The More it Changes, the More It Stays the Same…

Recently at the Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, we heard an excellent presentation by Mike Lormore, Director, Cattle & Equine Technical Services at Zoetis, regarding the various profitability variables all producers contend with in their daily operations. The presentation, entitled “What Drives Financial Success on a Dairy?” was based upon extensive research with Ag Star, a leading dairy lender in the upper Midwest.   I believe this presentation was exactly on target with what I have seen in my consulting work during the past 19 years. While there are many profitability variables to contend with, and this research does not suggest that ignoring one of the lower correlated variables would ever be a good idea, the top three are all ones that I have had the opportunity to deal with in each and every financial turn-around situation. They are the ECM level of the dairy operation, its 21-Day Pregnancy Rate and its heifer survival rate.   Let’s explore why these are the top factors:

  • Energy Corrected Milk per cow per day – This is fairly basic. Most dairies get paid for the amount of milk they ship to their creamery, whether it is higher in components or simply greater in milk flow quantity. As long as they are keeping feed costs and other expenses in line, the higher ECM herds will tend to be more profitable. Now, before you write me to tell me about the exception you found to this rule, please remember that we can always find exceptions to every rule, but this rule holds for most herds. Somatic Cell Count is also a factor here – think milk bonuses! Creameries only give these financial incentives for lower SCC.
  • 21-Day Pregnancy Rate (or risk) – I have seen this in so many difficult financial situations. Low Pregnancy Rates equal financial challenges ahead. Simply stated, a higher pregnancy rate leads to more pregnant cows, which leads to more fresh cows, which then leads to more milk, which certainly helps to pay more bills, assuming all other factors are consistent within a given dairy business. More ECM, as outlined in #1 above, is more profitable. For most dairies, this higher ECM only comes via more fresh cows, which is a direct result of getting cows pregnant sooner. I have Clients who regularly push a 30% PR, and their higher PR leads to more fresh cows and higher levels of ECM.
  • Heifer Survival Rate – It is incredible to me how many operations that have financial challenges ignore their heifer survival rates. Do so at your own risk. Keeping more heifers alive is like putting money in the bank. Often, I hear that selling heifers is the last step before the death of a dairy… I say, not so fast. Selling heifers, if it is part of your regular financial plan (and not a “fire sale…”), can generate some nice cash flow, which, if you sell them as fresh two year olds allows you to be taxed only at Capital Gains rates (and you can keep their heifer calves, too, adding more to the value of your herd!).

These are just the top points from Mike’s excellent presentation. However, if focus on your level of ECM, your 21-day Pregnancy Rate and your Heifer Survival Rate, your profits will not only increase, but many of your related variables will also improve.   Remember, as I previously stated in my February 28, 2017 blog, and as presented by Dan Sullivan, Founder of The Strategic Coach:   “If you measure something, you can understand it. If you understand something, you can control it. If you can control something, you can improve it.”   I hope you find these discussion points helpful. If I can assist you with your business in any way, please let me know. Be sure to watch for upcoming announcements of my new program entitled Six Hours to your Best Year Ever! available at soon.