Mary Kinston: Good planning is the magic bullet for successful dairy farming
As the New Year begins and resolutions are made, dairy farmers will turn their attention to their goals for 2020.
Having reviewed Irish dairy financial returns for over a decade, I have found that the top class operators are not determined by area, milk price, cow type, soil type or weather.
They are simply farmers that stock the farm appropriately, do all the right things at the right times and achieve their performance targets as a result. They plan, prepare, execute and then review.
Goals need to be appropriate and, when drawn up, they must be informed by the wider business environment. Assessing your 2019 performance as accurately as you can will help identify what's been achieved and what gains can be made. The 2019 review should also be used to create your 2020 financial budget and determine where savings can be made.
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If the financial review isn't complete before mid-January, the chances of it being done at all diminish significantly. That's why the financial review and 2020 budget is a must on the January 'to do' list if you wish to make significant progress this year.
Fertility and herd management
From the day the heifer calf is born, you the farmer control all the factors that influence her future fertility and whether she gets in calf on time, every time.
Growth in stock numbers and stock attrition (loss) have a huge financial bearing on profit and cashflow.
Success breeds success if we achieve the 365-day calving interval, so what we do here in terms of calf rearing, the management of yearlings, cow condition score, calving date, calving rate and post-calving protocols in 2020 will all influence the farm's performance from 2020 to 2022. Therefore, in January the must 'to do' list should include:
Pre-calving minerals. Don't skimp here. In the last decade the kilograms of MS/cow have increased 45pc, taking minerals outside the farm gate with it. Aim for at least six weeks of minerals for dry cows. If incidences of retained cleansings, milk fever, difficult calvings are higher than normal, act quickly as mineral deficiencies can often be at the root of the problem.
Separate cows carrying twins and thin cows from the main herd for increased feed allocation and quality.
Prepare for the collection, storage and administration of high-quality colostrum. Farmer discussions on how this is done are interesting and variable. We save all our three litre milk cartons from the house and re-use once to store colostrum in a fridge ready for use.
Prepare calving facilities - gloves, lube, calving ropes, jack, cameras, working lights, head-torch, gates that latch - sooner than later as we all get caught with unexpected arrivals.
Have calf rearing spaces ready with functioning feeding equipment.
Train in-calf heifers in the parlour prior to calving by feeding them a little and getting them used to the noise of the machine to reduce post-calving stress.
Animal Health Protocol: The most valuable discussion with your vet is the discussion about your farm's animal health protocols. This should cover vaccinations for IBR, scour and possibly other conditions such as leptospirosis and salmonella, depending on the veterinary advice. Blood and dung samples should be taken to assess the parasite burden, mineral requirements, and whether or not a final fluke dose is required.
Farmer health and welfare
The spring workload is a significant contrast to winter for farmers and their families.
The Christmas season of eating well and being merry is quickly followed by the reality of fast and furious working days and nights that can leave you without adequate sleep and nutrition.
Going to the doctor for a check-up prior to the calving season is a good idea, as is a visit to the dentist.
Labour pressures on the farm need careful consideration to relieve pressure points.
Assessing your financial cash position and having adequate working capital to manage the seasonal depletion on reserves is also a worthwhile exercise.
Overall, the message is to identify areas that potentially cause stress for yourself and your family and consider solutions before you find yourself in the thick of it.
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