Getting to the root

In this second part to the story of “Questioning three times” we delve into the deeper aspects that brought up the questions.

“Getting to the root of the problem” is an idiom based in agriculture. After all, weed control depends on it, rather than simply cutting off the visible top. That’s pretty basic.

For two farm owners who both questioned milking three times, the root of the problem was not immediately revealed.

In one case, the farm owners had run out of corn after some bad decisions and wouldn’t be replacing corn in the diet until after harvest. Production was down and they concluded there was no use investing in a practice that depended on being able to feed the cows more.

In the other case, it was really about being burned out managing employees who don’t seem to stay long enough, who certainly don’t seem to be willing to take on responsibility and who the owner doesn’t fully trust.

Well, in my mind it is still time to keep digging for the roots.

How were the decisions made about corn use and what kind of inventory management was in place? How much storage is available and what cash flow problems need to be anticipated better? What will prevent a recurrence of this problem in the future? If all we do is cut off the top of the weed so that we can’t see it for awhile, then we will have to deal with it again.

In regard to the other case, how are employees managed? What are the reasons that they come and go with such frequency? Do the expectations match the independence they are given? Are they held accountable for results? Do they share in the rewards for good results?

Frankly, in both cases these are difficult questions. It means that we have to look to the top for the reasons that things occur down the chain. That doesn’t mean that others don’t bear some responsibility as well, just that ultimate responsibility can’t be ignored.

Being reminded of this doesn’t make it easy, nor is this an opportunity to bash the boss. But as we get to the root of a matter, we can make significant change in the success of the dairy business, for the problem observed is usually only one manifestation of the root problem.

The other truth that we have to confront is that actions have consequences. As one of the farms switched back to milking twice, somatic cell count (SCC) rose significantly. Heifers especially were leaking milk much more and production declined.

Solving problems is a major part of management. But solving the wrong problem increases our frustration because we often create other problems and still have manifestations of the original problem.

So, does this mean that dairy producers should all milk their cows milking three times? Probably not, but keep it in mind as an alternative to consider. And don’t forget the basics of weed control.

Related Michigan State University Extension News article: Questioning three times

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