicker said changes were going to take place much faster on dairy farms in the future and as a result it was important to put a procedure in place to make the right decisions.


“While I do not really like the term ‘standard operating procedures’ there are issues on farm which need an SOP. For example farms often use SOPs for dry cows, mastitis treatments, milking and cleaning the parlour.

“There are things we like to do consistently and we like our employees to do things correctly so we give them an SOP. So, as managers we should also have a similar system for making decisions.”

Dr Eicker recommended using a written framework (see panel) when making a decision and added it was important to make notes on how the decision was made and keeping a printed document as a record.

Dr Eicker said it was then important to be able to monitor the change and admit to making a mistake if it was not working.

“However what we monitor to get to this point is often wrong and in many cases the accuracy and timeliness of the monitor is not right,” he said.

For example Dr Eicker said when rearing heifers, most producers would focus on average age at first calving.


“This is a good goal but a terrible monitor. A few outliers could change the average dramatically.

“There are better monitors, for example the number of heifers which have not bred by 13 months of age.

“Goals are good, but do not use them as a monitor.

“Dairy producers need to monitor how they get to a goal, rather than decide at the end if they have done well.”

Decision making standard operating procedure

  • Describe what the change will be
  • Establish how much it will cost
  • What will you see by doing this?
  • When will you see this change?
  • How will you measure this change?
  • How will you measure the economics?
  • Document how to undo the change if it does not work

Steve Eicker – conference quotes

“Lactation curves are useless information as they only give us data, which is months old.”

“Calving interval is a good goal for fertility, but a terrible monitor. Instead, I look at pregnancy risk, which is the percentage of open cows which could get pregnant in the next 21 days.”

“Believe it or not we all want a higher feed bill, because a higher feed bill is caused by the things we all want to see on our farms; better reproduction, less lameness and mastitis, more efficient parlour management, an expanding herd, etc; things which all lead to increased intakes and more milk.”

“Genomics is an absolute science, the game is over.”

“Do not assume you will make more money just by having older cows in your herd.”

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