Allen J. Young
USU Dairy Management Extension Specialist

    A good friend of mine is a vice-president in a roofing company that employs approximately 180 workers. He told me of a situation in the company where a mid-level manager abruptly quit. This person was in charge of overseeing the work of several different crews of roofers. In the three months since this person quit, the company had documented a loss of over $300,000. I asked him, why? His answer surprised me, and I think, has direct application to the dairy business. He said that the problem wasn't good or bad decisions made after this person left -- it was that no decisions were being made. Catch that - no decisions were made. In the roofing business, it is critical that as one phase of the job finishes, the equipment and materials necessary for the next phase are on-site, ready to go, so that the crews are not sitting around "twiddling their thumbs." Gaps between phases can cause cost over-runs. In this case, the lack of a decision had increased over-runs by 25%.

    It made me start to wonder if situations like this occur on our dairies, resulting in financial losses which we are not documenting. In the business world, no decision is a decision. For any number of reasons, you have decided/chosen not to deal with a situation. The idea of "I'll do it later" is a no decision (I know because I do it all of the time). So I ask the question, "How much money is your dairy losing due to no decisions being made?"

    The list of possible decisions is endless on a dairy, so I will give just a couple examples to stimulate your thinking.

1. Equipment Maintenance:

    a.     Farm Equipment - Equipment should be greased, sharpened, repaired, and overhauled before it is needed. If you wait until the hay is ready to cut or a field should be planted to start this process and find that the equipment is broken and needs repairs, you will be held up from getting into the field. If the weather changes before you are ready (especially if the part needs to be ordered), you could sacrifice forage quality by letting the hay get too old. At a recent meeting that I attended it was stated that a 5% decrease in alfalfa NDF was worth $16,500/50 cows (scale it to your farm). Making the correct decision would be to plan ahead and do the repairs during a less busy time of the year.

    b.      Milking Equipment - The most expensive, most used piece of equipment on a dairy is the milking equipment, yet it is also the most neglected. Make the decision to not postpone regular maintenance. If regular maintenance can prevent 1 or 2 cases of mastitis per year, it can more than pay the cost to have someone come in and do a thorough check on the system. Lack of maintenance can lead to costly repairs or down-time, especially at inopportune moments, and to poorly milked cows. Get on a regular schedule and stick with it!

2. Facilities:

     I know of a dairy that needs additional facilities so that dry cows can be separated from the milking cows and allow grouping of lactating cows. They have two sites but can't decide which to use. This decision has been pending for several years. How much money are they losing in production, feed costs, and animal health by not making a decision? Ask yourself "What is the worst thing that could happen to me if I make this decision?" then do it.

    Making a decision is not easy. In many instances, large amounts of money are involved. However, lack of a decision is also costing you money. In the long run I think no decision is more costly than a bad decision. I know; I just replaced the air conditioner in my car, at my expense, because of a no decision. ©