Last year one of my relations climbed Mount Everest, and in doing so he conquered his seventh of the seven summits, and this got me thinking about setting goals and how we work to achieve them and empower others to achieve theirs. Now, I am no expert on this whole `achieving goals` thing – if you had asked me twenty years ago, I was going to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force, but that ambition has been shelved somewhere in a dark, dusty cupboard along with my saxophone that did not quite end up with me being the next John Coltrane. I am however currently working through revisiting my goals and those of our clients as there is something about this time of year that tends to encourage us to do this!
The discussion around SMART goals has been well documented as being those that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. But let us not forget the BHAG, the big hairy audacious goal – the one that you know is a stretch, that others might think is slightly crazy, but that you know is not impossible. In 1961 JFK did not suggest that maybe they do a bit more in space, instead he said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”. Google’s big goal to “organise the world`s information and make it universally accessible and useful” also becomes pretty realistic, now that we consider googling to be an active verb!
At EveryCow we see one of the aspirational, but currently much required, goals for our industry is to improve our farming efficiencies and increase our performance from the same or reduced inputs – some talk 20% more from 20% less (or even bigger, hairier numbers, depending on who you ask). This is not going to happen overnight. It is not going to happen by continuing to do the same thing while expecting a different result. This is where we see the opportunity to disrupt the status quo, and to think of creative, innovative, technology-embracing ways of changing farming systems as being the way to create this required step-change, because as they say, “Edison’s electric light did not come from continuous improvement of the candle”.
Sometimes, in order to move forward and discover the potential of our goals, we have also got to reflect on where we have come from. I found an `NZ agriculture facts and figures` from 1981 in my parents` archives the other day, and some of the things that stood out were our production, feeding and expected liveweight targets, not to mention the interest rates!! Back then we had an expected weaning weight for a Friesian of 65kg, and only reaching 420kg by her second calving, before eventually getting to mature liveweight of 500kg. The dry matter requirement for the Friesian Cross cow at peak milk was only 14.5kgDM, with a wintering requirement of 4.2kgDM – can you imagine feeding that to your cows these days?
The biggest thing that reflecting on these past numbers does for me, is it provides a clear reminder that, just because things are the “norm” or “status quo” now, it does not mean that they need to stay that way forever. The goalposts are shifting on farm for a range of reasons, so how can we adapt our business strategies to future-proof ourselves for the animals, people, profitability and environment?
We frequently hear people talking about making more milk or more money, from their farm, and the common thinking is that putting more cows on existing land will make more total milk. How about skinning this the other way? Can we do a better job with the existing animals, can we manipulate our feeding, systems and inputs to make more milk from the same or less animals? Can we improve the bottom-line profitability of the business by making these changes? We may have reached peak cow, but have we reached peak milk and peak productivity? By shifting the focus from `more cows = more milk` to an efficiency- and profitability-driven model, we aim to create businesses that are more resilient to environmental constraints, payout variability and seasonal challenges.
When we break it down into bite-sized chunks, we see how much we can gain in little incremental steps. One of my colleagues recently demonstrated this in an article about facing up to the realities of our current reproductive performance and the flow-on effect of poor in-calf rates on the choices available to the farmers. When culling options are limited, we end up having to carry animals that are less than desirable; they may achieve sub-par lactations or have other issues, and yet still cost us the same in farm working expenses, effectively making them hitchhikers in the herd. But when we make a 1% decrease in our empty-cow rate, that opens up 1% more of the herd that we can selectively cull, or a potential 1% reduction in our required replacement rate.
Managing our youngstock growth to reach liveweight targets is another key way of ensuring productivity when hitting the herd. Well-grown heifers have better reproductive and milk solid production in their first season and they have lower attrition rates. A heifer reaching target weights will produce around 8.5kgMS more than those 10% below target and have better 6-week in-calf and empty rates. At a $5 payout, this equates to almost $80 per animal. These are just a couple of examples of how we can make these incremental gains. In many cases the solutions are not overly expensive or time consuming, but they do require careful planning, attention to detail and a mindset shift.
At EveryCow you may often hear us talk about disruptive thinking. We are not talking about trying to throw your life and business into chaos, but more about challenging the accepted norms and thinking outside the box, rather than just seeing consultancy as a box-ticking exercise. And remember that sometimes things change… environment, economic situation, personal situation, or just the passion that drives you, so let us set these goals for where you are, and where you are hoping to head.
So what SMART goals are you setting? What is your BHAG? Give us a call if you think we can help you develop these goals, work with you to set a plan for achieving them, or just give you a hand to tear those big goals into manageable chunks and actions plans. What can we do to get you on the path to 20% more from 20% less?