Bringing In the Next Generation

10/19/2013 7:00 AM

Having healthy, well-grown replacements capable of replacing those who “retire” from the dairy herd is a critical ingredient in the success of any dairy farm operation. Dairies with well-managed replacement programs are getting heifers into the dairy herd at 22 months of age, well below the current Pennsylvania average of 26 months. In this business with narrowing margins, those four months can mean the difference between a profit and a loss on a dairy operation.

In fact, at our Dairy Financial & Risk Management Conference last month, Gary Snider, a nationally-respected dairy business consultant, shared the differences between the top and bottom herds in terms of profitability as determined through his dairy herd benchmark program. Herds in the top 20 percent only needed 69 percent of the herd in replacements, while those in the bottom 20 percent had 82 percent of their herd in replacements. Essentially, the bottom 20 percent herds were carrying more overhead than the top 20 percent. Not having their next generation ready to work for them was a factor holding them back from maximizing their profitability.

Earlier this year, the center unveiled findings in the “Pennsylvania Dairy Futures Analysis” and identified lowering age at first calving as a key strategy for improving viability of Pennsylvania’s dairy farm businesses. Last month, Dr. David Galligan, director of the Center for Animal Health and Productivity, shared a webinar on strategies for improving in this key benchmark area.

In his presentation, Galligan spoke about preparing the heifers in the herd to freshen between 22 - 24 months. He outlined goals that all the heifers in a herd should reach by certain stages in their life cycle. For instance, heifers should achieve 50 percent of their adult height by the time they are 6 months old, 50 percent of their adult weight by 12 months of age, and be bred by 13 - 14 months of age.

While investing in improved heifer management strategies doesn’t provide immediate benefits to a dairy, it is critical to the business’s bottom line over the long term. Essentially, heifer management is an investment in tomorrow, today.

Pennsylvania’s dairy industry must also invest in tomorrow, today. Having young people prepared to take over the role of dairy farm owners, managers and employees will be critical to the dairy industry’s ability to remain sustainable and viable into the next generation. A key part of that involves developing programs that provide the training, skillsets and passion for pursuing a career in dairy production.

In 2010, the Center for Dairy Excellence Board of Directors created the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania to provide a long-term funding source to support key educational programs for Pennsylvania’s dairy industry. It is the commitment of the center foundation to help dairy youth and young dairy professionals develop and pursue a lifelong passion in the dairy industry. The center foundation hopes to fund scholarships, industry tours and dairy education for young people.

The flagship program of the center foundation is the Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow program. This curriculum-based program was launched industry wide this fall, after being piloted in 20 high schools during the 2012-13 academic year. Currently, nearly 600 students in 33 classrooms in seven states, along with 15 independent students, are enrolled in the curriculum.

The Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow program is available online to complete individually or in a classroom setting. Course topics include dairy farm business management, herd health, ruminant anatomy and nutrition, along with an introduction to the dairy industry. Industry certifications are available to those who complete the program. To learn more about the DLT program, you can visit

Whether it means growing strong, healthy heifers to carry on the herd or developing passionate, engaged and well-versed young people to carry on the profession, developing our next generation in dairy is critical to the industry’s future, both in Pennsylvania and across the country.

To learn more about the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania, visit or call 717-346-0849. To view Dr. Galligan’s webinar on lowering Age at First Calving, go to

Editor’s note: John Frey is the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence executive director.

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