Daily Data Goals
You have a feeding program, now what data should you be looking at and how often? A few items like dry matter intake and weighbacks may immediately come to mind, but what else? Sit down with your nutritionist or other dairy professional to help you outline other data that may be beneficial for helping with management type decisions at your operation. Other categories that I evaluate are first feed delivery time, actual loading data, and loading and delivery deviations.
One of the first steps in determining what data to monitor is understanding the capabilities of your feeding software. Each program provides some level of information on all the topics previously listed, however, the packaging of the data varies between programs. My best advice is don’t be afraid to explore the different aspects of your feeding program. Some data may be available by selecting specific reports, while other data may be included in log type sections. Understanding where to find your desired data will help you be more efficient in the data monitoring process. Also, setting a routine schedule for evaluating data helps you identify issues more quickly allowing you to address them in a timely manner. One final thought on data organization is that your data output will only be as good as your data input.
Based on the feeding program, I generally follow a routine when monitoring data. The first area is focused on loading data. When done as a daily task, scrolling through load data helps me get a feel for feeder accuracy in loading and delivery, and consistency in load size and mixing time. Most programs will include some sort of calculation for deviation or difference between target and actual value. Some programs even flag data that exceeds a set threshold. A few programs also include graphs of individual loads that show the scale weight change over the load. The next step for this data is to determine feeder loading accuracy. When evaluating data backups, I generally look at monthly feeder loading deviations, with a goal of < 30 lbs of DM per action. On farm evaluation of this data could be weekly or bi-weekly.
The next area I tend to focus on is pen related data, including DMI, weighbacks, target dry matter change, first feed delivery time, and pen count change. When evaluating this type of data, I like to look at how the data changes over at least the previous 2 weeks. This helps me identify any trends that may be occurring in the data. Most programs have set reports available that provide this information by pen and or animal type in a table or graph format. If I am exporting the data to another program, I generally use the table format. However, the graphic reports provide quick access to data trends within the program requiring little work from the user to generate the graph. I generally group this data by animal type and ration. At times this is challenging due to missed updates to the descriptive pen information. When there are discrepancies between animal type and ration, I default to grouping by ration. On farm, take this opportunity to update the pen information.
If a certain piece of data is hard to find, engage your nutritionist, other industry professionals, other producers using the same program, or most importantly your feeding program manufacturer. All manufacturers provide some sort of software support to users. Sometimes this is provided as part of a subscription or may be charged on a per use basis. There may also be policies when support is included for a period as part of your initial installation or annual renewal. If you are unsure of what support is available, call the manufacturer.