November 14, 2010

Successful farmers continue to learn

It has been a long time since I went to school, but I am always learning. In my position here at Cooperative Extension, I wear many hats, but am generally helping folks with small farms and livestock issues. I started working on two local dairy farms when I was in college and the majority of my classes were dairy science and field-crop related. After college, I continued to work on dairy farms or in a dairy related business for many years, including growing and selling dairy replacements. As my career path zigged away from the dairy industry, I still had dairy heifers on our farm until just a few years ago when I decided to get a few beef cows instead. Since then, I have been pretty focused on raising beef cattle and helping others do the same. However, my job often requires me to put on a different hat.

Last week, I had the opportunity to assist in an ongoing dairy program called the Northern New York Dairy Institute Feeding Management Course. In an effort to bring top-notch dairy educators to Northern New York, the New York Center for Dairy Excellence and the Cornell Pro-Dairy Program have developed a series of seven-week courses. Local agribusiness, Cooperative Extension and the Northern New York Ag Development Program also provide support. Like any business, both owners and staff benefit from continuing education and hands-on training.

The current program is focused on feeding and feed management, something that can have a large impact on production and profitability. This week's class was a presentation by Dr. Larry Chase, a longtime professor and extension specialist in Dairy Nutrition from Cornell University. Dr. Chase was a professor at Cornell when I was in college a few years back and has been doing cutting-edge dairy-nutrition research for years.

The focus at this meeting was the importance of ration mixing, calculating dry matter of ingredients and keeping a close watch on what the cows are eating and not eating. While most of this seems logical, it is good for anyone to get a refresher and especially important for a farm's hired staff who may not realize the importance of the many steps involved.

In most businesses, there is recognition that continuing education is an important part of continued success. While dairy farmers are often strapped for time and money, a program like the Dairy Institute brings access to valuable farm-workforce training right to our neck of the woods. With Cornell professors, Miner Institute staff and other professionals bringing their knowledge, expertise and advice to the table, I'm surprised that more farms have not taken advantage of this resource. For a couple of hours a week for seven weeks and a $75 registration fee, I have no doubt that the participants would take new ideas and techniques back to the farm that would more than pay for the modest investment.

One of the most common excuses that I have heard is that "I don't have the time," or "there is too much work to do." While they may both be true, there are good reasons for making the time and delegating the work to others for a few hours. Part of good management is the continual search for new ideas, good information and ways to improve your current practices.

Well-run farms are always looking to improve their production and efficiency, and though they often have paid consultants and specialists to assist them, making changes at the feed bunk and in the milking parlor often depend on staff that doesn't have complete understanding of the "why" behind the new ideas. A course like the Dairy Institute is a perfect fit for the modern dairy farm that depends on staff to carry out the feeding, milking, manure-management and other tasks that can have a direct impact on production, efficiency and the environment.

For more information on the current Dairy Institute or what is being planned for the next series, contact Anita Deming, farm business management educator with Essex County Cooperative Extension at 962-4810 or e-mail

Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, N.Y., 12901. Phone 561-7450.

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