Since the summer of 2015, we have recognized more than 170 herds across the country for producing milk with at least 6 pounds of combined fat and protein components through a program called the 6 Pound Club.
What’s the secret to these highly successful herds? We interviewed three of these top producers, across the U.S., to learn how they have been able to achieve their inspiring results. While all three herds agree there is no simple solution when it comes to increasing components, it’s clear there are some common characteristics to success.
What are some of the key management areas that have contributed to your component production and efficiency?
Munk: Building a highly efficient and productive herd requires an investment in genetics and implementing best management practices that allow those genetics to thrive. We have always used well-proven bulls to maintain and grow our genetic pool. Proper nutrition, health and cow comfort during the transition period have a huge impact on realizing the potential of the calf as soon as it hits the ground. We treat the first colostrum feeding as the most important meal of her life and do everything to make sure the proper IgGs are provided in a clean and timely manner. Heifers must also have high-quality feed and ample growing space in the pens, or else you risk hindering their development.
Improving our feed quality and storage has helped us get where we are today. We try to put silage and haylage up as good as we can. We grow most of our feed, and what we don’t grow we buy in the field locally, so we have a lot of control over maturity since we are able to scout the fields and monitor them close to harvest. Our feed storage is properly shielded from the elements to help maintain quality. We know the more nutrients we can pack in every pound of feed, the more milk and components we can make, so we try to control it as closely as we can.
We’ve also incorporated new technology so we can have faster access to information. If production goes down significantly over half a day, we can now catch and remedy the situation faster versus having it go on a few days.
Kusilek: For us, it’s really hard to point to one area. We would rather attribute our success to looking at the business holistically. We’re not experts, but we are dedicated to doing the 10 to 20 little things that can make a difference. We take time for genetics, selecting bulls that rank higher in component production. We also try to carefully select employees with a gentle demeanor, a patient personality and a commitment to the team. Our goal is to maintain a stress-free environment and provide a consistent experience from one person to the next, one load of feed to the next, so the cow can flourish.
Minns: We pay very close attention to detail with forage management, and we’re not afraid to work to put up the best forage. Preparation is very meticulous. We make sure soil conditions are perfect when we get ready to put corn into the ground, practicing patience when needed. When it’s time for harvesting, we make sure we have the proper window. Again, we know how to be patient when we need to and how to go fast when we need to. Packing has to be perfect. We try to minimize shrink as much as possible. Feed is a major cost on a dairy, so we have to maximize that investment by doing it the best we can. We know good forage fermentation and storage helps contribute to high-performing cows.
Cow comfort and health is also very important. We raise all of our own youngstock so we have control of every single aspect; from the day a calf is born we try to maximize every ounce of growth we can for high production. From knowing precisely when to feed and vaccinate to replacing mattresses in freestall barns and providing comfort brushes, we do everything we can to provide the best care possible to all of our animals.
Were there any hurdles you had to overcome to get where you are today?
Munk: When we first started working with our consultant, Matt Leak, we were really just going through the motions of forage production without understanding the significant impact to quality. We just chopped corn and hay and put it in the pit. Matt spent a lot of time informing us on best production practices, the importance of testing and waiting for the right moisture levels, and now we chop a lot drier than we used to. We also started using low-lignin alfalfa to increase digestibility. We know the more nutrients we can put in every pound of feed, the more milk and components we can make.
Kusilek: We had to quit worrying about how we were going to save our way to financial independence. Instead, we shifted our financial focus from the expense side of the income statement to the revenue side. For us, it was better to further invest in the cows, facilities, feed and so forth to try to maximize revenue, and so far it’s worked out. Our results continue to tell us that investments in animal husbandry will return themselves.
Minns: For us, it was not getting relaxed and being OK with good enough, not tolerating stable. We are always looking for an edge, an area to improve. If you are going to be in the dairy business, you have to do it as good as you can, or you won’t be doing it very long. So we are neurotic about everything, and we’re always pushing to tidy up one more area.
Do you have any advice for other dairies looking to improve their milk components or efficiency?
Munk: It’s something you must commit to working toward, and you have to be all in. Ask yourself: Are we setting this goal or are we satisfied where we are at? If you’re all in, then you have to get all your ducks in a row. You can feed the best feed to your cows, but if the milk barn isn’t up to par that’s one huge hurdle, so you have to have all your ducks in a row – genetics, feed, facilities, everything.
Kusilek: There are a lot of factors that influence production and efficiency, so you need to look broadly at your operation. I feel my role is to find key leaders that buy in to the strategy, give them the tools to do their jobs, monitor the results and then get out of the way. Those key leaders, in turn, need to be in the trenches with the guys and convince them to do all the little things correctly and consistently. My consultant, Kevin Lagerstrom, tells me everyone seems to have great feed, great facilities and cattle. The differentiation is the commitment to detail and consistency on the little things.
Minns: You have to pay close attention to everything, especially your component efficiency number. We look at this number weekly with our consultant, Mark Spoor. We manage this as tightly and efficiently as we can, since this is for what we get paid. People who aren’t looking at this today could be leaving money on the table.
PHOTO: Braden Munk works with his consultant, Matt Leak, to understand the significance of best forage production practices. Courtesy photo.
- Cargill Strategic Technology Lead
- Cargill Animal Nutrition
- Email Mike Messman
Munk Dairy, Utah
7.19 pounds components
The younger generation of a father-son duo, Braden is bringing in the future.
Four Mile Creek Dairy, Wisconsin
7.26 pounds components
Former bankers turned dairymen, Jim and his wife, Audrey, have a unique perspective when it comes to analyzing dairy numbers.
J. Minns Farms LLC, New York
6.5 pounds components
A fourth-generation dairy farmer, Jake has worked his way through the family ranks and is currently a junior partner.