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For almost 30 years, Lactanet has recognized the Best Managed Dairy Herds in Canada utilizing the Herd Performance Index (HPI). This tool is used by dairy producers coast to coast to monitor performance, track progress and identify opportunities for improvement.
Six indicators are used in the HPI including milk value, udder health, age at first calving, herd efficiency and longevity. Milk value is the average dollar value of milk components for actual production of all the cows in the herd using current milk prices. The average somatic cell count (SCC) is used as the indicator for udder health. Herd efficiency measures the number of cows milking on test day and is about finding the right balance for a herd, and a mid-range value (40th-80th percentile) will score higher than extreme highs and lows. Increased longevity allows for higher production, decreased animal replacement costs and excess animals to sell as replacements. Calving interval measures heat detection and herd fertility in overall reproduction management.
Progressive Dairy asked the top herds from each province what management tool from the HPI they may have altered or more keenly managed in 2022 as they made their way to the best spot among their peers in their province. Here’s what they had to say.
West River Farm Ltd., British Columbia
"We have placed a lot of focus on our heifer inventory in the last few years, managing closely for the right number of efficient, profitable and reliable replacement animals. This year, we saw our greatest gain in the area of udder health as we reduced the number of older animals with consistently high cell counts, also resulting in a significant decline in longevity score due to changed herd demographics. We are excited for the genetic potential of our herd as they advance into future lactations."
—Grant and Eugene Sache
Mars Dairy, Alberta
"Our biggest investment in the past few years has been human resources. We invested in a skilled workforce with the goal to create a positive working environment, improve management practices and maintain a high employee retention rate.
"Our biggest improvement in 2022 for the HPI is longevity. We made improvements in animal care and cow comfort through sand bedding, 3X milking, rubber flooring and the construction of a transition barn. This all resulted in currently 60% of the herd third-lactation cows and higher."
—Gert and Sonja Schrijver
Del Dairy, Manitoba
"We have been abundantly blessed this past year on our farm. I married into the farm in 2014 and started managing the herd in 2018. I, along with my wife's dad, brother and sisters, do the milking and feeding. Over the year, there has been much growth with our cows hitting numbers they have not hit before. Production, butterfat and milk quality have been outstanding with an average somatic cell of under 100,000.
"We have made a number of changes over the past few years, but the biggest change this year has been our transition period. With 55% of our herd being third-lactation and over, having a good transition from dry to fresh is crucial for their lactation. Hoof health, cow comfort and a balanced ration are some of the major key components. We have an amazing feed rep that helps a great deal when it comes to giving the cows what they need, as well as our vet who gives me tips and tricks for a better transition.
"A lot of work goes into dairy farming. We have a great team, from our feed reps to our amazing veterinarian clinic – and most important, our family is what keeps this farm going. We are excited and looking forward to see what the coming year will bring."
Stewardson Dairy, Ontario
"The area we feel most improved is forage quality. We put more focus on all aspects in the production of our alfalfa haylage, cereal silages, corn silage and cob meal. There was a greater emphasis from the very beginning of growing the crops, proper harvesting techniques, storage and feedout.
"Consideration was given to choosing the appropriate seed, planting into ideal soil conditions, harvesting at the right moisture and maturity, as well as proper packing and covering.
"The end result for our farm was the ability to feed a diet to the milking cows that was over 70% forage and a reduction in purchased feeds. We also reduced our replacement costs by double cropping cereal silages and feeding them to our youngstock."
—Jeff, Brenda and Dylan Stewardson
Ferme Karibel Inc., Quebec
Editor's note: Ferme Karibel not only won the Best Managed Herd for the province of Quebec but for all of Canada.
"Compared to 2021, it is the value of our milk as well as the longevity that gave us more points than the previous year. Every day, I try to target the small deficiencies and see how I can improve it. In this sense, in 2022, both milk value and longevity were affected by the precision of my transition to an owner, complete investigations with my expert robot nutritionist and small modifications in our forage harvesting process for an optimal quality. Our longevity score increased with voluntary selection, less succession and, in the long term, an overall improvement in our genetics.
"Personally, I see my motivation day after day in the blossoming and the surpassing of my business and not in the objective to reach any rank. The HPI improves when the details are looked after."
—Isabelle Lasalle, Luc Lasalle and Jacinthe Breault
Hazelhill Farms, New Brunswick
"We are always striving to improve management practices by working with industry partners and employees on the farm to optimize cow health, productivity and profitability."
—John and Derek Robinson
Sunny Point Farms Ltd., Nova Scotia
"We actually focus our farm goals on maximizing profitable solids production while focusing on keeping our herd/udder health in check. We also have strict breeding metrics that we follow as well. The combination of these goals just so happens to align with Lactanet's Herd Performance Index."
—Phillip and Lori Vroegh
Tiny Acres Holsteins, Prince Edward Island
"Our family experienced Hurricane Fiona in full force in September of 2022. We prepared for the storm by adding extra tires to silage piles and making sure everything was secure. Before the wind died down, our neighbours arrived to help pick up the pieces of the freestall barn and to begin rebuilding.
"Within a few days, concrete was poured and a new barn took shape. Help came from a local church community that set up a schedule and raised the new barn within weeks. Our family is grateful to our neighbours and friends who came quickly to our aid. We are honoured to receive the prestigious award for the top-managed herd on Prince Edward Island."
Sunrise Dairy Ltd., Newfoundland and Labrador
“The areas that we have seen the most improvement in during the year 2022 would be trusting technology.
“It’s been our first full year since Sunrise Dairy Ltd. became a robotic herd and even though cow health is superior to us, robotic technology on the farm works.
“Learning to trust the technology, work hard and surrounding yourself with like minded people, you will be successful.”
—Jeff and Olive Greening