Dairy Data Detective Tips
By Chris Dschaak, Cargill Technical Service Specialist
For many analyzing data can be a bit overwhelming and knowing where to start can be difficult. I will talk through a dairy mystery I helped our team solve and provide some tips for analyzing data to solve your own cases.
Identify a problem or opportunity on your dairy:
Our team of consultants brought me a case from a herd that was experiencing a high incidence of calves being born dead on arrival (DOA). DOA rate wasn’t just high, it was double the rate we typically see on dairies of their size
Organize your data:
This herd kept excellent records on multiple data platforms, such as their herd management software and feed management programs. I find it easiest to compare the animal group in the herd management software to the same group in the feed management software to look for clues on the feeding side.
For example, looking for patterns in intake that might cause a problem during calving (i.e., cows going off feed, erratic feed intake, inconsistencies in feeding)
Look for patterns:
Patterns will help narrow the issue to a specific group of animals. Most management software programs already have a report where you can look at cows by month calved and cows that had a DOA in that month.
DairyComp 305 - Look in “Guide” under “Reports”
DHI-Plus - Look at the graphs in the cohort analysis reports—this will give you a table as well as graphs by lactation and month of calving
After pulling this report I was able to see that the first lactation animals were having the highest incident of DOAs. Now we could dig deeper into the records on this specific group of animals to narrow down the why.
I started with the heifer program to better understand why the first-lactation animals were having higher incidence of DOAs as compared to other groups. I sorted the data and looked at everything from age at calving, sire selection, calving ease scores, calf size, calf sex, and calving technician.
To look at age at calving effects on DOA rates:
DairyComp 305 - Type events by agefr for lact=1 into the command line and select option 3 (you can change the date range in options to look at DOA rates by a specific month or a range of dates)
DHI-Plus - View cohort group analysis in analysis reports and under cohort groups choose the age at calving lact 1 in the dropdown menu, select % DOAs in the data items
In both programs, you can make custom reports to look a little deeper and evaluate sire selection, calf size, calf sex, and calving technician to see if there was effects of each on DOA rates.
After investigating these parameters, the data revealed the age at calving for the first-lactation animals experiencing the DOAs was younger than we typically prefer to see.
The data also showed the animals calving a couple months later were older at calving and experiencing significantly less DOAs. Every time the age at calving dropped, we would see a spike in DOAs in first-lactation cows.
I met with the Cargill advisory team, and to remedy the problem, we worked with the heifer breeders to help them better identify which animals to breed by analyzing heifer body condition, size and weight.
Sooner or later, every dairy will need to look for clues to catch a culprit on their operation, so take care of how you track and enter data. When that time comes, I hope these insights will help you better analyze your data. However, if the trail goes cold, feel free to contact the Cargill team for backup.