Regularly reviewing costs and performance and ensuring the whole farm team is involved in the process has led to an 11% increase in production while maintaining the same costs on one Lancashire dairy.
Over the past three years, there has been a cultural shift among the farm team at Norbreck Farm to openly review and improve what they do with the ultimate aim of boosting farm profitability.
At the heart of this change in mindset has been a refocus on farm budgets using “lean management” principles.
This has involved attributing a pence per litre (p/litre) cost against every aspect of the business and linking this through to performance.
Areas for improvement are then identified and reviewed by farmer Philip Halhead and lean-management consultant Kay Carson and communicated to the farm team.
This allows protocols to be developed and labour focused on areas that bring the most benefit to overall business performance.
Mr Halhead says engaging the team with the business and ensuring everyone understands the implications of their day-to-day actions on the bottom line has been a fundamental part of improvements.
This has led to a marked boost in production, while costs have remained the same.
Health and performance have also improved.
Improvements at Norbreck Farm
Somatic cell count (cells/ml)
Culling rate (%)
26.5% (includes increase in voluntary culls due to low milk price)
Days in milk
Milk yield a cow a day (litres)
“We’ve increased milk production in the business by 26%.
We’ve improved the silage clamp and moved to three times a day milking so 15% can be attributed to that, but the other 11% comes from being a lot better,” explains Mr Halhead.
Work to improve performance began three years ago when Mr Halhead recognised farm budgets were based on historical data and not monitored regularly enough to allow accurate management.
“We were monitoring regularly, but looking at the wrong radar screen. We were doing loose budgets based on historic data, but we were not disciplined… It didn’t tell us about process or waste. It’s all about preventing waste.”
Lean management looks at the flow of energy into the cow and what comes out in terms of production.
At Norbreck Farm, the aim is to achieve a flat profile, with yields of 34 litres a cow a day at 4% fat and 3.2% across the 280-cow herd.
However, data analysis found cows were not hitting sufficient performance targets, considering the cost of bought-in feed at more 10p/litre.
As a result, feeding was identified as one of the main areas where improvements could be made.
To begin with, the farm changed nutritional advice and managed to shave about 2p/litre off bought-in feed costs. Attention then turned to improving management on
Attention then turned to improving management on farm and reducing feed waste.
Dr Carson explains: “From day to day, dry matter intakes were not the same and nutritional inputs were not the same. There was a degree of variation in the ration, which was resulting in variation in milk coming out of the cow.”
For example, dropping square-baled silage in one end of the twin tub mixer was leading to insufficient mixing.
Cows were then sorting the diet, leading to loose dung.
The implications of general inconsistencies with feeding were discussed with the farm team and processes put in place.
This included creating a mindset among staff to not just to mix the ration and feed out, but also look at refusals and changes in forage quality and act accordingly.
Having a set process for feed reporting has also been vital.
Staff now write down what has been fed, in what order and how long it’s been mixed, together with any comments about any aspects that might impact on DMI that day, such as weather.
This is then monitored by the nutritionist daily and by Dr Carson and the farm team.
This removes any assumptions that feeding has been done right.
This has helped increase DMI and drive consistent milk production that fits the budget.
Forages are also analysed every one week to 10 days to check quality.
The diet is then tweaked accordingly. Bought-in feeds are also tested to check that what is being delivered is the expected quality.
Mr Halhead is always keen to implement a whole-team approach, involving nutritionists, advisers and vets in discussions with the farm team.
He explains: “Health protocols have been written with our vet team at Lambert Leonard and May Vets to cover all areas.
“Again, team members have been involved and given areas of responsibility so they take ownership for calf welfare or cow welfare each and every day.”
The importance of protocols was highlighted in the summer when heifers were vaccinated too close to housing so the vaccine did not have time to become effective.
As a result, three calves were lost. This protocol has now transferred to the contract rearing farm so every heifer is vaccinated in good time before they come back to the main unit to calve.
The aim is to continuously look at how things can improve using the mindset of “today was good but tomorrow could be even better”. This means looking at various costs and performance aspects daily, monthly and quarterly.
This means looking at various costs and performance aspects daily, monthly and quarterly.
Dr Carson and Mr Halhead recognise implementing this type of management strategy has to be dealt with sensitively in order to get positive buy-in from the farm team.
Dr Carson stresses that implementing protocols should make the team’s job less stressful and more rewarding. “It’s not command and control,” she adds.
Mr Halhead says a careful approach has been vital, but a good existing farm team has made the process relatively easy to implement.
He explains: “You have to embrace that a problem is for us all to share. It’s shifting a culture to an open and honest information flow.”
Lean management tips
Kay Carson from Streamline Farm Management provides her top tips for adopting a lean management strategy on farm:
- Use enterprise accounts when budgeting and planning production every year.
- Identify the operational goals that will generate value in your business.
- Identify the staff and management actions required to meet the goals.
- Ensure the operational team agree to the actions and the goals.
- Provide staff with the necessary support to carry out the agreed actions in the agreed time.
- Measure and record technical performance on the farm every day.
- Review technical performance with operational staff every week.
- Fix the root causes of under-performance when it happens.
- Review income and cost performance against budget plans every month.
- Share the satisfaction of success across the team.