Effective managers have a variety of ways of making good things happen through people. The specific style may vary by individual, but in general, there are a few important characteristics of successful dairy management. First, successful dairy management should be based on biologically and economically sound principles that will take advantage of proven strategies.

Few people today question the wisdom of feeding a total mixed ration, using A.I. sires or adopting safe and effective preventive health approaches such as vaccines, but good managers understand how to select the correct mixer wagon for their operation and when to replace it; they understand the principle of genetic improvement through careful selection of a portfolio of sires; and they understand that while they may not grasp all of the principles of immunology, their herd veterinarian can help them design and implement a strategic vaccination program to help manage risk.

Second, good dairy management focuses on promoting responsive interpersonal relationships, strong people skills and provides adequate training to enable employees to correctly and efficiently complete their job. Well-managed dairies help people grow and develop their skills through appropriate and timely education and on-the-job training.

For example, if a dairy herd wants to improve their management of lameness, one approach is to identify a candidate for hire who has the appropriate training or to send an employee to a hoof trimming training school in order for that individual to develop the appropriate skills.

In this case, the manager has invested time and resources into improving the skills of an employee that will likely lead to improved herd performance. Subsequently, management should determine the impact of this training program and provide appropriate and timely feedback on how the employee is performing.


Third, successful dairy management will adopt and implement new protocols or procedures which have a high probability of success and avoid unnecessary complexity. A great example of this concept is the adoption of TAI (timed-A.I.).

Moving a herd that has never used TAI, nor had to find cows and give scheduled injections, from an estrus detection-based breeding approach to a very complicated TAI protocol, such as Double-Ovsynch with scheduled activities on four different days of the week, is very risky due to the complexity of the protocol and the critical importance of complete compliance.

While the TAI program has the ability to consolidate labor into discrete chunks of time, it still carries significant risk, and other options, such as a Presynch-Ovsynch program which still allows for the utilization of estrus detection after the second prostaglandin injection, may be easier and less risky for many herds.

Dairymen routinely make decisions in a risky and often uncertain environment. Astute management will carefully evaluate new opportunities for investment or implementation in their operation and adopt new technology, but only after careful consideration of the risks versus rewards.

Correct and profitable decisions are made when a dairyman chooses to use a certain product or technology and it delivers a profitable response, or when he decides not to use a product or technology because, in actuality, it would fail to deliver a profitable response, at least in his operation.

Conversely, an incorrect economic decision is made (Type I error) if the producer chooses to use a product or invest in a technology which does not deliver the expected profitable response. If he chooses not to use the product or technology when in reality it would have made him money, he has incurred lost opportunity cost by failing to use it and, thus, made a type II error.

Effective and successful managers work to reduce variation within the system in order to more clearly assess performance trends – when changes are made via the addition of a new product, technology or implementation of some protocol, good managers determine upfront how it will be monitored and evaluated.

For example, with the adoption of a TAI protocol, a new breeding code should be created to differentiate these inseminations from those based on estrus detection. Herd management software programs allow for multiple breeding and technician codes, so changes in reproductive management and performance can be easily measured and evaluated.

Of course, timely input of data is critical to monitor performance and high-quality operations will have one or more people dedicated to the entry of farm data in a timely manner.

Finally, successful dairy management requires good personnel management and “people” skills. The ability to effectively coach employees and communicate with them is often the major difference between a top dairy and an average one.

Employees need timely feedback regarding their performance and effective managers carefully critique their workers in an impartial and confidential way. Timely performance evaluations, reflecting both the positive and the negative, are critical for helping employees grow in their confidence and ability and, performed properly, will help them become more important parts of the team.

Equally critical is the importance of verifying that the apparent results or outcomes attributed to an employee are truly valid, accurate and the consequence of that individual’s work. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to editor@progressivedairy.com .

—Adapted from 2011 Society for Theriogenology Conference proceedings

Overton is a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine . Heins is a veterinarian completing a master’s degree in food animal medicine at the same institution.


Michael W. Overton
Department of Population Health
University of Georgia