How to monitor your dairy herd

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“On any sized dairy operation, there are a multitude of events occurring from the time a calf is born until she leaves the herd,” writes Penn State Extension Dairy Specialist Virginia Ishler.

And she’s right.

So how are you tracking those events? Software programs are available to help organize specific events and manage tasks for your dairy herd. But the records are only as good as the person entering the data and are only useful if someone is monitoring those events.

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1From calf to heifer
As soon as the calf is born, her record begins with ID and genetics. Keep track of colostrum feedings, treatments and vaccinations performed and when they should continue to be performed.

After weaning, records often include movement of the heifer from pen to pen, or barn to barn. Continue to keep track of any necessary treatments and feed regimens.

The next major step is keeping track of when the heifer goes into heat and the number of times bred.

2Lactating cows
Once the animal is bred, there may be follow-up vaccinations, possible hoof trimmings and, of course, a record of the expected calf delivery.

As the lactating cow enters the herd, records increase. There will be events related to health (both preventatives and treatments), production, milk quality, reproduction, hoof trimmings, body condition scores, and others depending on the operation.

3Using digital records
With the appropriate software program, develop a system for entering information on a daily basis, on all animal groups in the herd.

  1. Develop standard operating procedures for events such as freshenings, vaccinations, breedings, and treatments.
  2. Depending on herd size, on a daily or weekly basis, generate herd reports to check that all animals received vaccines, treatments and other age-related protocols.
  3. On a monthly basis, review the number of health incidents by age, pen and/or stage of lactation.
  4. Based on findings, make adjustments in protocols to correct any problems.

4Economic perspective
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working. For lactating cows, income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production.

Taking the time to take complete records results in finding problems within the herd faster and correcting those problems sooner — minimizing production loss.

Source: Benefits of Recording and Monitoring Cow Events,  Virginia A. Ishler, Penn State Extension dairy specialist.

(Farm and Dairy is featuring a series of “101” columns throughout the year to help young and beginning farmers master farm living. From finances to management to machinery repair and animal care, farmers do it all.)

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