SIOUX FALLS, S.D. − As with any business, dairy farmers should always be looking for ways to improve profits.
    One idea is to create efficient, effective and cost-reducing maternity management on farms.
    “Lean farming is a way of helping farmers make more money,” said Dagmar Beckel from Golden Calf Company. “By eliminating waste or non-value-added activities such as searching for a calf tag or warming up colostrum, farmers can reduce their costs and maximize profits.”
    Dagmar and her husband, Andy, led “Lean Maternity,” a producer panel with Alaina McCann, calf manager at Twin Spruce Farm, and Eric Van Wyk, herd manager at Dykstra Dairy, March 30 at the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls.
    McCann milks 3,000 cows on Twin Spruce Farm in Richmond, Minnesota, and Van Wyk milks 3,000 cows on Dykstra Dairy in Le Mars, Iowa. The two producers shared ways they have improved the calf care programs on their farms and ultimately made their respective farms leaner.
    A lean farm eliminates waste or not value-added activities through continuous improvement in the pursuit of perfection of animal care, said Dagmar.
    “This can be done through the use of visuals, either with directions on posters showing how to feed the calf or tracing where the tube feeders go on the wall after they are washed,” she said.
    Andy agreed.
    “You want to have a system that keeps it visual so you can easily see where a tool is and determine when it needs to be replaced,” he said.
    Andy also said to be mindful of the amount of people and employees on farms. If warranted, consider processes that reduce the number of people involved.  
    “Lean is a way of getting rid of wasteful actions either in the maternity or somewhere else,” he said.  
    Dagmar said there are different types of waste such as waiting time.
    “What are the employees waiting on and what are the calves waiting on?” she said. “It should take about 30 minutes from when a calf is born to when it receives its first colostrum. Due to all these different activities such as milking the cow, warming up the colostrum or searching for a tag, it could take up to 130 minutes.”
    Andy agreed.
    “The calf does not really care if you have to warm up the colostrum or clean the tube feeder; it just wants to get the delivery of the colostrum,” he said.
    Another form of waste is overprocessing.
    “One example would be throwing a frozen bottle of water into a bucket of colostrum to chill it as quickly as possible,” Andy said. “It’s really wasteful because isn’t there a better and more hygienic way to do this?”
    At Twin Spruce Farm, McCann feeds pasteurized colostrum to young calves. The farm is capable of pasteurizing 12 cartridges of colostrum at a time.
    Previously, the farm was only able to pasteurize four colostrum bags at one time, McCann said.
    “If we had more than four calves, we’d have colostrum sitting on the floor or sitting on the shelf waiting to be pasteurized,” she said. “In that time, we’d have another cow calve and we’d have to warm up that colostrum. We didn’t have any space in the colostrum pasteurizer, so we’d have to warm it up in hot water.”
    They also moved to using disposable tubes.
    “We sometimes have Jerseys on our farm, so we were using a plastic tuber because the stainless-steel tuber was too big,” McCann said. “It just wasn’t healthy for the calf. We’d use it multiple times, and we’d wash it. But, it wasn’t really sanitized. So, we got rid of that because we could never get the cleaning tube up the pipe.”
    McCann said both of those changes have resulted in healthier calves.
    “The disposable tubes are not as likely to damage the throat on the little calves,” she said. “It helps tremendously and it makes it easier on the new employees.”
    Van Wyk also started using disposable tubes.
    “You never have to worry about the calves scouring and wondering if the tuber is clean,” he said. “We used to get the ATP meter out and swab the tuber. If it was not very clean, we’d throw the tuber out and get a new tuber. Now, it’s just a single use thing, and our (ATP) scores went down.”
    Van Wyk pasteurizes 12 cartridges of colostrum at a time and added a thawing unit to make feeding colostrum more efficient.
    “Our pasteurizer took a lot of water and electricity just to heat the water for one bag,” he said. “We added the second smaller unit to thaw with, and that’s made our process more efficient in the maternity pen because we are able to use less water and electricity since it’s only made to thaw out two bags of colostrum.”
    In the process of improving calf care, McCann and Van Wyk also eliminated waste.
    “Van Wyk got rid of utilizing the ATP meter, and along the way, he also stopped wasting valuable time and losing money on the equipment,” Andy said. “They also eliminated other wastes such as water and brushes which were used for cleaning the equipment.”
    Dagmar said standardization is also a way of improving a dairy.
    “If you tell someone to clean their room or draw a pig, they’re going to do it however they want,” she said. “Whereas, if you have parameters or standardizations, things will get done the same.”
    The panelists discussed ways they standardize practices on their dairy.
    “We have the day shift employees train the night shift employees until they are ready to go to their shift,” McCann said. “We also have posters in both English and Spanish.”
    Van Wyk’s farm also has training protocols in place to prepare their employees for situations in the maternity area.
    “We have new employees watch training videos, such as how to pull a calf, and have cameras in all the barns so we can see what is going on,” he said.
    By getting rid of wasteful actions, making visuals and standardizing, dairy farming becomes easier and more cost efficient.
    “You have to be thinking of how you can be more lean on your dairy,” Andy said.