I like rules. They provide structure, boundaries and an understanding of the system to work within.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

Sometimes, I like to break rules when I feel it is justified. Square pegs don’t fit in round holes, so you need to find another way to make them work – an exception to the rule, if you will.

However, a recent statement has me rethinking whether it is beneficial to break rules to better fit the odd scenario.

“Exceptions are expensive,” said a dairy producer at a recent conference. This producer was explaining how his farm prefers to use sort gates to pull out cows that need attention after they are milked, as opposed to headlocks where the entire pen of cows is held up to treat those that are the exception.

Similarly, their animal monitoring system helps them find the exceptions in the herd – those that need extra attention or perhaps some kind of intervention. Over time, they can identify those cows that fall in this category often and better decide if they are worth the extra time they require.


In addition, this producer is in the process of installing a parlour monitoring system. He plans to sort his cows based on milking speed. By removing the exceptions of each group and instead putting those with similar milking speeds together, he hopes to significantly reduce the overall milking time.

Look around your farm. Where are you making exceptions? Do you have a pen full of cows unable to lie down and rest while you preg check a small portion of them? How many cows are you treating time and time again because you don’t want to give them up? Are you holding several cows in the parlour away from feed and rest while the slowest milking cow takes her time to finish up?

Each of these instances can seem small in the moment, but when added together, they can start to amount to something significant.

Have you ever considered what these exceptions might be costing you? In most cases, it is time. Time away from the stall – which dairy researchers have quantified into lost milk – or time tied to the wage of the milker standing there watching that slow cow milk out.

“I try to eliminate as many exceptions as possible,” the producer added.

What can you eliminate? Could you be culling those cows that are in constant need of extra attention or maybe the one that milks the longest? You most likely have allowed them to become the exception because they produce a good amount of milk, but if they are stealing time, are they as profitable as you think they might be?

At our company, we are constantly looking to align processes to have everything done the same way. This speeds up our efforts to be able to work consistently within and across our teams. What can you better align for your team to eliminate exceptions that are taking place?

Once you eliminate the exceptions on your farm today, don’t fall into the trap again. When you find yourself making an exception to fit the square peg in the round hole, consider how expensive it might be and what you could be doing instead.