Drawing on this season’s calving lessons for great results next year

Drawing on this season’s calving lessons for great results next year

23 September 2019

DairyNZ's Animal Care Team Manager Helen Thoday shares her thoughts on what you can do to help improve how smoothly your calving season goes next year.

We all know that calving is one of the busiest times of the year.

Once it’s finished there’s always plenty of tasks just waiting for your attention around the farm and so often we all move onto the next job without even drawing breath.

Something to consider is that amongst your team, a fair amount of learning has happened over the past few weeks which could help you improve how smoothly your calving season goes next year


Sports teams like the All Blacks and the Black Caps dedicate a huge amount of time to reviewing their performance to identify how they can improve. And they use this knowledge to develop their game plan for their next match.

Many dairy farms are increasingly looking at how they can review and improve their systems too. Farmers tell us having a great team culture helps deliver awesome results. In a great team every member feels valued and has the chance to contribute. Bringing the team together to have a debrief of the calving season gives everyone the chance to share their thoughts.

Some people feel less confident sharing their ideas or may come from cultures where it’s not usual for staff to make suggestions to their managers. You could try asking people to talk about their ideas with a buddy and then share them with the team. Other people need time to get their thoughts together, so telling staff before the session what you’re going to cover can help draw more ideas out of your team. Focusing on how the review can help make life easier for everyone next calving season is also a good way to motivate everyone to participate.

A good starting place for a discussion is to look at the figures from the season and consider whether you achieved your goals. Some figures to look at could be milk grades, down cows, survival rates of calves in the shed, rotten calvings, staff sick days and whether any accidents occurred.

If you’ve done well in a particular area then write down what contributed to this. Working on farm is challenging so take a moment to recognise the hard work that’s gone into your team’s success. If you didn’t do so well in another area, how about asking everyone for their ideas on how to make improvements.

The challenges you experienced can also be turned into opportunities to try something new. How did the team respond to problems like bad weather, equipment failure or other issues? Did they come up with their own solutions to work around these issues?

Along with looking at what worked for your team, you’ll also need to think about how the calving season went from a cow’s point of view.

As you’ll know, cows see the world quite differently from us. Ask your team to think about what they saw the cows doing over calving. For example did the cows walk at their own pace to the shed for milking? Did some of the team apply techniques to reduce stress for the cows and can they share those ideas with everyone else?

Invite your team to share what they saw people doing to deliver great standards of animal care. When people have gone above and beyond what is required it’s great to recognise this. And ask if there is anything they would like to change to improve care for next season. You can also cover specific issues like whether you were able to get to down cows quickly and whether everyone understood what needed to be done with these cows.

It’s also worthwhile asking whether you team wants any training for next season to understand cow needs.

Write down the ideas you agreed on from your meeting and then share out actions amongst your staff.

By next year, many farms will have some new faces on their team so taking the opportunity to harness the experiences of your team from this year and turn them into ideas you can apply next year to improve your calving season is well worth your time.

By Helen Thoday, DairyNZ’s Animal Care Team Manager – Responsible Dairy.

Article supplied by DairyNZ