SALEM, Ohio- Even the best dairies have areas where they can squeeze a few more dollars.
Maybe it’s reproduction. Maybe it’s milk quality. Maybe it’s replacements. Wherever it may be, a new program in Pennsylvania is trying to help farmers find it.
DairyPRAT. The Dairy Profitability Risk Assessment Tool, more commonly called DairyPRAT, has been in the works for the last year and a half, and more than 50 Penn State experts have had their hands in its development.
The goal is to improve the profitability of Pennsylvania’s dairy operations, said program co-chair Brad Hilty.
The way it works. Farmers start by looking at four main areas of their operation: milk production and components; culling and replacement; reproduction; and udder health and milk quality.
Farmers answer questions under each of these categories and their answers are assigned a score. A Microsoft Excel program does the calculations and the area with the highest rating is the first place to look because it has the highest risk of profit loss, Hilty said.
Once that area is pinpointed, Hilty said the Drill Down Module begins.
You start by looking at the big picture, and once that’s identified, you begin looking at the details to isolate the specific problem, he said.
For example, if you find that milk production is the problem, you look at why. Is it because of forage quality? Cow comfort? Feed management?
Funnel through each of these areas, Hilty said, to identify where there is the biggest profit loss.
At the end, the program predicts how much money is lost because of these problems.
Testing. The program has been tested on 10-12 dairies, said program co-chair Mark Douglass.
Each of the operations is slightly different and each of the findings was a little different, too, he said.
The one consistency, however, was that reproduction needs more attention. The rate of calves being born dead is too high, he said.
On one farm that had a high mortality rate, the program also found there was a high ketosis rate. By using the tool, Douglass said they were able to pinpoint that the problem was dry cow handling.
By simply switching to a total mixed ration, cow health substantially improved. This inexpensive management change improved the farm’s bottom line, he said.
This is just the kind of thing researchers hoped to find when they developed DairyPRAT, Douglass said.
Find out more about DairyPRAT