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Women in Ag: Adapting to Change

Change happens. We can dig our heels in and fight as hard as we can, but the world around us changes. As women in agriculture, part of our responsibility is to adapt to that change. On the dairy farm, it seems like we are always adapting to changes in recommendations, changes in the needs of our cattle, and changes in things like weather. As a nutritionist, I find myself needing to adapt at a faster pace because my clients are adapting for their changes, and it forces change on me for many of the same reasons.

This new year has been full of changes on the farm. Some of those changes we implemented based on results of our management practices. For example, we were getting less than stellar reproductive results in a group of heifers. So, based on recommendations from our vet, breeder, and some of my own research, we changed the age at first breeding and the way we breed off shots and also regrouped our heifers to give them more space. While theses sound like such simple measures, it meant that I had to adapt my record management: There were new lists to run, different days of the week to do those lists, and different methods are sharing that information. For my father-in-law and husband, it meant a more pronounced focus on heat detection for heifers given shots vs. blindly breeding because they should have been in heat. It also means that they are more dependent on my records and need to sort cattle on more a set schedule than we were all used to doing.

As a nutritionist, I have found myself adapting to new technology in the past few months. A need to rely on my computer and phone to assist a farm in implementing new feeding management took some getting used to on my part while the use of cameras, infrared thermometers, and refractometers took some explaining to help my clients adapt. My business has had to adapt to changes within, and I found myself taking time to restructure, rebrand, and reboot. It takes a lot of time to make these adaptations, but if we take steps in a process and with a plan we can successfully navigate the storm and move forward.

Often, I find myself preaching to myself and my clients that we need to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to changes in what we do. The art of predicting those changes that can influence our bottom line, family life, and management is not an easy one. On the farms I work with, we monitor things like the market pricing of milk, cattle, and feed ingredients so that we can try to stay ahead of the curve and proactively make the choices that protect us from possible negative change. In terms of management on our farm, we try to be proactive by monitoring herd performance, calf health, our time management, and the weather. All those things give us indications as to what could be coming down the line, and we can preemptively adapt and hopefully reduce or prevent the impact of those things.

One quick example of being proactive on all farms I am engaged with including my own is that we can sample the TMR for the cows. And, through the efforts of Rock River Laboratory, Inc., we can check that feed for molds, yeasts, c. perfringens, enterococcus, or salmonella bugs as well as the mycotoxin vomitoxin. If we proactively run this type of feed sample, we can predict when we might encounter some problems with the cows. On our farm, we are using that information to prevent loss of dry matter intake and digestive upsets because we know that our TMR in the cold temperatures had a moderate yeast count and a level of enterococcus that warranted watching it. As the temperatures looked to begin increasing earlier in the month, I could utilize a couple of feed additives that helped keep those two potential problem areas in check and maintain the cruise control that our herd was on for milk production.

Adapting to change and being able to proactively work to prevent possible negative effects is all part of what we must do as producers in agriculture. Those steps help us to be more successful in the way we run our farms, give us more time to spend with our family minus the stress, and enable our animals and crops to meet their potential for the benefit of our farms.

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