By Rebecca White
Do you utilize technology to improve your dairy production or fall back on it when your management techniques are inadequate?
Today at the Penn State Dept of Animal Science Seminar, Dr. Kathy Soder from the USDA-ARS-Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Lab, presented “Opportunities, Challenges, and Research Efforts in the Northeastern Organic Dairy Industry”. Dr. Soder discussed why dairy producers chose to transition to organic and some of the pros and cons. One of the pros was producing milk under organic standards and regulations forced the dairy operators to become better managers, or at least the ones who were able to succeed.
Some of the rules that are included in organic dairy production include exclusion of chemicals in crop production and “no” antibiotics for animals. I use “no” because if an animal continues to be sick, antibiotics must be used for welfare concerns however, they are not allowed back into the herd.
Because of the limited amount of technology you can use on an organic operation, the managers are forced to address issues immediately or prevent them from happening in the first place in order to succeed and stay in business. By no means does this indicate conventional dairies are not addressing issues or preventing them but I raise the question: are some dairies relying on technology to fix mistakes rather than enhance productivity?
Technologies have helped the dairy industry and will continue to allow more opportunities to produce abundant, healthy and affordable food for years to come. Utilizing these technologies should allow dairy operations to produce milk more efficiently and improve profitability. However, if the technology is fixing poor management, where have we gained on efficiency? If you utilize a product that will increase your milk production by 10 lbs but cows aren’t being bred back in a timely manor or age at first calving is 28 months, did you gain profits or was your investment a wash?
I fully support the utilization of products that can help dairy producers. But I remind you to always bring it back to the basics: if your management is not meeting your full potential how will a band-aid fix a bullet wound?
I often get questions about types of feed or new products to increase milk production and I usually answer back with questions about their cow comfort. The bottleneck or the most limiting factor that is inhibiting maximum production is usually a management issue on these farms. Access to water and feed, clean stalls, bunk space, sprinklers and fans, and quality forages are all areas that can be improved on these dairies but often overlooked especially when the promise of a quick fix is an option.
I hope all farmers will be allowed to make decisions on their own farms without being over regulated but with the current atmosphere I fear that more regulations will be put in place deciding what technology can be utilized. I urge all dairy producers to be the most effective managers and utilize technology as an enhancement to their profitability, not a crutch.