During the Western Regional Dairy Challenge held in Twin Falls, Idaho on March 4-6, 50 students from five universities across the Western states were acquainted with a dairy and the problems that can come from family farming on a large scale.

“It’s a strength that they are able to work together as well as they are,” said John Day, veterinarian with Dairy Health Services. “[They need to] look at how these issues can be addressed to fix problems that affect one enterprise but are happening in another enterprise.”

(Be sure to view the at the bottom of the article.)

While each member of the family has some influence in different aspects of the whole operation, the judges noticed that significant problems in the parlor were probably due more to feed delivery, or heifer raising, than what might be taking place in the milking stalls.

“There are too many players without an overarching/overall run of the operation,” Day continued. “Where they are fixing the broken cows, they need to be fixing what’s causing the cows to be broken in the first place. They can’t get to that the way they are organized right now. The integration of the different parts of the operation aren’t as complete as they should be, so there are lots of things slipping through the cracks. When something isn’t working in this area, it’s not getting addressed in the area that it should be. Instead the person that’s dealing with that problem is doing the best he can, but it’s not keeping that problem from occurring over and over again.”


For instance, the dairyman was frustrated with calves not surviving birth or heifers having too many displaced abomasums. Was this a problem on the dairy? The judges thought the heifers should be coming to the dairy bigger and taller, which would help alleviate some of these problems. And the judges were not encouraged with the silage quality, which would affect herd health and production.

So what did the visiting students find?

The first team to present was Robby Thomen (California Polytechnic State University), Brian Waymire (California Polytechnic State University), Carl Betts (University of Idaho), Nicole Hurt (University of Alberta) and Jennifer Trice (Washington State University). They thought the employees on the dairy knew their responsibilities and there was a good understanding of chain of command and protocol.

The team suggested three main areas to start improving – labor force, transition cow management and ration delivery. They suggested that 70 cows per employee was not very efficient, especially given the industry’s current economic struggles. The dairy kept bulls in the transition pens for cleanup, but were also doing walk-behinds and chalking. Then the ration particles were too big, causing the cows to decrease their feed intake.

“For example for the bulls, we pointed out how much it’s costing them per year to feed them, and then they are already walking behind the cows, chalking them,” said Waymire. “Between the two pens only 50 cows were eligible to breed.”

“Another thing we’d like to see is a smoother transition period, especially first lactation, but for all the cows,” said Thomen. “And that would give them higher peaks, less metabolic disorders and a better start.”

“Plus lower calf death loss,” added Hurt.

Day says the total impact of poor transition is hard to quantify because you have the costs associated with displaced abomasums and metabolic disorders, but then you also have to think about all the money lost in missed opportunities. He emphasized that each pound of milk off the peak is worth 400 pounds in a lactation. So if the cows aren’t transitioning well, this dairy is missing a lot of milk.

Dairy challenge is about learning and growing, so this dairyman has taken the opportunity to have seasoned veterans and young, fresh perspectives look at his business and probably institute changes that will improve his bottom line and the health of his business.

“They are very open to ideas on how to make improvements,” Day said. “A willingness to allow all these people to come crawling around their dairy, and then to sit and listen to a bunch of people telling them what’s wrong with their dairy. It takes a thick skin, but if they are willing to listen they will learn an awful lot and it will be a great value.” PD

Platinum winners: Team 1
Brian Medeiros (California Polytechnic State University), Jennifer Spencer (Univeristy of Idaho), Stewart Russell (University of Idaho), Alex DeJager (California State University -- Fresno)

Platinum winners: Team 2
Robby Thomen (California Polytechnic State University), Brian Waymire (California Polytechnic State University), Carl Betts (University of Idaho), Nicole Hurt (University of Alberta) and Jennifer Trice (Washington State University)

Brian Waymire and Robby Thommen, students at Cal Poly and platinum winners, participated in the Western Regional Dairy Challenge and share why they took part and why they are proud to dairy.

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