Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Managing to the Sick Calf“


This is a term used by dairy farmers in Wisconsin to describe a certain style of managing your animals.

Let me try to illustrate let’s say that you have 20 calves born in a year. Of that 20, one of them is very vigorous and will do great if you give her almost no attention, and one of them has major health issues, and requires allot of attention to survive. Someone that is “Managing to the Sick Calf“ will spend whatever time is necessary to try to save the sick animal.

The goal of most farmers in Wisconsin is to raise there 20 calves up to be 20 cows that produce good milk. One family quoted to me that it costs about $600 to get a calf up to its first milking, and the sale price of them at that age is about $500 to $2000. Let’s look back at our sick calf she will take us at least $600 dollars (if not more as that is an average and medicine costs money) and likely only be worth $500, so we would lose money based on her value.

So there is no logic in razing the animal but yet it’s done. I have seen it, a farmer enters a shed full of calves and spend an hour taking care of all the other animals and then an hour taking care of the one sick animal, and do that every day for months. Why?

Because they see that sick calf needs help so they do, if the calf wasn’t there they wouldn’t spend any more time with the other ones because they don’t need him. So they look at as they can have 19 or 20 animals, why not have 20.

Now what if you ignore or get rid of the sick calf and spend the extra hour taking care of your other 19, or even spend it all on your one vigorous animal. With 19 animals you only need to improve the value of them by 5% to make up for not having the sick calf in total value, and the calf then has no cost. For this to work you need to spend the same amount of time caring for your herd if you have a sick calf or not.

So I challenge you on your teams are you “Managing to the Sick Calf“ and if not, are you spending the same amount of time “care and feeding” your healthy and vigorous team members that you would if you had a sick calf.