ADVISORY TEAM CAN BE BENEFICIAL TO OPERATION

by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS


Most beef cattle operations have various individuals that the owner and/or manager can go to for advice in the many areas of management and operational matters. Often this is informal and includes those individuals having some level of input on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. basis. For smaller operations this can be fairly random. But this group can include the veterinarian, banker, nutritionist, feed salesman, animal health product sales rep, chemical sales person, and so on.

The point is that every farm has an advisory body of some type whether structured or not. It can be of benefit to the producer to organize the group to some degree if for no other reason to structure the interaction with these individuals and to facilitate communication between these individuals.

Perhaps more important than having an organized group is selecting the right individuals for the many areas of farm management where the producer may need input. Let's discuss some of these and outline what to look for when assembling an advisory team. This list can be extensive and that the actual make-up of the team will vary from farm to farm. A farm's advisory team can include any combination of the following:

Accountant
An accountant can be a core member of the farm's advisory team. In many cases the producer or an employee is tasked with “keeping the books and paying the bills.” An accountant can help with oversight as well as play a variety of roles in handling all things financial on the farm. A big part of this includes keeping payables current and servicing and retiring debt as expediently as possible. Then the matter of taxes comes into play. Having an accountant experienced with ag business, beef cattle production and related tax laws is critical to filing and paying income taxes correctly for the producers greatest benefit.

Agronomist
Any farm that produces its own feed ingredients (crops, grains and/or forages) may benefit from working with an agronomist. These individuals are experienced and trained in areas of crop and plant production. The agronomist can provide the producer with guidance concerning crop variety and management practices that can improve both yields, nutrient density, digestibility and overall quality. Often, these crops are what the dairy (and it's nutritionist) have to work with for an entire year, possibly more.

The producer may have different types of agronomists to select from. Some agronomists may work for different seed companies. These individuals are required to promote varieties their company sells and will be limited in what they can recommend. Their service comes with the purchase of their product. Independent agronomists are consultants that the farm hires directly and are paid consulting fees. These folks should be more unbiased since they should not be receiving any compensation for recommending a given brand of seed or variety. Their focus should be on what is the best for the farm. A final type might be an extension specialist. In many cases these people may or may not be local and thus may not have complete awareness of specific conditions in the farm's area. These individuals are paid by the extension service so come at little or no cost.

Regardless of which type is used, that individual should be well educated and trained, experienced and come with good references. Above all they need to be someone that the producer feels comfortable with and who meets the producer's needs.

Banker
In this day and time with credit being critical to basic operation for most dairies, having a good, experienced banker is extremely important. Any farm or ranch, of any size, can be a multi-million dollar operation. Having a banker and his corresponding banking institution that is experienced and very familiar with HOW a beef cattle operation functions and cash flows may be the most important partnership that the farm has. The banker should be able to provide input in a variety of areas outside of simply lending money. Other areas of input can and should include risk management, loan and line of credit configuration, financial analyses and so on. Again, this individual needs to have extensive experience with these types of operations.

Breeding Technician
If the operation uses a semen or breeding company as part of the reproduction program a breeding technician (BT) is generally provided as the service with the sales. In other cases, independent breeding technicians or consultants may be available to work with the farm for a fee. These individuals can assist the producer more closely monitor the breeding activities and pregnancy rates of cows on the farm. An experienced breeder can significantly improve breeding performance and overall production levels on the farm. The BT should interact with the manager, vet and nutritionist to insure these areas are all working together.

Nutritionist
Your nutritionist is a critical member of your management and advisory team. He/she plays a pivotal role on the farm and should interact regularly with various team members. A primary responsibility is to be in communication with the manager or owner as often as is needed by a particular farm depending on the working relationship. Many nutritionists simply run rations or develop feeds and supplements. As forages, feed ingredients, prices, production conditions, etc. change, feeding programs need to be updated and revised in an effort to keep nutrient intake optimized. In other cases the nutritionist may oversee feed mixing and delivery, performance and component production, body condition, feed inventory, feed and ingredient quality assessment and control. As part of the overall advisory and management team he/she should interact with the veterinarian to monitor cow health and reproduction as it is affected by the nutritional program. The nutritionist should also interact with the agronomist in assessing crop varieties and how well these choices may affect the feeding and nutrition program for months to come.

Nutritionists may work for the farm as an independent consultant or may be employed by a feed company or other agricultural product sales entity. Some may be available through the local extension program. When selecting a nutritionist, the producer needs to decide what services are wanted or needed. If the producer wants a truly independent nutritionist they will pay a fee for this service. For independent consultants, no other compensation should be accepted from sales of premix or any of the other components of the feeding program. It is not uncommon for some nutritionists to accept some type of compensation from one or more feed ingredient or additive manufacturers for assistance in helping them get their product into different farms. While it is fine for this to occur it should only happen if the client is aware of this and is OK with this relationship. So when selecting a nutritionist, the producer should determine if the individual has these types of relationships in place. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions. An independent consultant is not truly independent if they are also being paid for product sales onto the farm or if they are charging a consulting fee and selling a mineral/vitamin premix onto the farm as well. As mentioned, these relationships are fine as long as there is full disclosure.

Feed company nutritionists can also very effective. Their service comes in combination with purchase of various products, feeds, supplements, etc. from the company the nutritionist works for. In these situations, the producer somewhat gives up the opportunity to compare product costs from other area manufacturers.

Whichever type of nutritionist a producer may choose, he/she should be experienced, well trained/educated and have effective communication abilities not only with the producer but the other members of the advisory team. And as discussed above, full disclosure of how the nutritionist is compensated should be provided.

Veterinarian
The vet plays a vital role in oversight of animal health programs on the farm and may also be directly involved with breeding and reproductive performance. Interaction between the vet and nutritionist is extremely important although in some cases this relationship can be a bit tenuous. The vet should be on the farm regularly and familiar enough with the feeding program to help to anticipate to some degree when or if some metabolic issues might occur. He also recommends much of the products needed to address health issues in all stages of production. Like the other members of the management and advisory team the veterinarian should be experienced and well trained in dairy cow health. He or she should also potentially have an adequate support team to continuously manage the needs of the farm.

Advisory Meetings
Periodically it can be helpful to bring all the advisory team together with the on-farm management team to discuss current “state of the farm” status. Each member should be prepared to address the areas they have been working in and the challenges or successes. Each meeting should be open, frank and above all, constructive. While the meetings give each member an opportunity to discuss his or her perspectives as related to their efforts on the particular farm, it also provides them a chance to hear and see things going on that they are not as readily experienced with or focused on. These can also help develop the relationships and communication between each team member which can be very helpful.

While it is up to the producer to decide how often to hold these meetings, generally quarterly or bi-annually seem to be effective. Meetings should be well planned with plenty of advance notice given to all team members to insure they can fit these into their schedules.

Conclusions
Farming and cattle production is not easy. Selecting and bringing together qualified, experienced and well-trained individuals from a variety of disciplines can help with focus, problem solving and overall management. Above all it creates of network that can simplify planning and decision-making which can facilitate profitability!

Copyright – Stephen B. Blezinger, Ph.D., PAS – January 2017. Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant from Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at sblez@verizon.net and at (903) 352-3475. For more information, please visit Facebook/Reveille Livestock Concepts.







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