No, I am not talking about weight loss! I am referring to making your dairy operation more profitable by using the Lean Principles and eliminating the waste. The waste in time, resources, and idle employees to better serve our calves.

Where Does This Idea Come From?

The lean idea is not a new concept. This type of setup is typically found in the manufacturing business. It came to popularity in the 1990s when Toyota streamlined its processes to go from a small corporation to a large one. However, this idea dates back even further, back to the time of Benjamin Franklin. He once wrote about eliminating waste by avoiding unnecessary costs, while increasing profits and better serving customers.

You may be thinking, I run a dairy farm, not a corporation. Humor me for a moment, these Lean Principles can be applied to your dairy whether it is on the small size or large scale.

Lean Dairy

What Does Having a Lean Dairy Mean?

Having a “Lean” dairy means that you are striving to eliminate waste. Types of waste that we typically see on dairies are overproduction, unnecessary transportation, excess inventory, worker motion, defects or damaged tools, over-processing of colostrum being fed, and calves waiting to be fed. If this waste goes unaddressed for any length of time, it creates inefficiency down the line, whether it be in the workflow or in the calf health. What can we do about this? We need to add value to our calves!

How Do We Add Value?

We add value by recognizing the needs of our calves. What do calves need most? They need 4 liters of colostrum within the first half hour after birth. That colostrum must contain a high concentration of immunoglobulins-more than 50g/l. The colostrum should be pasteurized for one hour at 140°F and fed at 102°F via a tube feeder or nipple. If they don’t receive this type of consistent value, then it can lead to troubles later down the road. We recommend pasteurizing colostrum in a Calf Hero to prevent feeding bad bacteria to a newborn calf. The Calf Hero’s gentle heating assures that the immunoglobulins are not destroyed. So how does this relate to lean manufacturing? Let’s explore the principles of this concept.

Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company

The 7 Lean Principles as Applied to Your Dairy:

  1. Eliminate Waste: you can eliminate waste in inventory, waste in time that employees are standing around or walking to, and from buildings looking for things. Having a colostrum management system with a thawing unit helps to make it possible for employees to do other things like focus on the newborn calf while the frozen colostrum is being warmed.
  2. Build Quality in by creating simple, easy to follow steps for everyone to understand. Many times there are inconsistencies in the quality of care between shifts. We often see issues where the night shift figures feeding a calf is too much work and leaves it to the day shift. The simpler and easier we make the protocols, the more likely the calf is to be fed properly. 
  3. Create Knowledge: by training all employees the same and keeping that training ongoing to ensure that proper protocols are current to your standards. Also, explain why you want things done in a certain way and how it benefits not only the calves but them as employees. And, we all know that a happy employee takes better care of the animals, resulting in better animal welfare.
  4. Defer Commitment: this means that you keep your options open, continuously strive to make your protocols simple, cut out all unnecessary steps, review, and revise protocols as needed. With modern technology becoming more prevalent on the farm, things like having the ability to receive text messages from or view logs on the Calf Hero™ screen, your employees can have immediate feedback without having to wait for a month-end report.
  5. Deliver fast and efficient care to newborn calves. Increasing the speed of thawing, and the ease of putting away the collected pasteurized colostrum, in turn, means it’s done immediately. This protects the colostrum from bacterial growth, making it a more nutritious meal to feed. 
  6. Respect People: empower your employees and communicate effectively with them. If they don’t speak the same language that you do, get someone to translate for you, or even create posters. Using pictures and text (in all necessary languages) helps. Depicting the steps and the equipment that the employee should be using helps keep protocols consistent. Open and honest communication is key! 
  7. Optimize the Whole: when redesigning or building a new facility, don’t just think about the placement of equipment but also the amount of space needed for the workers to do their jobs properly. Having the pasteurizer, freezer, thawing unit, and feeding equipment all in the same location near the newborn calves is essential to doing your job of delivering care quickly and efficiently.

Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be! Start small, take a look around your dairy, and see where the tools that your maternity employees use regularly are in relation to where they are performing their duties. Take a look at the organization of your supplies and inventory. Review your protocols. Does everyone know what they are to be doing and when.

Lean Dairy

How to Build a Lean Dairy:

First, you need to cut out all the unnecessary steps. Eliminate the waste found in the maternity area. Cut out walking steps by keeping clean tools readily available to care/feed your newborn calves. Eliminate excess supplies, keep on hand what they need, and get rid of the overstock. Cut out wasted time by employees looking for people to answer questions because they are unsure of what to do. Do not milk a cow outside of your “normal” milking hours. Do not microwave or heat frozen colostrum too quickly and at too high of a temperature, you are killing all the immunoglobulins and thus wasting the “liquid gold.” Instead, use a thawing unit, it will keep the temperature perfect and your employees gain extra time to take care of the calf. Eliminating the likelihood of sick calves by changing protocols, will save all the extra time to nurse sick calves.

Next, you need to review, revise, and improve your standard protocols. Make sure you are creating an efficient work cycle, meaning that the flow of work is organized and in the correct order. Don’t waste extra time by having the employees bounce back and forth from area to area. Ask yourself, do your employees, do all the steps the same? It is a waste of time if they are doing their jobs all differently, which results in different quality of care for each calf born. You can save many man-hours if your employees are doing the work the same way every time. Your standard newborn calf care should be easy to follow and easy to repeat. The steps should be clear and simple to carry out, available to employees in their language. Post steps, with pictures, if necessary in each area that work needs to be done.

Then, create a work-space and procedures that flow. Have the right tools to make their jobs easier and then they can deliver better value and care to the newborn calf. Make sure that the tools they are using are in good working order, if not, replace or repair them. Make sure that all disposable supplies are stored in the same location and disposed of in a marked location. We should not be reusing disposable supplies. Make sure all reusable supplies are clean and put away in the proper location. Keeping the tools in the same place every time helps eliminate time trying to locate them.

Some ways to help create flow, if you have a colostrum bank or freezer available, you don’t need to collect the colostrum immediately after birth. You can quickly warm the frozen colostrum, feed the newborn more quickly, and save time by collecting the colostrum at the regular milking hour. Having a thawing unit is a quick way to thaw the frozen colostrum by not having to wait for it in a sink of hot water or risk the chance of an employee using a microwave and getting the colostrum too hot to feed while killing all the immunoglobulins, and potential burning the calf’s esophagus because of hot spots in the colostrum. Microwaves should never be used to warm up colostrum. Have a clear cleaning protocol of when and how to clean reusable items. Having reusable items, like a stainless steel tube feeder can save you money and space by limiting disposable feeders storage space and constant replenishment. One common weakness is that we are not organized. Sort your inventory, know what you have, where it goes, and make sure it always gets put in the same place. Label the location, if need be. Set tools and supplies in order of use. Keep all tools “shining,” meaning make sure it works, is clean and sanitized if it is broken or damaged, set aside to be replaced or repaired.

Finally, review, revise, improve, and repeat your protocols as needed. Train all your employees that are working in the maternity area the same. Make sure they are doing every step in the same fashion, every time. Reducing the waste in time and materials is essential to the profitability of your dairy. We are always striving to improve the quality of care and welfare of our calves. We want to reduce the time that a calf is waiting on colostrum to be fed, reduce the time that employees are wasting by unnecessary steps, and reduce the time that we may be spending on caring for sick calves caused by unclear protocols. Also, our industry is constantly hit with low milk prices, so we need to reduce costs. We can reduce costs by streamlining our protocols.

And remember, to “Be Patient!” Creating this streamlined lean dairy is not going to happen overnight, it is going to take lots of time and trial and error, but in the end it will be worth it.

Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company