I was told that this data was then entered into a computer program and analyzed. It looked impressive until you realized the quantity graduation marks on the milk jars had long disappeared and the feed was simply dispensed by means of a plastic scoop and what was left uneaten by one cow just accumulated until the trough was full and required no further scoops.
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There was also no attempt to reconcile individual data to total feed used or total milk collected. Milk production revenue is determined by the quantity and the quality; the butterfat percentage and the cleanliness of the milk measured by somatic cell count. Milk is stored on the farm in refrigerated tanks and collected daily.
The quantity is measured as the milk leaves the farm before it gets added to the collection tank.
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Samples are also collected so that the quality of the milk can be measured in a laboratory. The butterfat and somatic cell count are reported back to the farmer daily and the price of milk is adjusted accordingly. The quantity of milk a cow will give on any given day is determined by its food intake, its genetic potential and most importantly where it is in its reproductive cycle.
The quantity of milk follows a very predictable and well known lactation curve. Again I know this not only because it is part of my agricultural training but also as a consultant I had to predict the total herd yield in order to calculate the cash flow for a number of dairy farmer clients and I did this by hand, without the aid of a spreadsheet. Consulting for dairy farmers is actually a bad idea unless you like getting up very early, as they finish milking at six in the morning and want to talk.
Now, back to our farm in Africa. Butterfat is determined by genetics and diet so the amount and the composition of the cake fed during milking is an influencing factor but only in the context of the whole diet. It takes a lot of very accurate data and enormous skill to improve butterfat, and in the end it really is all about genetics.
So, my solution if you want to increase butterfat is to add a couple of Guernsey or a Jersey cow to the herd. Onto cleanliness; the somatic cell count now, that really is something that is in the direct control of the operator.
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Clean the cows before you milk them, disinfect them afterwards, treat cows infected with mastitis and mark them so you never allow their antibiotic laden milk to contaminate your saleable milk and of course keep your dairy and the surrounding area scrupulously clean. My recommendation was to let the manager deal with the breeding and feeding programs and let the dairy operators focus on keeping the dairy clean.
To do this they needed a single number, the Somatic Cell Count SCC , they did not even need to know how it was calculated. A single number between excellent and very poor was all that was needed, put it up on the wall where they can see it, update it every day and give them a bonus if the number goes down. The lesson here is that it is not only about the data, it is about the data that is within the capabilities of the system and that is relevant to the users.
Of course a dairy farmer with state of the art equipment, that is regularly maintained and calibrated to automatically measure individual yield and the ability to deliver precisely measured amounts of high quality cake, can fine tune the short term economic efficiency of a herd.
Given the right internal and external data, a rigorous breeding and selection program will also enhance the efficiency of a herd, but by small percentages over decades. If truth be known, in this instance the profitability of the dairy was probably not even about production data but more about the marketing skills of the manager which came down to. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
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