What I learned when I became a dairy manager
Working in dairy management changed my perspective on veterinary medicine and the services that veterinarians should provide to clients, especially on larger dairy farms. While the cows are the main income producers on a dairy farm, there is a lot more to running a farm than managing cows. Labor, capital, crops, manure, and feed procurement all need to be managed, along with all of the other tasks connected with running a small business. So cow management may not always be at the top of the owner's mind, and is usually delegated to employees. Veterinary emergencies are not true farm-level emergencies. Clients want good emergency service but a successful intervention only benefits one cow. True emergencies are those that affect the farm's ability to produce and sell its product: a refrigeration failure, a drug residue in a milk tank, equipment failures, labor issues. Vets tend to focus too much on per cow averages and diseases. Profit is determined by the total amount of milk or milk solids the farm sells, not the per-cow average production. Averages tend to have bias and momentum. Management should focus on cows that are not performing well and try to prevent future cows from having the same problem. Monitoring should focus on things that can be changed quickly and promise quick results, like reforming a failing colostrum program. Many traditional veterinary services only benefit one cow. It is better to focus on interventions that help the productive cows in the herd. They have trouble executing those recommendations. Change on a dairy farm is not easy and may affect many people. Advice should come with an implementation plan.