This article title combines two important pieces of running a high-performing dairy. First, it embraces the acronym CANI (constant and never-ending improvement), which is its own subject. CANI stems from the Japanese philosophy Kaizen. On the surface, it represents that nothing is ever finished or declared perfect; rather there is always room for improvement.

Living the CANI philosophy requires owners, managers and team members at all levels of a dairy to make incremental improvements. Even if it is only small steps, every dairy team needs to be improving every day.

One of the key team members on a high-performing dairy is the nutritionist. Not all nutritionists are created equal, nor are they equal at embracing CANI, yet that should not change how important their job is to the dairy. Meeting the nutritional needs of a high-performing dairy cow is one of the most challenging tasks in the nutrition world, so you want the right nutritionist on your team. Based on 40 years of combined consulting experience, we compiled a 10-point checklist for putting a nutritionist on your team who will help the dairy constantly improve.

  1. Hire a nutritionist who is intentional about constant and never-ending improvement. All nutritionists claim to stay sharp, but how do you know they are. Request specific details. Do they read scientific journals? Do they attend scientific meetings? The best nutritionists will do both of these and beyond; many will even volunteer time to review scientific journal articles to keep research moving forward. Some nutritionists work with professional business coaches who challenge them to keep from getting stale. Many go on industry tours to broaden their horizons and make sure they see more than just their clients’ facilities.

  2. Check references. Check nutritionists’ track records. If their current clients have anything less than effusive praise, it is usually a caution flag. The best nutritionists are willing to provide references anytime.

  3. Hiring local is a caution flag. Nutritionists who never get out of a confined geography tend to have a narrow perspective. The best nutritionists are well traveled, which opens their paradigm of thinking and promotes efficient cross pollination of best practices and technology. This is a massive strength during challenging scenarios like feed shortages caused by wet or dry years. We believe it is a huge advantage to have a nutritionist travel in to serve your dairy.
  4. Hire an independent. Working with a nutritionist who is not tied to a product or feed company allows more flexibility and more unbiased views. If the nutritionist is paid by use of a certain product, how can you be sure that product is in the best interest of your dairy?

  5. Get to know your nutritionists’ network resources and teams they leverage. No consultants or businesses can thrive by themselves. Great consultants have teams of industry partners with whom they constantly collaborate. The best nutritionists have several alliances if needed for troubleshooting and training. Sometimes, it is even a friendly relationship with a competing consulting group.

  6. Hire a nutritionist who is transparent about mix formulas. Each dairy should know what ingredients are in their feed. If nutritionists won’t discuss the details of their formulas, are they not confident in their ability? You want someone who is confident and transparent, that way when challenges come up, it is possible to bring in outside eyes like allied industry to help address the concern. Or, if feed cost is a concern and you want to bid your feed mixes through another supplier, having transparency in the formulas can be valuable.

  7. Ask plenty of questions. Nobody wants to be bored by details, but don’t be afraid to get clarity. As a start, make sure you dive into the nutritionist’s qualifications and experience.

  8. Hire someone who is an efficient communicator. Poor communication is a leading cause of business failure. Further, we live in a busy world, so efficiency of communication is key. You want nutritionists who work hard to efficiently communicate with employees at all levels of the dairy and are able to communicate in a timely manner. It’s a bad situation when nutritionists imply they are too important to deal directly with employees who aren’t owners or managers.

  9. Avoid antiquated nutrition philosophies. Sure, experience has merit, but in our ever changing world, yesterday’s practices will get you yesterday’s results. Production per cow is on an ever-increasing trend, and our feeding practices must match this climb. Ration formulation models are evolving, ingredients are changing and facilities are different. The best nutritionists adapt and embrace these changes.

  10. Seek above-average information technology (IT) skills. This is super important for looking at records and feed software. Further, communication, ration modeling, least costing and training all require a great deal of information technology. As technology progresses, so will the use of IT; you want someone on your team who is not shy about embracing it.

When it is time to hire a nutritionist for your dairy, please consider this list as a way to help ensure you are building the right team. Constant improvement is invaluable for success, and that goes hand in hand with having the right nutritionist on your dairy team. When the dairy has success, so does the family and community around them, and that is what we love to see.  end mark

Sean Cornelius is an independent nutritionist for Best Axis Nutrition. Email Sean Cornelius.

Chad Mullins