Four steps to achieving performance goals on the farm

Measuring, recording and posting performance data can enable the whole team to achieve improvements on the farm.

The goal was healthy calves. The farm owners determined that one of the most important factors in improving calf health was making sure that a sufficient amount of high-quality colostrum was given to calves soon after birth.

We all want to achieve greater things, so why do some people seem to be able to make improvements while others struggle? Maybe the answer is as simple as trying to climb without hitting all the steps.

Let’s look at a real example from a well-organized dairy farm that the Michigan State University Extension Dairy Team visited during a recent trip and see how the steps apply. In order to track progress, a goal has to be measureable. In this case, blood serum protein levels on calves would tell the story of effective transfer of maternal antibodies to the calf through the colostrum. Here are the steps this producer established:

Step 1. Set a Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

The KPI was serum protein greater than or equal to 5.5 g/dL. Every calf was sampled. A speadsheet listed the calf birth date, sampling date and serum protein level.

In this case, the KPI was a standard determined by research and accepted as being achievable and relevant. Other KPI’s, such as somatic cell count (SCC) or milking time or pregnancy rate, can be established to meet the specific goal you are interested in achieving.

Step 2. Make the KPI known and train to it.

Employees were told about the goal, the spreadsheet was posted and they were told what affected the serum protein level of the calves.

If employee performance impacts the measure, then they need to understand fully not only what to do but why those practices are important in reaching the KPI.

Step 3. Measure against the KPI and hold people accountable.

Every time an employee fed a calf on this farm, they had to sign for it. The same worksheet that listed the calf birth, blood sample date and serum protein level also listed who fed the calf. A manager calculated calf serum protein averages by the employees and listed those. In this case, the calves fed by Jaime averaged 6.0 while the calves fed by Ben averaged 5.3.

In addition, serum protein levels were averaged by the week and year-to-date. The percentage of calves that attained the KPI was also updated weekly. These each tell a story. While the weekly average and the year-to-date average were both greater than 5.6, only 55 percent of calves had attained the KPI level. Obviously, there were still some weak points in the program.

Step 4. Determine what is keeping you from the goal and reduce the barriers.

Just tracking a goal doesn’t make you achieve it, but it can help point to the places where there are failures that prevent you from attaining it regularly. Is there something that Ben is not doing right? Is there a problem with colostrum quality that needs to be solved? Are their standards for colostrum quality high enough?

Before we blame the employees, we need to understand what exactly are the limiting factors to achieving the KPI. It may be that we have to go back to our dry cow program and look at our vaccination plan or nutrition. It may be that our fresh cow protocol does not get cows milked soon enough to yield the highest quality colostrum. Having better information enables you to make better decisions and points the way to solving the problem.

Compare that to just recording that the calves aren’t doing well, but not knowing why that is the case. In situations like that, some producers may blame the weather, change the feeds or blame the employees, all of which tend to be unproductive responses that do not improve the situation.

Productive management involves 1) Setting KPI's, 2) Making sure that everyone involved knows what they are and their part in achieving them, 3) Measuring the results and holding people accountable to them, and 4) Determining the barriers to achieving the goals consistently.

Why not implement that in at least one area of your operation this week!

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