Beyond Basics: Research in Agriculture – An optimized decision-making tool for dairy farmers

Feature Stories

Professor Roger Cue (left) and PhD candidate Hector Delgado

Dairy farm managers, like other business owners, need to manage their assets efficiently to maximize profits. For a farm manager, efficient dairy production depends to a great extent on proper decisions made at different production stages. A lot of data is available that can help farm managers improve profitability, but this data is not in a useful or easily understood format.  PhD candidate Hector Delgado, under the supervision of Animal Science professors Kevin Wade and Roger Cue, has developed a rapid, visual way for farmers to look at readily available datasets.

Using a merged dataset extracted from two databases — Valacta’s and the Animal Health Files’ (DSA) — Hector’s simple but precise visualization tool will enable farmers to analyze the effects of multiple factors, for example, nutrition, health problems or multiple breeding services, on lifetime profitability at both the herd and individual level, and to monitor the effect of past decisions on profit.

An additional feature of the prototype is that it offers the decision-maker options to select benchmarks related to the herd management characteristics (region, housing, milking equipment, feeding system, herd size), allowing more specific comparisons with other herds with similar characteristics. For instance, it might be of more interest to compare the herd profit performance or health costs with results obtained in herds using the same milking system (milking robot, milking parlor or milkline). These specific comparisons will also give decision-makers the opportunity to set realistic goals, based on specific criteria, such as the region where the herd is located, or the milking equipment in current use.

Although the tool is at the prototype level, plans are in the works to undertake a pilot project.  In the medium term, the team hopes that Dairy Herd Improvement agencies will adapt and adopt parts of the tool for use in profitability reports.

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