The Importance of Veterinarians and Nutritionists for Dairy Farm success through the 2020s

This decade has started with opportunities and challenges. While challenges due to COVID, disrupted conventional supply chains, increasing costs, depleting water table, manpower availability.climate changes, political and regulatory structural changes are huge, there are opportunities due to availability of new and affordable technology, greater market access, increasing per capita consumption etc.

Over the last 10-15 years, the size of farms has increased and many commercial sized dairies have come up. During this period of transition, a milking parlour and herd management system has been considered the most important tool to manage scale. 

Leading into the next decade, indications are that the opportunity of farm to table is huge. For this, the role of a dairy farmer is evolving into a multi-faceted one requiring diverse skill-sets. The farm must focus on improving and maintaining herd health, optimizing feed efficiency & yield, retaining & skilling manpower, maintaining financial health, innovation for new product development, optimising sales logistics, customer acquisition and customer service.

To manage scale, farmers need to operate more like coordinators or CEOs for their farms. Their role is to ensure the farm establishes protocols, trains farm employees how to implement them, and monitors outcomes of effort put in. Professionals, as consultants, need to play an increasingly important part in managing scale.

Data-Driven, Timely Actions will be key in 2020s

To run a successful farm through the changing environment of the 2020s, optimum and timely data-driven decisions will be key. For this establishing strong protocols and deployment of technology will be critical – there is a huge opportunity cost to delaying the same. 

It is critical to have a competent team in place to drive protocols and technology.

Team affordability and composition

Given the limited scale of dairy farms, having inhouse competencies may not be a financially viable option for the farmer. This is critical to tap the opportunity presented by the decade of the 20s. Hence, as an alternate the farmer will need to weave together a team of external consultants. 

The individuals who comprise this team must be able to setup processes to allow farm management and herd upkeep at minimum costs. The veterinarian and nutritionist are typically the individuals who make up the team responsible for the maintenance of herd health. In some cases, additional specialists and technicians may be included – primarily a dairy technologist and a software support team.

Evolved role of Veterinarians

The job of a dairy veterinarian has shifted from primarily clinical work to helping establish protocols, meet guidelines, and train employees. Veterinarians are key resources when establishing protocols for calving, newborn care, animal-handling, disease detection, minimise antibiotic use and minimise somatic cell count. Veterinarians must be able to advise and train farm staff on how to implement a protocol, recognize issues, and determine the best steps to resolve health-related issues. Veterinarians are also important consultants when it comes to reproductive health. They are able to help fine-tune specific synchronization techniques and heat detecting procedures that are cost effective or are a best fit for an individual operation.

Nutritionist responsibilities

Nutrition is central to the health and performance of dairy cows. Nutrition lays the foundation for a cow’s success through all stages of her life and lactation. Nutritionists’ primary role in the dairy industry is the balancing of dietary components to produce high quality feed promoting optimal milking performance. Every dairy has its own goals and every cow and every facility are unique; so, nutritionists are tasked with establishing diets that work best for each individual operation. Nutritionists also offer knowledge on what management practices optimize feed efficiency, health, cow comfort, and other aspects that impact profitability. They are able to advise on how things from feed storage, feed mixing, and feeding routines can impact the efficiency in cows.

Value Addition and New Product Development 

Dairy technologists can help with new product development, pricing strategies and market launches. Their expertise comes in handy in order to maximise return per litre of milk, minimise time to market, maximise product success, and ensure regulatory compliance.

Software and technology touches all aspects of dairy business

Gone are the days when herd management and parlour system was the most important decision a farm would make. Farm can resort to technology in all steps of the dairy business. Starting from social media, online marketing, MIS for decision making, implementation of protocols and monitoring adherence and results thereof, sales management, streamlining operations, tracking employee efficiency, herd data management, compliance reporting. The returns from using technology and software for processes can be exponential. It will be in the interest of dairy farms, not to upfront investment on technology but opt for pay on usage basis or subscription basis for technology and minimise exit barriers if any.

The Farmer must coordinate with all team-members and stakeholders

Farmers have a large workload and often have a hand in all aspects of the farm. The farmer not only serves as an information liaison and communicates to both the employees who are interacting directly with the animals and the consultants who are helping to establish protocols and procedures on the farm, but also serves as a key person with customers, bankers, regulator and other stakeholders. Farmers must have an open line of communication with everyone involved. Procedures or protocols cannot be expected to work unless they are properly communicated to the employees who are using them daily.  It is also critical to monitor adherence to processes and evaluating results. Now-a-days, technology can assist with implementation of protocols and monitoring adherence and results. Noteworthy, choice of sire for improving the breed of the farm is a very technical subject and shall require the farmer to take special attention.

Teamwork is key to success

Each member of the core team behind a dairy brings to the table their own set of expertise and skills. Additionally, they bring differing opinions. For the benefit of the herd it is necessary that they work together as one unit with the common interest of improving the dairy. Regularly scheduled visits to provide extra sets of skilled eyes to look over the herd and detect issues that may have been overlooked and to provide an opportunity for everyone to sit down and assess what is working and what needs improvement is ideal. Additionally, every member being willing and able to touch base with each other frequently is important and not exclusively reserved for when a problem arises. At end of the day consistent cooperation and communication is critical  to ensure the herd is healthy and the dairy is successful.

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