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♦ The Power of Benchmarking
♦ The Power of Benchmarking


By Joe Binversie, Value Added Programs Manager, Genex

Dairy Performance Navigator℠ (DPN) is a web-based program providing dairy producers with herd performance analyses, performance trends, reliable benchmarks and the ability to better establish herd goals. The program was developed in collaboration between Cargill Animal Nutrition, AgSource Cooperative Services and Genex.

Since its 2013 launch, DPN has grown in popularity among producers. In the past four months, data from over 690 U.S. herds (totaling about 1.25 million animals or 642,000 cows) has been added; with benchmarks always based on data from the last 120 days, the program truly provides powerful, current and reliable benchmarks.

DPN continues to evolve as well. Each year new herd analyses are offered and new benchmarks are developed to meet the needs of the modern dairy producer. For instance, monthly milk production benchmarks were recently added. Now a herd that milk tested in April can compare milk production to other herds that also tested in April.

In all, DPN offers herd analysis in nine management areas: inventory, cow reproduction, heifer reproduction, culling, milk production, milk quality, dry period analysis, health analysis and genetics.

Herds using Dairy Comp 305 herd management software and herds on DHI test are able to participate in DPN. Cargill and Genex consultants prepare DPN reports to analyze and discuss herd strengths and potential performance issues with dairy owners, managers and other management team members. DPN enables the team to better develop solutions to maximize herd profitability. To participate in DPN, contact your local Genex representative.

Benchmarks enable producers to evaluate where their dairy stands in terms of herd performance and to establish goals to get their herd to the desired performance level. The Dairy Performance Navigator program not only makes the benchmarking process easy but is also customizable.

At A Glance: Herd Comparison Options
With DPN, Genex consultants can assist dairy producers in benchmarking their herd against peer groups of their choice. When determining a benchmark comparison group, DPN offers four entry fields to create customized benchmarks.

As Table 1 shows, the benchmark selection options include the dairy breed (Holstein or Jersey), a metric (top 10%, average or choice of quartiles), specific criteria (average milk production, cow pregnancy rate, heifer pregnancy rate, average linear score or Net Merit) and a herd breakdown (all herds, herds by size or geographical region). Therefore, numerous benchmark peer groups are possible.


Explained further, when preparing a DPN report, the Genex consultant can configure the peer group for comparison according to the needs of the producer. If a producer wants to compare the herd's current milk production level against the top milk producing herds in DPN, then Average Milk is chosen as the benchmark criteria.

When evaluating a herd's reproduction program, Cow Pregnancy Rate might be the benchmark criteria of choice. If so, the reproduction program would be compared against the top reproduction herds within the DPN database as ranked by Cow Pregnancy Rate.

In another situation, a herd may have high milk production so the producer may want reproduction performance compared against similar high producing herds. This situation is illustrated in Table 2. In the example, the average lbs of milk per cow for the dairy is above the benchmark for the Top 10% of herds (103 lbs for the dairy versus the 100 lbs benchmark). Thus, when evaluating the reproduction program it may be more useful to use the same benchmark peer group of the Top 10% of milk producing herds (Table 3) rather than basing the benchmark on Cow Pregnancy Rate.



Benchmarking by Herd Genetics
An interesting way to benchmark a herd in DPN is genetically, by sire Net Merit (NM$). This benchmark criteria sorts herds based on the average sire NM$ of all females (heifers and cows) in a herd. By choosing NM$ as the benchmark criteria, a herd's genetics and even performance (reproduction, milk production, milk quality, etc.) can be compared against the top genetic herds in DPN as ranked by herd NM$.

There are two tables in DPN that do an excellent job of analyzing a herd's genetic program. The first is Table 4. This Table summarizes the genetic averages of the females (cows and heifers) present within a herd. For instance, Table 4 lists a herd's average Lifetime Net Merit (LNM$) for heifers less than one year old to be $602. In comparison, the benchmark for the Top 25% (Quartile 1) of herds sorted by sire NM$ is significantly lower at $537.

When following this herd's trend for average LNM$ from mature cows (>2nd Lactation) down to heifers less than a year old, we see a significant improvement in herd genetics: $174→$234→$319→$446→$602.



A second table that is valuable for evaluating a herd's genetic program is shown above. This table summarizes the genetic averages of service sires currently being used to breed cows and heifers. As shown, the average LNM$ of the service sires being used to breed heifers is $702. This far exceeds the $626 benchmark average of the Top 25% of herds in DPN sorted by herd NM$.

Additionally, the average LNM$ of service sires is significantly greater for heifers ($702) and first lactation cows ($653) in comparison to mature cows (Lact=2; $547 and Lact>2; $541). Thus, by utilizing a breeding strategy of inseminating the top genetic females with higher quality genetic sires, the herd is ensuring a more rapid increase in overall herd genetics.

Fast Forward: Future Benchmarking Options
Just as the needs of modern dairy producers evolve and grow so does DPN. Along with improved analyses, DPN benchmark options continue to be developed and enhanced as well. One benchmark option to be released later in 1015 is the ability to compare a herd against peer herds that are or are not using recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). Other potential benchmarks being considered for future updates include: milkings per day (2x versus 3x), housing type (freestall, dry lot, tiestall) and bedding type (sand, mats, biosolids).

In all, DPN is a powerful tool to help guide the future growth of a dairy operation. If interested in utilizing this tool, contact your Genex representative. Together, you, your management team and your Genex consultant can analyze and discuss herd performance through DPN and develop solutions to maximize herd profitability.

April 2015