Introducing C.A.O.S. – The Chosen Acres Operating System. “Lean Practices” in the Dairy Industry

Mark Graban recently posted a funny story about government websites losing something in their translation to Spanish.  In Washington state, the term “Lean Practices” translated as “Skinny Cow Handling”.  See the story here.

While funny, is it too far from the truth?  Perhaps “Skinny Cow Handling” can be translated as “Lean Practices”.

Back in September, 2011, I wrote about a man who I met at the Clinic while I was doing Patient Experience rounding.  I shared our discussions about the “Lean Practices” he was applying in his work as a consultant to dairy farmers.  I found the work that he was doing fascinating and we established a friendship.

Well, I am happy to share more with you.  Jeff Weisel, CEO of Chosen Acres Consulting, Inc. has produced a video that demonstrates a little of what he does, but more importantly highlights what his customers have to say about the products and services that he offers.

I’ve been serving as an adviser to Jeff for the past few years, helping him to present his services as an overall operating system that serves the dairy farmer, their cows and the “plow to plate” value stream.

Jeff and his family have been serving the dairy industry for over 30 years.  Jeff’s passion and concern for cows has led him to some remarkable discoveries that has not only made life better for dairy cows, but has also produced higher quality milk, higher productivity per cow, higher pregnancy rates for herds, and lower costs for the dairy farmer.

What first attracted my attention the work the Jeff is doing was his business card.  The message on his card was “In Pursuit of Parlor Perfection.”

chosen acres business card

His work with “flipping” milking parlors was straight out of a lean transformation text-book.  Jeff starts with an assessment of the farm to identify opportunities for improvement.  Since the milking parlor represents the quickest return on investment, Jeff works with the farmer to plan a “flip” or in lean terms, a week-long kaizen or rapid improvement event , where complex equipment is torn out and replaced with simpler equipment that the farmer can fix himself, if necessary.   Jeff provides instructions for the milkers and helps to install a new management system.  With quick financial gains from the “flip”, farmers are then able to work with Jeff’s assessment to improve other aspects of their organization – from feed and water, to bedding to waste recycling.

I had the opportunity to visit one of the farms Jeff was preparing to flip, and then to come back to observe the results of the flip and to talk with the dairy farmer.  The transformation was startling.  Not only were the cows producing more milk, it was a higher quality of milk, the use of antibiotics had decreased and the use of bovine growth hormones was eliminated.  The farmer was very pleased with the results.

Jeff showed me all around the farm and talked about the assessment tool that he uses to assess the farm’s current state and what it will take to reach the next level.  It was like going on a Shingo site assessment.  Jeff not only looks at the parlor, but he looks at the entire organization.  The water and feed supply – critical inputs to the process of making milk.  He looks at the bedding stalls, where he says you should see cows laying comfortably, chewing their cud which is when they are making milk.  If the cow is uncomfortable, she will produce less milk.  Lameness, a condition that affects the hoofs of cows causing extreme pain ,is also a major contributor to lower milk production.  Farmers looking to increase efficiency have actually contributed to the poor health of their herds and the lower quality products.  In the lean community, there is a term used to describe the mis-understanding of lean.  The term, coined by Mark Graban is LAME.  Lean As Misguidedly Executed.  In the dairy industry, lame is a real condition that negatively affects the health of the herd and the strength of the farm.

Jeff’s work concentrates on the milking parlor, since that is the primary source of disease.   Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands, caused by the cow’s environment.  It causes the cow extreme pain.  The infection causes an increase in somatic cells to fight the disease.  These somatic cells get passed through the milk supply, leading to poor quality milk.  The treatment for this disease is through the use of antibiotics which, despite great lengths to contain, eventually get passed on for human consumption in the milk supply.  As a result of mastitis and lameness, milk production can decrease, leading to the introduction of bovine growth hormones intended to increase production.  These hormones also get passed along in the milk supply.

Jeff research and practice over the past 20 some years has led him to focus on eliminating the cause of mastitis and lameness.  His work is reminiscent of the work being done in healthcare to eliminate the causes of Hospital Acquired Infections.  Jeff recognizes that current farming practices, incorporated in the name of efficiency,  are actually contributing to the problems facing the dairy industry.  Jeff’s focus on the health of the cow has led to great results for the dairy herds and their farmers.

His biggest problem to date?  Getting farmers to change their thinking to adapt his practices that go against what they’ve been taught by universities, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians and equipment manufacturers.  It is very reminiscent of the healthcare industry.

I’ve been impressed with Jeff’s work and am happy to share it with others.  Jeff and I will be co-presenting at the upcoming Shingo Conference in Sandusky, OH on May 7th.  I hope you can all come to hear Jeff’s story as well as the other great presentations on the agenda.

We are also working on arranging a site visit as part of the Shingo agenda for Friday, May 9th to the local dairy farm where I first observed Jeff’s work.

Could the humble cow actually be the start of the Healthcare Value Stream?

Let me know if you will be attending the Shingo Conference.  I’d love to see you.

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