Your milk statements from the plant have more meaning than how big the check will be at the end of the month. You already knew that fat and protein test averages tell volumes about effective fiber, ration digestibility, protein and carbohydrate balance as well as many other factors such as fat levels in the diet.
The variability of these component values can be as telling, if not more so, than the monthly or weekly averages. Variations in milk fat and protein percentage and milk urea nitrogen can also point out effects of crowding, heat stress, large meal sizes and slug feeding, and inconsistencies in feeding times or accuracy of TMR formulation. It is not necessary to suggest a benchmark based on other herds. You can use the past performance of your own herd to set a standard going forward. Once you establish comfort with how consistent the herd is, watch for a known stress event such as a hot week to see how the herd responds. You may find similar periods of high variability when you are at the end of a feed pile that had some problems with preservation or during the transition from last year's forages to this year's.
You must account for sources of variability that are not really affecting your cows. For instance if you have milk picked up so that one load is primarily morning milk and another load is afternoon and evening milk you should predict that some variation is expected as cows vary in components in the milk depending on the time of day the milk is produced. Generally morning production is lower in fat and to a lesser extent protein as compared to the daily average.
Many producers are accustomed to looking at the tank average milk production to gauge the success of changes implemented on the farm, however many fewer look for changes in consistency. There are profits to be made from improved consistency in greater production and better health. Improved consistency can translate into less mastitis, improved fertility, and better foot health and eventually to more milk production and reduced culling.
If you monitor dry matter intakes of your TMR mix you understand the importance of consistency but perhaps you have been missing another handle that can be used to monitor to help obtain a consistent and positive environment for your herd.
TMR intake, pounds of milk sold, milk components, variability of manure are all valuable herd metrics that can be combined to gain confidence in the health and performance of your herd. These measures are available to nearly all herds. Are you fully utilizing this information? Systems that provide more data to make herd management information such as daily individual cow milk weights, or devices that s that measure rumination, physical movement, activity level or body temperature are being successfully marketed and utilized by dairy producers. These systems usually are not inexpensive. Will you utilize the data if you have it? If you are not utilizing data that is already available you may not be a good candidate to utilize additional data collection unless the system helps you to take action to utilize the data.
There are many tools available to monitor the consistency and desirability of cow environment for even our least sophisticated management systems. Variability is equally important as simple averages as indicating how the herd is doing.
Lippert is the Wood County Extension agriculture agent.