Standard Operation Procedure, as a tool to improve dairy herd performance

Author: Annica Hansson (VXA) - Date: March 15, 2019

Regularly I use to gather the staff in the dairy farms to brain-storm about strengths and weaknesses in the business. Topics connected to herd management are gathered to a more profound discussion, where we together try to look into realistic and reliable ways to meet the situation. The following example is from a 240 cow big Swedish VMS dairy.

Plan for result, business goals

In one of these occasions the issue “hours needed to manage the VMS barn” was in focus. The staff was aware of that they spend more time than average VMS barns to manage their herd. During the discussion the sub operation to handle heifers/first lactation cows introduction was a moment that was found to consume a lot of time. To deal with those animals often led to that they had to interrupt some ongoing, ordinary task, and thereby cause loss in efficiency. Important to note is that there is an individual variation between animals how many milking the staff needed to overlook the milking procedure. A majority of cows only needed one or two occasions to be overlooked, almost like a check that they will manage on their own. Others needed days and weeks with the task being quite intensive trying to prevent them from kicking off the milking cluster and reset the machine after having them kicked off. All agreed it would be favorably if time spend to train first lactation cows was reduced.

First draft

The individual variation in behavior revealed the opportunity to try select breeding animals for temperament. Days in need for assistance during milking should be recorded.

Internal review

At first there was a big doubt among the staff that the behavior in the VMS was related to “temperament”, since they felt “bad temper” is more related to “aggressive” in their mind. A check did however confirm that some of the more tricky, time consuming ones did have the same father. Also a pair of more “hot tempered” couples was in fact mother and daughter. Even some of them had to be manually handled due to a repeated behavior at the time after her second calving. So anyhow it was a kind of individual and inheritable behavior. However, it is naturally that pain cause discomfort and a behavior to kick in case it hurts while being milked. With that in mind it is essential to, in the best way exclude natural sources of pain such as sores, mastitis and engorgement on teats and in udder.

External review

Production of first lactation cows yielded was on average 7800 kg milk at 305 days in milk. They produced on average 29 kg at 50 days into lactation. The herd has excellent fertility result, and resulted in a surplus of heifers of 14 %, or 24 animals a year, while considering the aim for recruitment and the average losses from birth to first calving. This allows the herd to consider some extra criteria’s for selection.

All cows that kick in any phase of milking should have their teats examined for soreness and the milk should be tested with CMT for flocks and mastitis. In case of sore teats, use some recommended treatment to reduce pain, softening the skin and make it heal. In case of flocks or mastitis treat the cow accordingly to make the disorder heal as soon as possible.

Record in the management program the behavior and days spent assisting first lactations cows while introduced to VMS milking.

At the time of first service, about 50 days in milk, evaluate behavior and milk production.

  • For those who needed two weeks or more to be assisted while being milked there should be a demand for milk production above average, in this case >29 kg/day, to be inseminated. In case of lower milk production, put her to list for being culled due to bad temper. Those who produce 30-34 kg of milk, consider insemination with beef bull – in other words, you have decided that you are interested in their milk performance, but not in their genes for bad temperament in the next generation in the barn. For those milking above 35 kg consider insemination with a bull inheriting good temperament.
  • For those in need for assistance in 30 days or more, cull those that milk less than 34 kg. Consider beef bulls for those who milk more than 35 kg.
  • Those who still need assistance at day 50, consider culling independently of milk yield.

These ideas were accepted by the staff.


SOP was added into DelPro SOP tool and added into the report for Cows in heat. The information given in the Report is as expected.


The expected instruction how to treat the cow in heat is given as an instruction in the report Cows for insemination.


The SOP compliance and the result were evaluated after one year of practice. It appeared that the SOP was difficult to follow. Reasons might be difficult to adopt new routines. Or

due to reluctance to cull first lactation animals due to the reasons set. Perhaps the fear to loose milk production due to the suggested actions can be added. However, they experienced that they complied to the SOP better at the end of the year compared to the start of the SOP. After a second review of herd statistics regarding recruitment and production, an increased confidence in capacity and potential arose of applying the SOP.

After one year in practice the production figures were reviewed and presented for staff and set for a second year to be run.


Annica Hansson