Are there wolves, crouching in the shadows, ready to devour your business?

Dairy managers need to be aware of lurking small problems and keep an eye on the future.

Though it is tempting to bury your nose in managing the day-to-day operation on a dairy, dairy herd owners have very important roles beyond that. Two of those critical roles are: (1) planning the long-term success of the farm business by positioning it based upon anticipated constraints and opportunities, and (2) looking beyond the day-to-day success of the dairy to detect the current blind spots in the operation that can suddenly bite the owner.

These roles were brought into focus recently by the apparent lack of attention paid to them on a farm that I recently visited (not in Michigan, so you guys can breathe a sigh of relief!).

Let’s talk first about the short-term role—detecting blind spots. When things seem to be going well, it is easy to ignore the foreshadowing of troubling times. Maybe it is a high cull rate and lack of internal herd growth, a growing lameness problem, or employee performance or productivity that keeps slipping. These are examples of incubating problems that may become big problems sooner or later. A farm can be profitable today or have a great herd average while these problems are small, but experience a future crash if they are not recognized and dealt with.

Do you look beyond the current milk production level? Do you look beyond today’s checkbook balance? Detecting potential problems is critical to a business’s success and wise dairy managers will be looking for the current signs of future problems.

Planning for the long-term is part of the other critical role I mentioned. Dairy owners need to look down the road and project what their business must become in order to be successful given what we know about trends in the industry and business environment. The increases in feed and fuel prices are probably not short-term. Do you need to consider changes in your business structure or model that will improve your odds of success, avoid a constant financial crunch and/or take advantage of opportunities?

What future land or labor limitations should you be planning now to navigate?  What responses are needed for potential increases in regulations or market demands? What partnerships might enhance your business?

We all know that past success does not guarantee future success.  And in today’s environment we can’t let up.  The reason these things are on my mind is that it seemed that a dairy that was doing well today was oblivious to lurking problems and inattentive to future limitations to their business.

So don’t let up. Use another set of eyes if necessary. Frequently, others can see things that are blind spots to us. This is where your “management team” can help. Track various measures of herd performance and don’t write-off ones that are weak. Ask your employees about problems and opportunities that they see. Be open to critical input. Do some long-range planning and project what your dairy needs to look like in 10 years in order for it to be successful then.

Be diligent about these two roles that may not garner your attention daily. This diligence will pay off in a better operation that meets your goals tomorrow as well as today. Think of it as keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the map—and have a great journey!

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