I know it’s old, but I get tickled when I hear the saying, “Remember, you’re unique … just like everyone else.” I’ve visited dairies from the West Coast to the East Coast, from Canada to South Texas. If it weren’t for the cows on the place, a non-industry person probably couldn’t tell a Wisconsin herd and a New Mexico herd were even in the same business (even though they usually are).

However, when you start looking at operations in specific regions, the distinctions can get kind of blurry. Recently, I visited several large dairies in southwestern Kansas. While on the first dairy, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is a pretty original set-up.” By the end of the trip, I had trouble remembering which dairy was which. That’s not a bad thing, though. It just means that they’ve learned from each other about adapting their operations to the area’s weather, markets and other elements.

One way to tell dairies apart is by their management style. Even separate dairies with the same owner will have unique systems in place. Some of these differences are unintentional and are often a result of things like the employees and the cows. Some are intentional and experimental and can be incorporated permanently, if proven effective. Fortunately in 2007, the price of milk has allowed many dairymen to experiment. Sometimes that experiment comes in the form of a year-end tax write-off. Nonetheless, no two dairy managers will spend their dollars the same – even though their strategies may be quite similar.

Often, dairy producers’ budget/business models resemble something like this: If you make a profit, put it back into the dairy (equipment, buildings, etc.); if you take a loss, ride it out. Of course, we’ve all probably seen operations running on different philosophies. But the successful ones seem to know how to spend money – when, where, why and how much. Spending money is directly related to priorities, and this is where all of the variety and diversity comes into play. This is where we see some dairies whose sole objective is to get bigger and sell more milk. Others put more emphasis on genetics and quality cattle. (See story on registered cattle in this issue on page 30 of the outside section.) On every dairy, there’s probably a strategy in place to most effectively meet the needs of the company that processes the dairy’s milk.

It’s a pleasure to visit a dairy that’s running like a well-oiled machine – one where the cows are happy and procedures are in place, where employees are invited to share new ideas. Come to think of it, this is a formula for success for nearly any business (minus the cow part). Yet it’s always surprising how these secrets are so well-guarded. You know, if you have a kid, you get bombarded with “tips” for raising the stinker. But good luck in finding out what your neighbor/friend is feeding the cows.


Still, in the end, regardless of priorities, strategies and business models, often the true recipe for success is happiness. May you have a blessed Christmas and New Year. We’re all connected, but we’re all unique. As always, God does the rest. PD