Tips of the Month


2014

Month
Tip
March Managing feed inventory and limiting shrink

July Improve parlor efficiency
July Eficiencia en el ordeñe es bueno para las vacas

 

2013

Month
Tip
February Group housed calf systems – Better recruiting and training is required PART 1: Top 10 abilities the right calf feeder / manager needs
March Group housed calf systems – Better recruiting and training is required. PART 2: Top 10 skills needed by the calf manager/feeder.
April Be a great leader - follow these tips to better communicate with your employees
May Maximize labor productivity by following these steps.
August Tips from a great leader.
November Workers safety at the dairy.

2012

Month
Tip
February Cow handling techniques – A must have training for any dairy
March How engaged are your employees?
December Start the New Year with focused, motivated employees

 

2011

Month
Tip
Tips for more effective delegation
February Parlor efficiency – What affects it and how can you improve it?
March The first day at the job – Top 10 things to have ready for the orientation day
April The most common variables that affect the TMR mixing process.
May Employee Handbooks - Why do you need them and what should they look like.
June Follow these five tips to successfully implement a newborn calf program
July Keep employees performance high. Follow these 5 steps.
August Running effective meetings - Follow this structure to run effective meetings with your key employees.
September Poor performance - Why it happens
November When training feeders becomes a necessity
December Follow these tips to maximize labor productivity

 

2010

Month
Tip
Feed losses, how can you help your feed manager reduce them?
February Develop an obsession with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's)
March Tips to develop a wage structure for your dairy
April Recognizing dairy worker's performance
May Communication skills towards success
June Incentive programs work!
July Improve profitability by monitoring feeders performance
August Orienting the new employee – A weak spot in many dairies 
September How to lead your team during unpredictable times 
October Improve profits by focusing on efficiency
November Take advantage of good milk prices. They won't last long!
December Feeding management - The 3 key drivers of success

 

2009 Tips

Month
Tip
October Negotiated Performance Appraisal (NPA) – A great tool to use with your employees 
November Top 10 things to do when managing your workers
December Get ready for 2010

 

Julio 2014

Eficiencia en el ordeñe es bueno para las vacas

1. Es muy importante el balance entre velocidad y calidad en el
trabajo.

2. Hay que tratar de que las vacas estén menos tiempo en el
ordeñe y mas tiempo descansando en sus camas.

3. Por cada hora mas que las vacas descansen ellas producen al
menos 2 litros mas de leche por día.

4. Para esto el trabajo en equipo es muy importante.

5. La consistencia en el trabajo es también muy importante para
las vacas. Esto quiere decir:
a. Ordeñar cada grupo SIEMPRE a la misma hora en cada
turno, cada día.
b. Hacer SIEMPRE la misma rutina de ordeñe, cada turno,
cada día, y cada trabajador.

6. Avisar si hay alguna vaca que es muy lenta en ordeñarse, o si
hay alguna vaca que patea mucho, o si hay alguna vaca que
renga.

7. Reporten en seguida cualquier problema con alguna maquina, o
vaca, o cualquier otra cosa que les este haciendo su trabajo
mas lento o difícil.

8. Trabajar mas rápido no quiere decir estar corriendo, apurando
a las vacas, o poniendo las maquinas muy rápido sin preparar
bien las tetas.

9. Trabajar rápido quiere decir:
a. Que siempre haya maquinas ordeñando vacas de un lado.
b. Que siempre haya vacas para ordeñar en la sala de
espera.
c. Estimular bien a las vacas para que se ordeñen mas
rápido (limpiar las tetas al menos por 7-10 segundos por
vaca).
d. Comenzar a ordeñar ni bien ya las primeras vacas entran.
e. No distraerse cuando uno empieza a ordeñar vacas de un
lado hasta no poner todas las maquinas. Solo darse
vuelta si hay una maquina chupando aire o si se descolgó
un chupón.
f. Cuando uno termino de poner maquinas de un lado se da
vuelta y comienza a poner liquido y dejar salir las vacas
del otro lado.
g. Buscar mas toallas limpias cuando ya se termino de poner
maquinas.
h. La prioridad del arreador de vacas es que siempre haya
vacas en la sala de espera.
i. Si el arreador tiene tiempo de ir a la sala puede ayudar
trayendo mas toallas limpias, o poniendo liquido a las
vacas que terminaron de ordeñarse y dejar ir vacas y
entrar mas.

10. Las claves para un buen ordeñe eficiente son:
a. CONSITENCIA – Lo mas importante para tener vacas
sanas, con mucha leche, y de buena calidad. Ordeñar los
grupos siempre a la misma hora y siguiendo la misma
rutina de ordeñe.
b. MUY BUENA ESTIMULACION – El único momento de
estimulación de la bajada de la leche es cuando limpian
las tetas. Es por eso que es muy importante limpiar las
tetas al menos por 10 segundos por vaca.
c. QUE NO HAYA TIEMPOS MUERTOS – Esto es cuando no hay
vacas con maquinas puestas, o cuando uno esta esperando
sin hacer nada porque hay una o dos vacas que no están
listas, etc.

 

July 2014

Improve parlor efficiency

Parlor efficiency tips
1. It's very important for milkers to find the right balance
between milking speed and quality.

2. Cows need to spend the least amount of time possible in the
holding area and more time resting in their stall.

3. For every extra hour that cows spend resting in their stalls,
they will produce at least 3 more pounds of milk.

4. Teamwork is very important to achieve a very efficient system.

5. Consistency is also key. This means:
a. Milking every group ALWAYS at the same time in each
shift, every day.
b. ALWAYS follow the same milking routine. Every shift,
every day, and every worker.

6. Let your manager know if there's a very slow milking cow, or
a cow that kicks a lot, or a lame cow.

7. Report immediately any problem with milking equipment, or
with cows, or anything else that may affect your work
efficiency.

8. Working fast doesn't mean you need to run, or rush cows into
the holding area or parlor, or put machines too fast without
stimulating cows properly.

9. Working fast means:
a. Making sure there's always machines on cows in one side
while you are already working on the other side.
b. Making sure there's always cows in the holding area.
c. Stimulating cows very well to ensure they get milked
faster.
d. To start prepping cows as soon as a few are in the
parlor.
e. Not getting distracted when you started prepping cows on
one side until all machines on that side are attached.
Only turn around when a unit is squawking or a machine
falls down.
f. As soon as you are done attaching units on one side, turn
around and start foaming cows on the other side and let
cows go.
g. Get more towels when you finish attaching machines.
h. Number one priority of cow pusher is to ensure that
there are always cows in the holding area.
i. If the cow pusher has time, then help milkers by getting
more clean towels, or foaming cows that are done and
letting them go and getting more cows in the parlor.
DON'T break the milking routine.

10. Keys for a good efficient milking:
a. CONSISTENCY – This is the most important if you want to
have healthy, very productive cows and with great milk
quality. Milk every group ALWAYS at the same time and
following the same milking routine.
b. VERY GOOD STIMULATION – The wiping process is the only
time when cows are getting stimulated to get milk down.
This is why it's so important to take about 10 seconds
per cow wiping.
c. AVOIDING DEAD TIMES – This is when there's no cows
getting milked, or when you are waiting for one or two
cows to get done while all the other cows are waiting,
etc.

 

March 2014

Managing feed inventory and limiting shrink

Introduction
Many dairy producers try to reduce costs by cutting feed costs without realizing how much money they are wasting once the feed, protein mix, or commodity shows up at the farm.  Furthermore, lack of focus on proper silage management, affects feed losses and add cost to the diets even more. 
Putting things into perspective:  Current feed costs per cow can run $7-$8 or more per day.  For a 1,000 cow herd this would represent about $210,000 per month expenses for the lactating cows alone.  Poor feed storage facilities, poor feed management, and lack of feeding consistency can create a 10-15% shrink loss that would represent more than $31,000 per month or over $380,000 per year!! These are dollars spent that will not generate any revenue! 
Many dairymen don’t realize the true cost of their feeding program because they don’t keep track of inventories and so they can’t measure their feed losses.  Thus, not allowing them to identify areas of their feeding program that need to be improved. 
Although eliminating feed losses completely is not possible, both the producer and feeder must focus on controlling and minimizing them. In order to accomplish this a well-planned feeding management system must be put in place along with well-trained feeders to execute the feeding program.
This is why better managing inventories and better monitoring and controlling feed losses can be critical areas to focus on to be able to reduce feed costs. 

Key control points
From my experience working with many dairy producers throughout the United States, there are 3 main areas where the producer, feeder, and nutritionist should focus on in order to better manage feed inventories and minimize feed losses.  These key control points that need to be periodically monitored are: 

  1. Feed handling and storage
  2. Mixing and feeding process
  3. Feed bunk management

Feed handling and storage
Reducing feed losses by improving management practices during the handling and storage of forages and other ingredients can have a substantial economic impact. 
Proper handling begins by having a consistent routine when receiving forages, and feed ingredients at the dairy.  Often times I see feed trucks delivering feed without anyone from the farm in site to control the delivery.  Receiving includes, not only the actual slip or invoice, and placement of the feed, but also the weigh verification, feed inspection, and sampling.  This will ensure both quality and safety of what’s received and will also give more accurate information on inventory control and will help better control shrink losses.  A similar process should be established for any silage and other forages grown and harvested at the farm.
Collect samples of every load of grain, commodity, mineral pack, or feed received, and store them for a reasonable period of time, which can be one month or more depending on the ingredient and usage.  Also, investing in a scale to weigh all ingredients or feed received at the dairy can be a valuable long-term investment.  It will allow you to verify correct receiving weights and immediately address load discrepancies with your supplier.  It will also give you more accurate information that will help you adjust inventory records and control shrink losses.  This is also critical with the silage and other forages grown at the farm.
Several factors will have an impact in shrink losses that are related to storage facilities and the way feed and commodities are handled at the farm.  Typically these are related to wind losses, presence of rodents and birds, and weather, especially when using open commodity sheds or when leaving by products, like wet brewers or distillers, exposed to rain and sun.  Also, the feeder’s attention to details can affect feed losses during handling and storage.  Ensuring the feed center is clean and organized is critical.
Impact of different storage designs
Much has been discussed in many articles and papers about the advantages of storing ingredients in upright bins compared to open-sided commodity sheds (Kertz, A. F., 1998).  Flat storage systems are usually preferred for high inclusion rate ingredients that may not flow well in upright bins.  Examples of these are whole cotton seed, hay, or beet pulp.  Also, protein mixes that contain high levels of liquid fat or molasses are usually recommended to be stored in these flat commodity bays.  However, any other ingredient or feed should be kept in upright-bins, since shrink loss using this storage system will typically be limited to 1 to 2% compared to 5 to 15% with open-sided commodity bays (Kertz, A. F., 1998).  Small differences in shrink loss between storage systems may save a lot of money, especially with expensive ingredients or concentrates. 
With current feed prices, taking into consideration only two ingredients, like soybean meal (SBM), the savings can be over $16,000 per year (Table 1) if using upright bins instead of commodity bays to store the ingredient.  

Silage storage and extraction
Also critical when it comes to reducing feed losses, silage confection and face management are areas that can make a difference when focusing on reducing shrink losses. Weighting what goes in and out of each silage bunk, or pile is the most accurate way of keeping good feed inventory. Much has been said about proper silage management, packing, covering, and extraction methods to reduce losses by Dr. Keith Bolsen (ksre.ksu.edu).
Proper training of feeders on silage face management is critical to maintain good quality feed and reduce silage losses.  Working with the nutritionist and consultant to define the correct silage extraction protocol and training the people in charge of doing it is critical.  

Mixing and feeding process
As I tell farm employees during my training sessions, precision, consistency, and attention to detailsare the keys to the success and profitability of any feeding program.  Improving loading accuracy and reducing variability during the mixing and feeding process will not only improve animal performance and health, but will also help control feed costs (F. Soriano, 2011). 
Here are some suggestions that will improve mixing uniformity and consistency:

  • Use pre-blends of concentrates, mineral and vitamin packs, and any other small inclusion rate ingredient used in the rations.  Remember that an extra shake of the bucket will increase cost of every load of feed prepared!
  • Develop a mixing protocol including mixing time and loading sequence of ingredients.  Periodically monitoring feeders to make sure that they stick to the feeding protocols is critical.

 

  • Test forage dry matter at least once per week (depending on number of cows fed it may have to be more often) and make the necessary adjustments according to forage moisture variations.
  • Invest in feeding management software like TMR Tracker® or Feedwatch®.  This can help better monitor feeding accuracy and consistency, control feed inventory, and reduce shrink losses.  Also, this technology gives the manager and nutritionist the opportunity to work closely with the employees and give them better feedback regarding their performance.  It can also be a great tool to develop incentive programs if they are already doing a very good job.  You can also use the software as a tool when doing employee performance appraisals.

 

  • Periodically check mixer scales for accuracy, since sometimes scale errors can be an important factor on feed losses. 
  • Monitor TMR uniformity.

 

  • Periodically evaluate manure consistency.  Better yet, develop a manure scoring protocol and train employees to do it.

Feed bunk management
By feeding cows more accurately (dropping the right amount of feed in each pen) you can better control feed cost.  Also, periodically updating cow numbers in each pen on the computer will improve feeding accuracy.  Making the necessary adjustments for cow numbers will reduce feed waste due to increased feed refusals.  Depending on the dairy’s size and cow movements this may need to be done once or twice daily.
Running 4 to 5% refusals when feeding lactating cows is not an option anymore.  With current high feed prices, managing feed bunks for 1 to 2% refusals could have a significant impact in feed costs.  Dairies with good feeding and feed bunk management could certainly achieve this.  Needles to say, this would take closer and periodic attention and excellent communication between all people involved in the feeding process.  The fresh cow pens may be the exception to the rule, since some nutritionists prefer to have a higher refusal rate up to 3% in these pens.
A feeding management software system will help manage feed bunk accuracy and consistency.  To put this into perspective:  If your current feed refusals are 3% and your feed cost is of $8.50 per cow a day, then your feed losses or at best feed that will be of lower value, if fed to heifers or low producing cows, will be of over $93,000 per year for a 1,000 cow herd.  In contrast, when running a more slick bunk management, by keeping feed refusals at 1%, feed losses or what is then fed to other group of animals would represent about $31,000 instead. 
However, this will be achievable in very well managed dairies, where feeding and feed bunk management are consistent, feeders are well trained and understand the importance of monitoring the feed bunk, and where forages and by-products are relatively consistent.  It is always recommended to discuss with the nutritionist and consultants before adopting aggressive feedbunk management goals.
Furthermore, what should be done with the feed refusals?  Depending on the time of the year and what the feed refusals look like, you can at least feed the refusals to heifers, or low producing cows.  In some dairies, these refusals are sometimes fed to far-off cows as well.  Practicing this can have some significant savings.

Steps for managing feed inventory and reducing feed losses
Step 1 – Establish a receiving and handling system / protocol Once the grain, commodities, or minerals arrive at the farm, a significant amount of feed can be lost if not handled properly.  With the help of the nutritionist and / or consultant establish a protocol for receiving and handling of all forages and ingredients.
Step 2 – Establish a monitoring system – Start measuring shrink to reduce monthly feed cost.  Weigh every forage and ingredient coming into the dairy and going out in the mixer.  Furthermore, weigh refusals daily in order to calculate feed losses during the mixing and feeding process. Establish a monitoring system that will help keep track of those losses.  Using a feeding management software like FeedWatch® or TMRTracker® can help keep accurate feed inventories and reduce feed cost.  At the same time, it will allow you to better monitor feeder’s performance and accuracy, and establish goals.
Step 3 – Develop standard operating procedures (SOP’s) and job descriptions – It is important to establish and communicate the role that the feeder has in the dairy.  Also, developing SOP’s is critical to reduce variation among and within feeders, and to reduce feed losses.  This can be a very simple task when using the feeding software program to develop the SOP’s. 
Step 4 – Develop key performance indicators (KPI’s) and goals With the help of the nutritionist and consultant the dairy producer should establish those parameters of the feeding process that impact feed losses the most and that are directly affected by the feeder’s performance.  These KPI’s should be monitored daily or at least weekly.  Examples of these KPI’s could be loading accuracy, feed delivery accuracy, and shrink losses of key ingredients.  By keeping good feed inventories a shrink goal can be established. Sharing with feeders these KPI’s and giving them feedback is a critical aspect when focusing on reducing feed cost and shrink losses. 
Step 5 – Develop a training program With the help of the nutritionist and outside consultants develop a training program for feeders that will cover all the main aspects of feed and forage quality assessment, feed handling and storage, proper feed inventory, the mixing and feeding process, feed bunk management, and mixer maintenance.  A good training program will reduce errors and feed losses, and will keep established feeders refreshed and motivated.

Conclusions
Milk is a commodity and margins are small.  This is why dairy producers need to focus more on the largest expense, which is feed.  Reducing feed costs by better managing and monitoring key control points of the feeding program can have a significant impact.  Feeding practices that will have an impact in shrink losses and feeding accuracy will go a long ways when focusing on feed costs. 
In summary these are some of the areas that need to be evaluated when focusing on keeping feed inventories and reducing shrink:

  1. Do an assessment on how ingredients are being handled from the time they arrive at the farm.  Is there room for improvement in this area?  Do you have standard operating procedures in place for feed and commodity reception at the farm?  Could this be improved?

 

  1. Store expensive protein sources and concentrates in upright bins.  If you are currently storing these in a commodity shed, calculate current losses and decide whether it could be profitable to invest in a few upright bins.  My guess is that if your current losses are 4% or more, investing in a few bins will be worth it.

 

  1. Develop a mixing and feeding protocol to minimize the within batch and between batch variations. 
  1. Spend time and money coaching, training, and giving feedback to your feeders.  Using outside consultants or nutritionists that can speak the native language of your employees will be ideal.

 

  1. Use feeding management software to monitor and adjust your feeding process.  This technology will help reduce batch variations, reduce feed losses, and have a more accurate feed inventory.
  1. Closely monitor the feed bunk by reading bunks accurately and weighing refusals to better control feed losses.

 

Table 1: Cost of losses comparison between bins vs bays for SBM (1% loss vs 5% loss) for a 1,000 cow dairy.

 

 

 

 


1          

Commodity shed

Upright bins

Losses/month

$1,725

$345

Losses/year

$20,700

$4,140

Total savings/ per year

$

$16,560


 

References
Bolsen, K. (website: ksre.ksu.edu).
Brouk, M. 2013. Discovering hidden feed costs for the milking herd. DAIReXNET webinar series.
Kertz, A. F., 1998.  Variability in delivery of nutrients to lactating dairy cows. J. Animal Science 81:3075.
Soriano, F. 2011. Three key drivers of feeding success. Hoards Dairyman Magazine.
Soriano, F. 2008. Cutting feed costs begins at home. Hoards Dairyman magazine.

 

November 2013

Workers safety at the dairy

Dairy employees can be exposed to safety and health hazards while working at the dairy.  Owners and managers are responsible for providing a safe workplace and  proper training to reduce labor injuries at work.  It is also critical for owners and managers to ensure that proper protocols are established and followed at all times to promote safety and reduce accidents.

Labor efficiency is an important parameter when it comes to evaluating dairy’s profitability.  In fact, most dairy operations that strive to improve profitability tend to increase cow numbers at the dairy maintaining the same number of employees, thus diluting some of their fixed costs and improving net profits.  Therefore, it is critical to ensure that a labor safety program is established so that worker’s risk of injuries or accidents is not increased. 

Lately on my travels, workers safety has been a topic of discussion with managers.  This is why I’m writing this article where I will share some key guidelines and topics that must be evaluated at the dairy, and covered during any safety training program for employees at the dairy workplace.

  • Farm tractor and skid-steer – Farm statistics show that the main cause of worker’s injuries, fatal and non-fatal, are incidents with tractors and other farm equipment. According to the North Carolina department of labor, tractor overturns is the most common cause of deaths.  This often occurs with tricycle-type tractors, so it may not be as common with more modern and bigger tractors. 

Things to emphasize during training of inexperienced employees would be: understanding the center of gravity and how it changes, effects of tractor loading, hitching, and positioning of load in front-end loader.  Being too close to ditches or sides of a silage bunker when packing must be discussed and proper maneuvering skills must be evaluated before an employee can help with this job.

 

Other risks when operating this type of equipment are:

  • Falls from a moving tractor or skid-steer.  To prevent this, do not mount or dismount from a moving tractor, do not permit riders, and do not stand or reach to extreme lengths.

 

  • Run overs – This is most commonly due to failure of the operator to notice the presence of a person behind or on a side of the skid-steer or tractor.  Understanding poor visibility of skid-steers is important as well as determining proper speed when operating this type of equipment. The use of cellular phones or headphones while operating skid-steers or tractors must be prohibited.  Staying alert and focused while operating farm equipment is critical.  I’ve seen and heard of accidents occur when employees are overconfident while operating a skid-steer or while operating the mixer feed wagon and tractor.  It is important to refresh and retrain employees at least once or twice a year, discussing common accidents when employee is not paying attention.  Also, new technologies like backing cameras and or buzzers installed in mixer wagons or tractors can be important safety features.
  • Power takeoff hazards - Prevent these accidents by having employees wear comfortable, close fitting clothes when working around equipment.  Also, use shields with good protection for the PTO drive system, and teach people to never step across a rotating power shaft. 

 

  • Other farm equipment – Employees using mowers, wagons, posthole diggers, chain saws, and other type of equipment must also be properly trained and protocols for proper use must be established.

 

  • Silage piles and bunkers – Silage bunkers or piles can be a hazard not only during packing but also during silage extraction.  Silage pile height plays a key factor in this as well as proper silage face management.  Here are some recommendations:
    • Avoid making silage piles that are too high where extraction equipment cannot reach the top.
    • If a pile or bunker face looks unstable stay away.  The silage may collapse and instantly kill the silage operator. 
    • Create awareness and training of how to clean the top spoiled material.  Employees climbing on top of silage bunks to fork out spoiled material are at great risk of falling if a section of the silage collapses.  Preferably they should use a bucket and tractor to perform this work.
    • For more detailed information about silage pile safety visit Dr. Keith Bolsen’s web page at www.lsre.ksu.edu/pr_silage.

       

  • Chemicals – It is important to have written protocols to ensure safe handling, use, and disposal of chemicals at the dairy.  Chemicals used for washing equipment and parlor systems, acids, teat dip solutions, and other chemicals used are common hazards for milkers and other employees.  

Proper training of safe use, handling, storage, and disposing of these products is essential as well as having emergency response protocols if accidents happen.  Also, all employees should wear protection gear when handling these products like rubber gloves, goggles, masks, and coveralls.  Following product use instructions is critical.  Special storage rooms and close inventory control of chemicals is a must. Keep these chemicals inaccessible from children, visitors, and inexperienced employees. Never have employees mix chemicals unless it’s part of normal protocols like mixing a footbath.  In that case, a standard procedure should be established.  

  • Animal handling and behavior – In my opinion, injuries caused by animals are the most common problem at dairy operations nowadays.  Not many of these cases are reported and thus statistics may not reflect this as one of the major hazards.  A broken finger, arm, or elbow caused by a fresh cow or heifer in the parlor can be a costly problem to dairy employers.  An employee who’s injured by a cow will spend days off work or will be working with a reduced ability to do an adequate job. 

It is critical to have a proper training program for new employees to ensure every employee working with animals understands cow’s behavior, and learns about proper cow handling techniques.  All employees working with cows should follow this safe practices:

  • Know the behavioral and sensory properties of cows and heifers.  This will ensure the safety and health of the employee and the animal.
  • Clear understanding of the “blind spot”, “point of balance”, and “flight zone” of the cow.  Knowing how to walk and move cows according to these is a must.
  • No hitting or mistreating animals should be tolerated.  Rules should be established about this and consequences clearly communicated to all employees working with animals.  A cero tolerance for mistreating animals is always my recommendation on dairies I work with.
  • Sudden moves or noises startle cattle.  Talk to the cow and let her know you are going to milk her, for example.  Always approach a cow from the sides and not from behind.  Avoid standing at her blind spot.
  • Make a fresh heifer’s first experience in the parlor a great one!  Employees must be patient when herding and milking fresh first calf heifers.  Otherwise, that animal will be difficult to milk throughout her entire lactation.
  • Don’t get overconfident and take precautions when examining, treating, or milking cows.  Cows can kick when they are scared or injured, or in pain.  Use kicking restrains when necessary.
  • Be cautious when handling cows that just freshened or when handling the newborn calf. In the calving pen, some cows can get overly protective of their newborns and become aggressive right after calving.  The use of halters or headlocks, gates, or other restraining tools and can be a safe way to handle this kind of animal.
  • Cows get nervous and uncomfortable when they are isolated.  Cows are very sociable animals and like to be with other cows.  When moving animals or herding them the employee should try to handle them in groups to keep cows calmer.
  • Weather extremes – Both extreme heat and cold weather conditions can become a serious hazard in certain parts of the country.   Educating employees on adequate outfits and gear to use while at work, and outside of work can reduce weather hazards.  Also, education on how to stay hydrated is important.   Some things that may be obvious and common sense for the employer may not be for an inexperience employee who comes from a different region or country.

Other common safety hazards can be the presence of respiratory contaminants like sawdust or silage gases, manure storage pits, electrical hazards, and slips, trips, and falls.  These are all topics that employers should include in any safety training program for employees at the dairy.

In summary, it is important for employers to provide a safe workplace for all workers by providing safe and well-maintained equipment and facilities, provide protective gear when needed, and develop and enforce safe work practices and protocols.  Furthermore, proper training on work safety is important.  At the same time, employees must be responsible and follow proper protocols and practices at all times.  Rules and consequences for employees not following these safety protocols must be established and put into practice to ensure the safety of all at the work place.

 

August 2013

Tips from a great leader

People working at your dairy can make or break your cows, your milk quality, and your profitability.  This is why it is so important, as the leader of a dairy operation, to focus on your labor force and to take the time and resources to ensure they are properly trained and qualified for the job.  

What most leaders have in common is the challenge of getting the most out of their labor force. And this will depend on 3 variables according to Captain D. Abrashoff, who wrote the book “It’s your ship – Management techniques from the best damn ship in the navy”.  Those 3 variables are:

  1. Leader’s needs
  2. Company’s atmosphere
  3. Labor force potential competence

Many dairy operations tend to mismatch these variables affecting their dairy performance and profitability in the process.  In this article I share a few tips I picked up from the book that will help you achieve a balance between those variables. 

  1. Pay your employees well and describe from day 1 the details of the salary structure, when, and how often they will get paid.  There’s nothing worse in having an employee that doesn't know how much he makes, when his pay day is, and how often is he/she is getting paid.  Money is the most basic need for any employee and will be the number 1 priority for them.  
  2. As Abrashoff says in his book “See the ship through the eyes of the crew”.  Take the time to evaluate working conditions, whether they have the right tools for the job or if those tools are working properly.  Furthermore, ask your employees if there are any issues or problems that don’t let them accomplish their jobs to your expectations. 
  3. Have a common cause/goal for the entire operation.  Even though each area of the dairy should have individual goals and expectations, having a common goal for the dairy creates a team atmosphere and drives people to work for a same cause.  For example: Having a goal to expand the dairy to milk one hundred more cows by next year.  This type of goal requires everyone to be focused on their job, from the breeders, to the people in charge of managing calves and fresh cows, to the milkers who will have to milk the cows.  Let everyone know how their job will impact this common goal and what’s expected from them. 
  4. Review every process on the dairy.  Ask everyone:  Is there a better way to do what you do? Create a culture where people feel open to discuss about their jobs, how to make their jobs more efficient, and things that can make their job easier and better. 
  5. Little gestures go a long way.  Ask your employees about their families.  Get to know where your employees come from, whether they have kids or not, when their birthdays are, etc.  Send a postcard or a picture to their families saying how much you appreciate the work that their family member does at your dairy. 
  6. Lead by example. Show up on time to the meetings you set up with your employees.  Respond to their requests immediately and show them that your most important priority is your people. Demonstrate this with actions.
  7. Assume the position that many times the problem is you.  If something was not done properly, or if your feeder is not following feeding protocols or is not being consistent how he feeds cows ask yourself 3 questions before blaming the employee:
    1. Did I clearly articulate the goals?
    2. Did I give people enough guidance, feedback, and coaching?
    3. Did they get enough training?

You may find that most of the time you may be at least as much of the problem as your employees were.

8. Listen aggressively.  Treat every encounter with an employee as the most important thing at that moment. 

9. Spend time with your employees and treat them well.  Let them know you value what they do for the dairy.  Let them know how what they do is improving your cow’s health, productivity, milk quality, etc.  Make them feel an important part of the success of your dairy operation.

10. Communicate purpose and meaning. In many dairies people are just working to collect a paycheck every one or two weeks.  I see this in many dairies where people don’t have the passion for their job and look like robots while milking or feeding, clearly without a purpose.  It is crucial to give your people a compelling vision of their work, a good reason to believe it is important for them and your dairy.  Like Abrashoff says “After all, we dedicate 60-70% of our walking hours to this thing called work”.  So spend time and thought to come up with a compelling vision that your people can believe in.  That will give them a purpose to wake up every morning to come to work.

To be a great leader you have to devote time to your people.  Create a compelling vision focused around your most important asset, your cows, and create a team environment focused around that vision.  

I hope you enjoy it and please contact me with questions or if I can be of any help.

 

May 2013

Maximize labor productivity by following these steps

Labor is the most important resource you have in your dairy.  Employees play a key role in the success of your dairy, so just as maximizing cow productivity is one of your primary goals, striving to maximize labor productivity should be as well.

What is productivity?  Dr. Gregory Billikopf, from the Univ. of California defines productivity as: 
PRODUCTIVITY =  ABILITY (can do)  + MOTIVATION (will do)

I have adopted this definition but also added a third component to the formula, so that now the formula looks like this:
PRODUCTIVITY =  ABILITY + SKILLS + MOTIVATION

So how do we improve labor productivity according to this equation?  Let’s look at each one of these three components:

First, it is important to clearly understand the difference between a person’s abilities and skills. This is how Gregorio Billikopf defines them as:

Abilities = An innate or more stable talent.  What a person can do. (Example: The physical ability to reach the front teats of the cow when striping and wiping, or having good animal senses).

Skills = Converting an ability or innate talent into something of value. (Example: skills to breed a cow, or IV a cow with milk fever, etc).

Remember, that the abilities are those traits that a person needs to have to perform a job properly.  A person’s abilities cannot be developed through training or coaching.  On the other hand, skills are those that the person can learn, improve, or develop.

This is why it’s so important to take more seriously the selection process when hiring new employees.  It doesn’t matter if you are hiring a milker or a herdsman, hiring the right person for the job is critical to the success of your operation and it should be taken very seriously.

Furthermore, once the people with the right abilities are hired, a well planed and organized training program should be defined to ensure that the employees will have a chance to succeed at that job. 

Motivation – Keeping employees motivated is the key driver of labor productivity.  I have written extensively about this topic.   Go to my website at www.apndairy.com to read those articles.

In one of these articles I share tips on how to keep employees motivated/productive.  These tips are:

  1. Define clear key performance indicators (KPI’s) for every job; define expectations, and goals as well.
  2. Monitor worker’s performance (KPI’s) every step of the way.
  3. Eliminate roadblocks and negative practices that take away employee’s internal motivation.
  4. Don’t tolerate poor performance.  Address this problem quickly and reward high achievers.
  5. Define simple but important rules.  Also, have clear consequences for not following those rules (example: No mistreating of animals will be tolerated.  Everyone should be trained on how to handle cows and a cero tolerance rule should be established).
  6. Give feedback at least weekly (Example: post parlor performance numbers and SCC at least weekly for milkers and cow pushers to see).
  7. Define clear / simple job descriptions and standard operating procedures (SOP’s).
  8. Establish an orientation and training program for new employees.

Remember, having motivated employees will help you:

  1. Improve labor productivity
  2. Reduce absenteeism (by 27% according to some studies)
  3. Reduce turn over rate (by 31% according to some studies)
  4. Improve efficiencies (by 51% according to some studies)
  5. Reduce accidents at work (by 62% according to some studies)

In summary, maximize labor productivity at your dairy by hiring the right people, training them properly, and keeping them motivated.

 

April 2013

Be a great leader - follow these tips to better communicate with your employees

Good communication is crucial for successful team leadership.  Communication reduces fear and uncertainty and breaks down barriers.  It strengthens relationships, improves performance, and motivates employees.  Here are a few tips that will help you become a better communicator with your employees:

 

1-If it’s important say it twice - Not only that, but ask them a question to ensure they got your meaning.

2-Listen actively – Active listening shows respect and increases the likelihood that the other person will share information in the future.

3-Read the impact you have on others – How do you affect your employees?  When you speak to them, are they tense? Relaxed? Are you giving them energy and excitement? To lead others, you need to know the impact you and your words have on them.  When working with Hispanic employees, make sure you use short sentences and speak slowly.  Learn to watch their body language when you speak to identify whether they understand what you are trying to explain or not.  Best of all: Take the time to learn Spanish!

4-Communicate purpose and meaning – Have a common goal and share it with all your employees.  Having a common goal will inspire a diverse group of people to work hard together and will give them a purpose to wake up every morning to milk cows or feed them.  Tell them about the importance of their role within the dairy and how their performance can impact that goal.  The more employees know about your goals, the more buy-in you will get and the better chances to achieve them you will have.

5-Have periodic meetings with your employees and share good news – A lot of managers have meetings only when there is a problem or things are going poorly.  This can create a negative atmosphere within the workers.  Instead, having periodic meetings and sharing some good news and successes keeps people motivated and in a good mood.  You can also use these meetings to share challenges with your employees and give them the opportunity for everyone to participate on the solution.  (Read my article “Effective meetings strengthen relations, performance” for more information about running effective meetings at your dairy).

6-Excell at giving feedback – Feedback is a great way to tell your employees what you are looking for and if done right, will motivate them to improve their performance.  Here are a few tips when giving feedback:

  • Even if the feedback is negative, always start with the positive: “You’ve learned a lot in the last two months and I can see that you are committed to doing a good job”. 
  • Give feedback with supporting data if possible.  For example: “Your daily feed refusals were 3% this week and our goal is to be at 1.5%.  Let’s talk about what happened this week.  Were there any forage changes that you didn’t account for? Etc…
  • Be fast and to the point.
  • Be specific.  “Don’t say nice job feeding cows”.  Instead, say “I see that dry matter intake has gone up since you decided to add water to the TMR.  Milk production has gone up because of that too!  Keep up the good work!”
  • Give negative feedback in private and positive feedback in public.

7-Express anger constructively – It is legitimate to express your anger but never lose control.  That can push people away, and jeopardize your reputation and trust from your employees.  Instead, stay focused on expressing your frustration in a way that promotes better performance from your workers.  Isolate the core issue and open a dialogue.  “I’m angry because you didn’t move those ten cows from pen 1 to pen two like I asked you to.  What happened? “The conversation may give you more information about what went wrong.

8-Clearly define goals and expectations – Make sure you have specific goals and expectations for your employees and that you communicate those clearly and in detail to them.  Put them in writing as well (in Spanish for Spanish speaking employees) and make sure that they understand that they will be evaluated based on those goals and expectations.

9-Ask your team what they think – Stay open to other viewpoints and encourage employee’s input and suggestions.  Their input may show you things you might miss or they may spot barriers to implementation.  These are some of the times when you can ask for your teams input:

  • Setting new incentive programs
  • Improving an existing process
  • Evaluating a new technology
  • Determining skill needs and training opportunities

10- Learn to speak Spanish - Taking the time to learn some Spanish can be a great asset when communicating with your team.  Lead by example and show your people that you care about improving the communication lines.  This will have a very positive impact with your Spanish-speaking employees, and will encourage them to do the same and work on their English speaking skills.

 

March 2013

Group housed calf systems – Better recruiting and training is required. PART 2: Top 10 skills needed by the calf manager/feeder.

The calf feeder’s role in a group housed calf system is critical to success of the calf program.  Last month I discussed the most important “abilities” a person needs for this job.  This month, I will focus on the most important “skills” that the right candidate should have or develop to be successful at this position.

First, it is important to clearly understand the difference between a person’s abilities and skills. This is how Dr. Gregorio Billikopf defines them:

Abilities = An innate or more stable talent.  What a person can do. (Example: Ability to lift and carry a 50# bag, or having good animal senses).
Skills = Converting an ability or innate talent into something of value. (Example: skills to give an injection, or pneumonia treatment skills, etc).

Remember, that the abilities are those traits that a person needs to have to perform a job properly.  A person’s abilities cannot be developed through training or coaching.  On the other hand, skills are those that the person can learn, improve, or develop.

Therefore, when recruiting someone for the calf feeder position, look for the following skills or ensure that the proper training is done for the person to develop these skills:

1-Calf care skills – This person needs to learn how to properly restrain a calf using corners of a pen or gates when a calf need to be either treated, vaccinated, or fed. 

2-Overall neonatal calf care – Some of the important things that this person must know or learn are:  Dip or spray navels correctly, identify calf gender, use calf identification tags (ear tags and ID buttons), vaccinate properly, give injections, manage and feed colostrum, use an esophageal tube feeder, evaluate health and do neonatal calf physical examinations, and evaluate navel condition after 24 hours of a calf’s life. 

3-Colostrum management skills – He / she will have to determine colostrum quality, preserve colostrum following protocols, use colostrum supplements and replacers when required, and assure cleanliness and disinfection during the entire colostrum management process.

4-Calf health diagnosis and treatment - This person will have to learn or know how to do a physical examination and how to properly diagnose calf health problems (focusing primarily on respiratory problems, scours, and navel infections).  Also, understand and treat calves following treatment protocols, and proper vaccine handle and administration are important.  Finally, keeping good calf health and vaccination records are a critical part of the skills required.      

5-Feeding skills – This person must understand very well the importance of milk, water, and grain to any calf.  Consistently following at all times the proper feeding protocols is critical.  Also, proper computer feeder management when available is important, understanding computer reports, and being able to monitor eating patterns and identifying calves with problems before they get sick is critical.

6-De-horning – Follow protocols at all times and use the necessary tools to minimize calf stress during and after the process. 

7-Calf records – Update calves records at least once daily, and follow protocols at all times.  Learn or know how to monitor and evaluate information, and be able to develop action plans according to reports.

8-Cleanliness – Learn and follow cleaning and disinfecting protocols at all times.  Be consistent and aware of the importance of this.   

9-Proper calf weaning protocols – Be able to identify calves that are ready to be weaned and follow weaning protocols at all times.  Also, be able to identify problem or weak calves before weaning.

10-Good communication skills – Good communication with managers and other co-workers is critical to the success of any calf program.  Monitoring and record keeping systems will help improve communication and developing a daily, weekly, and monthly communication system is important. 

Before hiring your calf manager for your new group housed calf system, assess the type of abilities and skills that your calf manager will need in order to succeed at the job.  And then be ready to put applicants to the test using various testing stations where they can show you what they are really capable of observing and doing. 

 

As a manager, you won’t be able to do much about a person’s abilities to do a job. This is why the hiring process is so important, to ensure that the candidate with the right abilities is selected.  The more prepared you are as a manager by clearly understanding the job, and having a written job description and protocols, the better chances you will have of hiring the right candidate for the job. 

In summary, assess the person’s abilities for the job and also determine whether he/she has the right skills.  But remember, as long as the candidate has the right abilities for the job, then with good training and coaching you can help the person develop the right skills.

Note:  Thanks to Dr. Bob James (calf specialist / professor at Virginia Tech) and Gregorio Billikopf  (professor at University of California) for helping me with this article.

 

 

February 2013

Group housed calf systems – Better recruiting and training is required
PART 1: Top 10 abilities the right calf feeder / manager need
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Several dairies I work with have changed their calf raising system in the past couple of years. More or less automated, group housed calf systems have improved, for the most part, their overall calf health, growth rates, labor efficiency, and have reduced costs.  Furthermore, in a recent symposium I attended from Cornell, Dr. Anderson described group housed calf systems as being closer to “Nature’s way” of raising calves.

However, even though many dairy managers claim that labor efficiency significantly improves with this system, I still have not seen solid numbers to prove this in bigger dairies where an employee is in charge.  I believe that with these systems, the type of labor required must be better and closely defined.  Clearly, day-to-day management of calves changes, and the person in charge of feeding calves becomes even more important to the success of the calf program.  They now become calf managers and their job description goes beyond just mixing milk, cleaning, and carrying bottles and buckets to the hutches.  They now have to evaluate individually each calf within a group of calves, look at computer reports to analyze milk intake deviations, monitor the system cleanliness daily, and identify problems before serious problems develop.

In the group calf housed systems the calf manager is key to the success or failure of the system.  I’ve seen both in my travels!

This is why I think it is so important to define the type of abilities and skills that the calf feeder / manager needs before recruiting someone from within your dairy or from outside. 

When recruiting someone for the calf manager position, look for the following abilities:

1-Good animal sense / nurturing - Having sensitivity to animals and the environment is probably the most important ability this person must have.  If you are looking from within your operation for a candidate, look for people that are good around the cows.  Look for those that can handle cows in a calm and efficient way.  Look for those that are the best at identifying health issues with the cows.  

2-Consistent and on time every day – This is critical since following routines and doing things the same way and at the same time every day is the key driver of any successful program at the dairy.

3-Organized, methodical, and detail oriented – This person will have to organize maintenance schedules, de-horning schedules, weaning schedules, vaccination protocols, treatment protocols, etc.  Also, he/she will have to closely monitor each individual calf from different groups, monitor computer reports, and more, that will require someone that is detail oriented, well organized, and methodical while following processes.

4-Ability to read and write (preferably in both English and Spanish).  This person will not only have to keep treatment and calf care reports up to date but also read protocols, labels, etc. 

5-Ability to follow protocols and directions – Once the person goes through the training and understands the “why’s” of the different jobs and protocols that he/she needs to follow, directions need to be followed to the “T” in order to reduce problems and ensure proper procedures are always followed.

6-Good communicator – It is important for the success of the program.  You as a manager can help improve this by establishing communication processes (weekly meetings, daily, weekly, and monthly reports, etc) that can help improve the communication.

7-Patience and calm mannered, but yet fast and efficient during stressful situations - When animals don’t cooperate or move around when needed to get on a scale it can be frustrating.  The calf manager must stay calm at all times, but yet find an efficient and fast way to get the job done without mistreating animals.

8-Cleanliness – Before hiring the person, look at how he/shepresents himself.  If he/she is already working at your dairy, is he/she always dirty and milking with dirty gloves, arms, and never pays attention to this?  Does the person maintain their working area clean and tidy?  How’s their locker?  This is absolutely crucial when it comes to calf care and feeding.  The most common problem I see during disease outbreaks in dairies is that proper cleaning protocols were not followed at all times.   

9-Ability to lift heavy bags and animals (50-100# weight) – Some physical abilities will be required for the job.  Don’t hire someone that will constantly need help to lift bags or work with the animals because they can’t do it themselves.

10-Ability to measure ingredients and liquids and do basic math – This is important when mixing milk, when measuring the right treatment dose, when weighing calves, when calculating growth rates, etc.

Before hiring your calf manager for your new group housed calf system, do the exercise and assess the type of abilities that your calf manager will need in order to succeed at the job. 

As managers, it is very hard and sometimes impossible to change people’s abilities.  This is why the recruiting and hiring process are so important.  The more prepared you are as a manager by understanding the job well, having a written job description and written protocols the better chances you will have of hiring the right candidate for the job. 

In my next article, I will focus on the skills that the calf manager will need and how a good training program can help improve those skills.

 

 

December 2012

Start the New Year with focused, motivated employees

The New Year is almost here! Have you taken time of your busy schedule to meet with your team leaders, supervisors, and middle managers to define next year’s performance expectations and goals? Also, this would be a good time to do an individual performance review and discuss opportunities for growth.

Discuss overall goals and expectations for your dairy first and then discuss specific goals for each area within the dairy that each one of your leaders/supervisors is responsible for.  Discuss what needs to be done to achieve those goals, have them participate on that discussion, and finally develop a plan with your team on how to get there.  

Finally, have your leaders convey these goals to the rest of the workforce.  This can have a tremendous impact in people’s will to excel (motivation) and will help them stay focus on the tasks that will lead to high performance.

Also, if you didn’t do a performance evaluation with each of your leaders yet, this might be the time to do it.  I always recommend using the Negotiated Performance Appraisal (NPA) developed by Dr. Gregorio Billikopf.  Unlike the traditional approach, the NPA can help you jointly develop a plan for performance expectations and improvement with each employee.  It will also allow you to plan on how to achieve those goals individually with each one of your team leaders.  For more information on the NPA read my article called “A useful appraisal tool” at www.apndairy.com.  

The negotiated performance appraisal can be a great tool to use once or twice per year as a coaching tool with your employees.  You will be able to improve people’s skills, define goals and expectations for them, and develop a succession plan for your operation with your key employees.

Always remember that your employees are your most important resource.  They are a key driver of your dairy’s success or failure.  Having these type of meetings with them will help you keep them motivated and focused on the tasks that will make your dairy more profitable.  
Finally, having an outside consultant participating of these type of meetings can improve the efficacy of the meeting.  Asking your veterinarian, nutritionist, or consultant to participate can be of great help.  The language barrier with some employees may be an issue though, so having someone with experience in running these meetings that can speak the native language of your key employees can be an asset.

 

July 2012

How engaged are your employees?

Engaged employees are more productive, safer, and more likely to stay longer at your dairy.  

Gallup, a research based management consulting firm, defines an engaged employee as “someone who works with passion and has profound connection to the company, driving results and moving the organization forward”.  In other words, engaged employees are those who show passion about their job and the dairy they work for, making them highly productive and efficient at work.

Gallup’s statistics say that highly engaged employees can improve overall performance by 78%!  Furthermore, engaged employees can improve:

  • Employee retention by 44%
  • Labor safety by 50%
  • Productivity by 50%
  • Profitability by 33%

So, are your employees highly engaged or not? 

If they are good for you!  If they are not, I suggest starting by looking at your leadership and communication skills.  We all recognize that good communication is critical for effective teamwork on the farm or in any business. Not only do we recognize that, but we often say that it is a priority for us. And yet, it is still a problem area for many.

As manager, you tend to assume that others understand what you want.  You think that they give the same urgency to tasks as you will.  You believe that they will have the same standards for how the job gets done that you have.  But, unfortunately many times this is not the case. 

You probably aren’t the only one with questions and misconceptions. Many employees don’t know much of the business of the farm, what your goals are as an owner or how they are doing compared to your expectations. The primary reason they don’t know it is because many owners don’t do a good job sharing that information.

That’s where many owners get stuck. They recognize the importance of good communication and engaged employees, but aren’t sure what to do differently. Meanwhile, many employees seem adrift. They may not contribute much beyond doing the minimum and aren’t active participants in advancing the operation to a new level.

So what can you do to have highly engaged employees?  Here are 5 things that you must have:

  • Strong leadership and communication
  • Well defined job roles and organizational structure
  • Effective performance management system
  • A well defined recruitment and orientation process for new employees
  • A good training and development program

 

Employee surveys and evaluations can be now done with dairy farm employees that can help make assessments of the level of engagement of your employees.  For more information go to my website

MSU Extension is initiating a project along with APN Consulting, LLC to improve communication on the farm. This project is supported with funding provided by the North Central Center for Risk Management Education and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

To participate, a dairy must have at least five employees. The project personnel will meet with the owner and evaluate his or her perception of employee satisfaction and engagement. A survey has been developed which the farm’s employees will take via phone interview, either in English or in Spanish. A summary of those responses will be prepared and the project personnel will sit down with the owners to review this and determine what can be done to improve communication and engagement on the farm.

In order for this to be successful, employees must feel supported in calling and that their responses are completely anonymous. In fact, the name of the employee will not even be asked. No identifying information will be revealed.

Dairy producers in Michigan and eastern U.S. are invited to participate in this project. If you are interested in learning more about this, contact any of the project leaders:

Improvement is possible but it begins with increased knowledge. This project can help you change employee management based on understanding what your employees are thinking.

In this project, that will be available form July until March of 2013, we offer doing a survey and evaluation of your employee's level of engagement to your dairy and ways to improve this. View survey here

Phil Durst & Felix Soriano
Sr. MSU Extension Dairy Educator
Owner, APN Consulting, LLC

 

February 2012

Cow handling techniques – A must have training for any dairy

As a manager never assume that the people you hire know how to handle cows properly.  Having experience working at other farms doesn’t mean that they will know how to handle cows.  In fact, cow handling is an area that I always cover during milking trainings and orientation programs in many dairies around the country. 

From my experience, lack of cow handling skills is more often than not a big challenge with new employees in many dairies.  I always talk about this with many employees at different dairies and often they confess being scared of cows, reason why they are so aggressive when pushing cows to the parlor.  Others tell me that they’ve worked with beef cattle at home, which is easy to tell when you hear them whistling, screaming, and sometimes even hitting cows thinking that they must herd dairy cows like wild cowboys would do out in a beef ranch.  The reality is that not many people know much about cow’s behavior when they first arrive at a dairy. 

This is why it is so important to have a cow handling techniques training as part of the orientation program of all employees.  In fact, this should be mandatory for any new employee, no matter how much experience they have.  Why?  Because you, as a dairy manager, have the obligation to ensure that your cows are being handled properly, for the benefit of the cows, your employees benefit (avoid or reduce risk of injuries working around cows), and for your own benefit (calm cows make more milk than stressed cows).

What should be covered during a cow handling 101 training?  These are the things that I always cover when doing trainings for employees:

  • Point of balance, flight zone, and blind spot of a cow, and how knowing about these will help the employee move cows better
  • Talk to them about dairy cows behavior, how they think, see, and comingle with other cows.  Help them think like cows!
  • Use videos and spend time with them around cows to show them how to do it
  • Also, explain proper precautions that they should take while giving shots, assisting calvings, etc

 

Finally, have rules and consequences about cow handling and share these with everyone.  Mistreating animals at the farm should not be allowed and a cero tolerance approach should be taken with anyone who is caught being overaggressive with the cows, heifers, or calves.

 

 

January 2012

Start the New Year with focused, motivated employees

The New Year is here! Have you taken time of your busy schedule to meet with your team leaders, supervisors, and middle managers to define this year’s performance expectations and goals? Also, this would be a good time to do an individual performance review and discuss opportunities for growth.

Discuss overall goals and expectations for your dairy first and then discuss specific goals for each area within the dairy that each one of your leaders/supervisors is responsible for.  Discuss what needs to be done to achieve those goals, have them participate on that discussion, and finally develop a plan with your team on how to get there. 

Finally, have your leaders convey these goals to the rest of the workforce.  This can have a tremendous impact in people’s will to excel (motivation) and will help them stay focus on the tasks that will lead to high performance.

Also, if you didn’t do a performance evaluation with each of your leaders yet, this might be the time to do it.  I always recommend using the Negotiated Performance Appraisal (NPA) developed by Dr. Gregorio Billikopf.  Unlike the traditional approach, the NPA can help you jointly develop a plan for performance expectations and improvement with each employee.  It will also allow you to plan on how to achieve those goals individually with each one of your team leaders.  For more information on the NPA read my article from NE Dairy Business magazine called “A useful appraisal tool”. 

The negotiated performance appraisal can be a great tool to use once or twice per year as a coaching tool with your employees.  You will be able to improve people’s skills, define goals and expectations for them, and develop a succession plan for your operation with your key employees.

Always remember that your employees are your most important resource.  They are a key driver of your dairy’s success or failure.  Having these type of meetings with them will help you keep them motivated and focused on the tasks that will make your dairy more profitable. 

Finally, having an outside consultant participating of these type of meetings can improve the efficacy of the meeting.  Asking your veterinarian, nutritionist, or consultant to participate can be of great help.  The language barrier with some employees may be an issue though, so having someone with experience in running these meetings that can speak the native language of your key employees can be an asset.

For more information on how to run a negotiated performance appraisal and what questions to ask please call me at 215-738-9130 or email me at felix@apndairy.com.

 

December 2011

Follow these tips to maximize labor productivity

Labor is the most important resource you have in your dairy. Employees play a key role in the success of your dairy, so just as maximizing cow productivity is one of your primary goals, striving to maximize labor productivity should be as well.

Dr. Gregory Billikopf, from the Univ. of California defines productivity as:

PRODUCTIVITY = ABILITY (can do) + MOTIVATION (will do)

So how do we improve labor productivity according to this equation? Let’s look at each one of these two components individually:

Ability – Quite frankly there’s not much we can do about a person’s ability to do a job (or lack of ability) once we hire that person.

Whether is lack of physical ability or intellectual capacity, this person will most likely not be able to do the job to your expectations and there’s not much you can do about it (other than finding another job in the dairy for him/her).

A good example of this is what I sometimes see in dairies around the country with people that don’t have the physical ability to milk cows. If high cow throughput is a big target in the parlor, then a short, stocky, and unfit person most likely won’t get the job done to the manager’s expectations. This person won’t be able to reach the front teats of the cows, will be tired before the end of the shift, and will slow down other people in the parlor. Whose fault is this? The manager’s for hiring the wrong person for that job.

This is why it’s so important to take more seriously the selection process when hiring new employees. It doesn’t matter if you are hiring a milker or a herdsman, hiring the right person for the job is critical to the success of your operation and it should be taken very seriously

Motivation – Keeping employees motivated is the key driver of labor productivity. I have written extensively about this topic.

In one of these articles I share 5 tips on how to keep employees motivated/productive (read the article). These tips will help you keep your employees motivated, which consequently will help you:

1. Improve labor productivity

2. Reduce absenteeism (by 27% according to some studies)

3. Reduce turn over rate (by 31% according to some studies)

4. Improve efficiencies (by 51% according to some studies)

5. Reduce accidents at work (by 62% according to some studies)

The bottom line is if you want to improve labor productivity at your dairy, you need to focus on hiring the right people and keeping them motivated.

Related articles:

* Motivate employees without spending money –Hoards Dairyman (click here to read)

* Improve labor productivity – AgriNews (click here to read)

* Motivate employees by suing these two steps – Animal Science Monitor (click here to read)

* Keep employees performance high – July 2011 Tip of the Month

* 10 things to do when managing your workers – El Lechero/Progressive Dairyman (click here to read)

 

November 2011

When training feeders becomes a necessity

Do you think you are paying too much for feed? Do you think you and your nutritionist are doing everything possible to reduce feed cost and yet your IOFC keeps shrinking due to higher feed cost?

How much have you done with your feeders to ensure that they are doing their part? When was the last time you had a meeting with them and discussed high feed prices and defined goals and expectations for them? When was the last time your feeders went through a “feeder training”?

It’s surprising how many dairies still spend very little time working with their feeders to ensure that they are properly trained and understand the importance of their role in the dairy. These people control over 50% of the variable costs of the dairy and yet in some dairies very little, if any, time is spent monitoring their performance! It’s not just about reviewing diet and cow changes with them. We need to share feeding reports with them, and discuss the impact that their performance has in the dairies bottom line. Training feeders has become a necessity due to increase feed cost!

Here is an example of the impact that good feeder’s training can do in the bottom line profitability by reducing feed costs due to improved loading accuracy, feeding accuracy, better reading feed bunks, and reduced shrink losses. This table shows some of these benefits in a monthly and yearly base for different herd sizes. Average feed cost is calculated at $7.50/ cow per day based on current feed prices.

Train your feeders to reduce feed cost (example)

Training feeders can help...
500 cows
1,500 cows
3,500 cows
5,000 cows
Month/Year
Month/Year
Month/Year
Month/Year
Reduce shrink by 2.5%
$2,813
$33,750
$8,438
$101,250
$19,688
$236,250
$28,125
$337,500
Reduce feed refusals from 3% to 1.5%
$1,688
$20,250
$5,063
$60,750
$11,813
$141,750
$16,875
$202,500
Reduce loading error from 2% to 1%
$1,125
$13,500
$3,375
$40,500
$7,875
$94,500
$11,250
$135,000
Total Savings
$5,625
$67,500
$16,875
$202,500
$39,375
$472,500
$56,250
$675,000

 

 

Considered average feed cost = $7.50 / cow / day These numbers only consider lactating cows (dry cows and heifers are not included)

 

September 2011

Poor performance - Why it happens

Are you having problems with an employee’s performance and you can’t figure out why? Let me share with you the 3 main reasons why an employee may not perform to your expectations:

1-Lack of ability – This happens usually when the natural strengths of your employee don’t match with the abilities that are required to perform their current job. A very harsh but simple example of this is a person hired to milk cows that is very short, overweight, and gets tired after half an hour of milking cows. Is it his fault that he is not performing to your expectations, or yours for giving the person that job instead of something else at the dairy? Maybe this person is an excellent truck and tractor driver and can perform other jobs within your operation instead. Reduce the risk of having this type of problem at your dairy by defining job specifications and job descriptions for each job at the dairy.

2-Lack of skills – In this case, the person may have the abilities to perform the job to your expectations but may lack the proper training or techniques. It may also be that he doesn’t have the proper tools or resources to perform the job right. In this case, make sure that she is properly trained or re-trained by the right person (this could be a fellow worker trained to train others, a middle manager, or an outside trainer hired to do this job). Also, as a manager, ensure that your employee always has the right tools to excel at his/her job. Example: A feeder can’t feed all pens at the same time every day if the TMR mixer is not properly maintained and is constantly breaking. He may have a back up mixer, but if this one is smaller, or not well maintained either, then feeding time expectations will not be met.

3-Lack of will to perform / lack of motivation – There could be different reasons why this person is not motivated to perform to your expectations. Maybe he has been doing the same job for over 4 years and needs a change, maybe he is having issues at home, or maybe you are not doing enough to help spark his own internal motivation. For more information on how to keep employees motivated read some of my previous articles that you will find under the “ARTICLES” link on my website.

Bottom line, identify the specific reason your employee is not performing to your expectations and define a plan to help him/her succeed at the job. Also, communicate with them to let them know that they are not performing to your expectations and help them identify the problem. Set up a deadline of when things will be reviewed and what decision will be made if things don’t improve.

 

August 2011

Running effective meetings - Follow this structure to run effective meetings with your key employees

Good communication is crucial for the success of your dairy operation. Good communication with your employees will strengthen your relationship with them and among them, will improve performance, and will motivate employees to do a better job.

A very effective way of communicating is through meetings. These meetings can be informal, formal, short, long, or a combination of all of the above. The point is to take the time to meet with employees to address their issues and keep them motivated. This will always result in better employee productivity.


Unfortunately, many dairy managers or owners have meetings with employees only when there is a problem or things are going poorly. This can create a negative atmosphere within the workers. Instead, having meetings consistently and periodically to share good news, successes, and keep employees focused and on track will help people stay motivated and more productive.


I know, you might be thinking, meetings? What a waist of time! In fact, many dairy producers think that meetings are, not just a waist of time and ineffective, but that they can also create anger and confusion among employees. Meetings can certainly go wrong unless you can transform them into compelling, productive, and dynamic activities. The rewards of having successful periodic meetings with your employees are tremendous. You can improve people’s morale, make better and faster decisions, improve labor productivity, and most importantly improve the bottom line performance and profitability of your dairy.


How often should you meet with middle managers or key employees? To answer this question I will share with you a structure of meetings that works very well in the dairies that have adopted them. These meetings have improved communication with and among middle managers and/or key employees of these dairies. I originally adapted this structure from Patrick Lencioni, author of the book “Death by Meeting”:


Meeting #1 - The daily check-in: This in fact is the most common form of meeting I see in the Ag industry. This type of meeting requires that team members (middle managers and/or key employees) gather together, standing up, for about 5 to 10 minutes every morning to report to the owner or manager on their activities for the day. These daily check-ins are useful to help team members know what each one is doing, helps avoid confusion about what the priorities are for the day and who’s in charge of what, and also helps ensure that no daily tasks fall through the cracks.


The challenge with these meetings is to keep them short, to the point, and consistent every day. Always do them at the same time and same place. Even if one team member or even yourself cannot make it one day, the meeting needs to take place.

Meeting #2 – The weekly tactical: The purpose of this meeting is to focus on issues that require immediate response. The structure is consistent every week and it requires the participation of all team members involved. This meeting should not last longer than 40 minutes and should include the following items:

  • Top priorities/issues to deal with for the week: During the first 5 minutes every team member indicates their top 2 or 3 priorities for the week. This phase of the meeting is critical because it will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. It also helps team members stay informed of what goes on in the different areas within the dairy operation.
  • Progress review: The next step on the meeting is for every team member or the owner to routinely report about the key performance indicators (KPI’s) within each area in the dairy (ie: parlor performance and milk quality numbers for the previous week, IOFC and other feeding management parameters, DOA’s, mortality rates, and other calf and heifer numbers, etc). These cannot be more than 3 KPI’s for each area within the dairy. The key here is to get in the habit of reviewing progress relating to key performance indicators and goals, but not every metric available. A longer, big picture, more detailed discussion of these numbers should take place during the “Monthly strategic meeting”.
  • Real-Time agenda: Once the top priorities and KPI’s have been reviewed it is time to talk about what’s in the agenda. The agenda will actually come up from the discussion during the first stage of the meeting (Top priorities/Issues). Based on the topics shared by the team during the first 5 minutes of the meeting, the manager needs to list the topics by order of priority and discuss accordingly. Example: The fresh cow manager reports an increased mortality rate of fresh cows due to DA’s. Certainly this will be the first topic or one of the first topics to discuss. An assessment of the situation and action plan need to take place during the discussion of each topic.


It is important to have each team member be specific and not take much time during the first round of information when describing issues or tasks to deal with that week. Also, identify topics that are more strategic and write them down to be discussed during the monthly meeting. All topics during the weekly meeting should be tactical and only issues to be addressed during the week should be discussed.


Meeting#3 – The monthly strategic: This meeting should take between 1 to 2 hours, and the topics to discuss should be more strategic about the business, trends, goals, etc. It is important that the manager establishes an agenda before the meeting, with the input from key employees or middle managers, regarding topics to be discussed during the meeting. At least the first half hour of this meeting must be used to review in more detail all performance indicators of the dairy. The leader or manager of each area of the dairy must report and explain numbers, issues, and trends. Then, each area leader must share plans and actions that need to get done in order to achieve goals already established for each area.

It is always recommended to have your veterinarian, nutritionist, financial advisor, and any other consultant that works with your dairy/s attend the monthly meting. They are a key part of your team and will always have good ideas, advice, and input on many of the topics to be discussed.


Finally, here are some tips or guidelines of how to run meetings more effectively:

  • While discussing key topics don’t get off track.
  • Don’t allow people to interrupt, monopolize the discussion, or have side
    conversations.
  • Always start on time. Even if there’s people missing. And stick to a time limit.
  • Always take notes and have an action plan after the meeting.
  • Keep track of important topics for the next meeting.
  • Don’t use meetings to review an individual’s performance. Never criticize employees
    during the meeting. Schedule a separate meeting with that employee instead.
  • Get everyone to participate and share their inputs and ideas.
  • Close with an action plan. Everyone must leave the meeting knowing the next step.


In summary, follow this 3 step meetings with your key employees and/or middle managers to successfully communicate with them. These meetings will also help your key employees stay focused on the issues and priorities of your dairy, and will help them better communicate between each other.

 

July 2011

Keep employees performance high. Follow these 5 steps.

Managing front line workers is a very important responsibility. As a manager it is your job to ensure that people do their work the way it is required in a timely and consistent fashion.

Thus, your ability as a supervisor will be measured by what your workers do, not by what you do. This means that for example, if you are a parlor supervisor, your success will be evaluated by how fast parlor operators milk cows, or by how well they are prepping cows before attaching units.

So if you want to succeed as a supervisor you need to help your people succeed. You need to keep them motivated; give them a sense of ownership of their job, and make them feel part of the team.

If you want to succeed as a supervisor I suggest you follow my top 5 things to always do to keep your workers motivated:

1-Eliminate any frustrations or roadblocks – Pay special attention to the needs of your stars or high performers. Often times excellent workers leave a job because of frustrations that their direct bosses were not able to resolve for them. Examples of these are:

  • When they don’t get all the necessary tools to perform their job on time.
  • When poor performance is tolerated and high achievers like them feel taken advantage of.
  • When high performers are underutilized.
  • When they are not rewarded/compensated according to their performance.

2-Define clear goals and expectations – In order to make your workers accountable, the first step is to spell out expectations up front and in clear terms. How is their performance evaluated? For example, what is the loading accuracy expected for each batch of TMR feed they prepare? What is your goal? Do you have a goal for shrink loss of each ingredient in the TMR? Remember that your goal as a supervisor is to ensure that every worker knows exactly what is expected of them, what they are suppose to do, and how they are suppose to do it.

3-Monitor and document performance, and give them feedback – Keeping detailed notes and tracking each worker’s performance will help them achieve your expectations and goals. Keep track of who comes on time and who comes late to work. Check parlor performance numbers like milk flow in the first minute, or cows per hour (these are performance parameters that will evaluate a group of people working the same shift). Also, ask around a little, talk to co-workers and other managers about interactions with specific employees.

Don’t forget to give honest feedback. Based on my experience, lack of feedback is the number one thing that front line workers complain about when I ask them what would they like their manager to do better. Depending on your management style you will find different ways of giving feedback to your employees. Whether it’s by having daily conversations with your workers, or posting feeding performance data daily, or meeting with each employee monthly, it is absolutely critical to let your workers know how they are doing. Go to my website at www.apndairy.com to find more information about what to monitor for each job at the farm and how to give better feed back to your emloyees.

4-Define the rules of the game – Every dairy operation should have an employee handbook with a short but clear list of rules / policies that every employee should follow. It is also important to clearly define what are the consequences of not abiding to those rules.

5-Correct failure and reward success – Do you have anyone in your team not performing to your expectations? If so, what are you doing about it? Sometimes, I see that part of the reason why some people underperform is because this person was not properly trained, or the supervisor didn’t take enough time to coach this person, or because the employee never received the necessary tools to succeed. If this is one of those cases then get to work. If it’s not, then you will have to have a conversation with that person and discuss the seriousness of the case. Establish a plan and deadline of how things will be improved after which a decision will have to be made whether that person should stay with the dairy or not.

On the other hand, whether it’s through bonus programs, or special perks, or schedule preferences, or all of the above, make sure that high performers are properly rewarded and compensated for their hard work.

The bottom line is: don’t manage people “by special occasion”, instead solve small problems before they turn into big problems. What’s important is keeping periodic and consistent communication with every employee, as well as monitoring,

measuring, and documenting performance of each employee. This will keep people motivated and focused on their tasks.

 

June 2011

Follow these five tips to successfully implement a newborn calf program

Top dairy managers realize the importance of having a good newborn calf program to the success of the dairy enterprise. This is why they usually work with their veterinarians, nutritionist, and consultants to develop newborn calf programs and systems that will help them reduce DOA’s (Dead on arrival), and mortality and morbidity rates during the first week of the calf’s life.

However, having the best newborn calf management program doesn’t guarantee the best performance numbers. The proper implementation of the program is a critical aspect to the success of any system; of which, labor plays a key role. This is where I spend most of my time when working with dairies in reducing DOA’s and calf mortality during the first week of life.

Here are some tips of things you should do to improve your newborn calf management at your dairy:

1-Develop good SOP’s – This is a critical part of the program. This may seem time consuming, but it will bring a lot of benefits. SOP’s will reduce errors and variation between employees. Have your key and/or most experienced employee help you develop these SOP’s. If you have Spanish speaking employees make sure that you translate protocols into Spanish. These SOP’s will be also very helpful during training of any new employee. Some of the critical SOP’s that should be part of any newborn calf program are:

* Calving assistance – This should include when to move cows to individual pens, how long should they wait to assist cows and heifers, tools and materials they should use, when to call for help, etc.

* Calf care during first hours – How soon should they move the newborn calves? What are the first steps they should take with a newborn calf? How should they report a newborn calf? Etc.

* Colostrum management & feeding – Storing and thawing colostrum, evaluating colostrum quality and defining what to do depending on it’s quality, time of feeding, tubing calves, and other calf treatments.

* Newborn calf evaluation – Define standard procedure of what to look for, and how to report this.

For more information on how to write your own SOP’s or for assistance to develop customized SOP’s for your dairy visit www.apndairy.com or go to Dr. Leadley’s website at www.atticacows.com.

2-Define a training program – This is a key part of the success of any program. A good training program will reduce the chances of costly mistakes from new employees, and it will also ensure consistency among employees taking care of newborn calves. Have your consultant and veterinarian help you develop a good training program and make sure that everyone involved in the training of new employees is properly trained as well. In other words, train the trainer, or else the training will fail. Also, the training should be done in the native language of the employees. For more information on training programs for newborn calf care employees go to this link (www.apndairy.com/Services_TrainingPrograms)

3-Define clear goals and expectations – In order to make your workers accountable, the first step is to spell out expectations up front and in clear terms. How is their performance evaluated? For this, I recommend developing a series of simple but yet effective Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). You should be able to monitor these KPI’s daily and they should have an impact on performance and profitability of your dairy. Examples of KPI’s would be DOA’s (preferably broken down by employee), weekly or monthly calf mortality rates, weekly or monthly treatment costs, etc. It is crucial that every employee understands the importance of these KPI’s and the impact that their job have in each one of them. Furthermore, it is your job as a manager to give them all the necessary tools to succeed at their job.

4-Communicate with your employees periodically – Communicate at least weekly with the employees involved in newborn calf care and feeding. Refresh importance of their job, share performance numbers with each one of them, and ask them questions about the job, their issues, and things you can do to help them succeed. Also, giving feedback is a crucial part of the success of your program. Don’t wait to talk to your people only when performance numbers are not good. Let them know if their DOA’s are going very well, or the calf mortality rates are better than ever. This will help them stay motivated and focused on their tasks.

5-Correct failure and reward success – Do you have anyone in your team not performing to your expectations? If so, what are you doing about it? On the other hand, whether through bonus programs, or special perks, or schedule preferences, or all of the above, make sure that high performers are properly rewarded and compensated for their hard work. In some instances, a team approach may be required if you are not able to evaluate individual performance. In some cases, you may be able to identify performance of the day crew and the night crew separately. This will help you reward the teams that are doing very well and retrain the teams that are not. Furthermore, you can use this information to identify if the problems are coming from your night shift, or vice versa.

By taking these steps you will be able to improve the chances of success of your newborn calf care program. Remember not to manage “by special occasion”, instead address small problems soon before your DOA’s skyrocket. Finally, keeping periodic and consistent communication with every employee, as well as monitoring and documenting performance will help address problems as they come up.

 

May 2011

Employee Handbooks - Why do you need them and what should they look like.

Every dairy operation has it’s own rules and policies. However, few communicate these properly to their employees. The employee handbook is an effective way of documenting policies and procedures, as well as communicating expected standards of performance and conduct.

The employee handbook is also a great tool to use during the orientation of new employees by providing information about the history of the dairy, information about the facilities, about salary structure and compensation policies, and other important things that should be communicated within the first week of work to all new employees at the dairy.

The employee handbook can also be a tool to avoid liability with employee problems. It is important that dairy employers clearly state policies against certain things like discrimination or harassment based upon sex and race. Also, having a policy stated about not hiring illegal aliens should be included in all employee handbooks.

Where do you begin?

Even if you never had an employee handbook for your dairy, you are already managing your employees based on informal or unwritten policies and rules. So the employee handbook would be a formalization of policies and procedures that already exist at your dairy.

Your employee handbook should have answers to the questions most frequently asked by your employees. This is why an effective employee handbook should at least have the following:

1. Introduction / Welcome section

2. History of your dairy

3. Mission and vision statements

4. Organizational chart

5. Equal employment opportunity policies (including immigration law compliance)

6. Employment and compensation policies

7. Employment benefits & time off policies

8. Discipline and termination policies (including cero tolerance policies for mistreating animals)

9. Safety policies

10. Company disclaimer

Always remember to go through the employee handbook (or at least through the important points) with new employees during their first week at work. If you are developing an

employee handbook for the first time, then call a meeting with all your employees to introduce the handbook and answer any questions.

Finally, it is important to review the handbook frequently (once per year) to ensure that it is updated with new or refreshed policies and practices of your dairy.

 

April 2011

The most common variables that affect the TMR mixing process.

While working on a presentation on feeding management for my trip to China this month, I thought of this month’s tip of the month, which is focused on the most common variables that affect the TMR mixing process.

I get to see a lot of different things when doing feeding audits around the country. I see all kinds of different types of mixers, different types of feeders, different types of feeding protocols, different types of loading sequences of ingredients, etc, etc…However, there are some common mistakes that I consistently see in many of the feeding audits I do.

This is why I decided to share with you my “Top 5 most common issues I see that affect the TMR mixing process”:

1. Wrong mixer selection – Or not having the adequate equipment for the type of mixer that was purchased. A few examples of this are:

  • Tractor doesn’t have enough power for the size of mixer (usually it’s a vertical mixer, twin or three screws) and it’s run in low RPM’s because the tractor doesn’t have enough power. Therefore, the TMR is inconsistent and materials don’t get mixed up properly in spite of increasing the mixing time for that load (sometimes over 30 minutes).

    SOLUTION
    : Prepare smaller batches of feed (if you have enough time during the day). Or ask the right questions before buying a new mixer to ensure that the mixer you purchase is the correct one for the type of equipment you have. Or buy a new and bigger tractor!

  • The mixer cannot process hay or straw (most commonly seen with reel type or some horizontal auger type mixers)– It’s not a problem if you don’t feed any hay or straw. However, if your nutritionist or veterinarian tells you that you need to have hay or straw in the diet then it becomes an issue. When this happens, the TMR has big chunks of unprocessed hay or straw that are not properly mixed and cows can select more of what they want to eat. Consequently, there are more cases of subclinical acidosis, or more DA’s in fresh cows in spite of all the good “scratchy” forage that’s in the diet.

    SOLUTION: Long particle size forages must be pre-processed before loading in the mixer. You may also need to feed less of these long particle size forages to improve TMR uniformity.

  • Mixer is too small so the mixer is always overloaded when feeding the largest pens. Therefore, the ration is always variable. A good indicator of this is when we see unmixed material in the feed bunk (ie: big chunks of hay, more steam flaked corn in some sections ofthe feed bunk than in others, TMR is wetter in some sections than in others because the whey, water, or liquid molasses not getting properly mixed throughout the entire batch, etc.).

    SOLUTION: Make 2 batches of feed instead of one for the largest pens, or three instead of two, or four instead of three (you know what I mean…). Depending on the type of mixer, never go above 95% of struck capacity for vertical mixers, 75% for horizontal auger mixers, and 70% for reel type mixers.

2. Inconsistent mixing times

  • For the same feed, mixing time should be exactly the same every time. Often, because the feeder is on the phone or is distracted by another employee, a batch that should have taken 15 minutes to mix takes 25 minutes or more instead. Other times, because of lack of protocols, the feeder leaves the mixer running while he goes to get more hay or straw for the next batch. Needles to say, that batch of feed will be different than the one he prepared before because one took 15 minutes compared to the 30 minutes that took him to finish the second batch. Consequently, the pen fed the last load will get a ration with over processed forages and therefore with more risk of causing rumen health problems.

    SOLUTION: Monitor feeders performance by using feeding management software and give them more and better feedback. Also, develop feeding protocols and spend time and money training your feeders. Explaining the why’s of things, reminding them about the importance of their role for the dairy’s profitability, and the importance of being consistent are critical.

3. Poor mixer and equipment maintenance

  • Because of lack of protocols and schedules for equipment maintenance, often times knives are not sharp and therefore, hay is not processed properly. This leads to more selection and sorting by the cows and more rumen health issues if not adjusted in time. Also, dull kicker plates that are not close enough to the mixer wall can create dead spots inside the mixer and feed doesn’t get properly mixed. Other examples are when tractors break in the middle of the feeding process, or the liquid applicator gets clogged up or breaks, etc.

    SOLUTION: Talk to your equipment dealer to find out about the best maintenance program for your equipment. Develop a maintenance protocol and a schedule for changing or working on knives, kicker plates, filters, etc. Assign someone to be in charge of the maintenance program and held him/her accountable.

4. Incorrect loading sequence

  • Loading sequence is critical for the proper mixing of all ingredients. Improper loading sequence will cause variability in the TMR. Sometimes, due to incorrect loading sequence, forages don’t get processed enough, or small inclusion rate ingredients are not blend uniformly.

    SOLUTION
    : Work with your nutritionist, external consultant, and feeders to evaluate and define the best loading sequence based on the type of mixer, forages, and ingredients used at your dairy. The loading sequence may need to be re-evaluated if ingredients used in the diet change.

5. Not addressing forage variability immediately

  • This is common to see when feeders don’t pay attention to details or don’t communicate well with their supervisors. Maybe the hay quality has changed, or the haylage pile is now more wet or just looks different and the feeder doesn’t notice the difference, or does but doesn’t do anything about it. Many times, lack of proper training or lack of communication with the feeders is the cause of this. The lack of attention to forage and ingredient changes can cause simple, but yet expensive problems like a drop in milk production, or more serious health and fertility issues like the ones caused by mycotoxin contamination of forages, or butyric fermentation of silage fed to cows even for just a few days.

    SOLUTION
    : Training and coaching your feeders is crucial. Your feeder must realize immediately when forages or any other ingredient changes. Formal training of what to look for in forages and ingredients, how to communicate when forages change, and running dry matters using a Koster tester are a critical part of the success of your feeding program.

Evaluate these common variables of the mixing process at your own dairy and make sure that you are not having any of these issues. Get outside support from your consultants to better coach and train your feeders to avoid some of these common problems during the mixing process.

 

March 2011

The first day at the job – Top 10 things to have ready for the orientation day

The orientation program is one of the most neglected functions in most dairy operations. Most of the time, new employees are left to gain knowledge and skills on the go without access to proper formal orientation and training. This results most of the time in unproductive employees that don’t care much about the dairy and end up leaving within the first year.

Always remember that first impressions are crucial. Just as you are forming an impression about your new employee, he or she is doing the same of you and your dairy. This is why it’s so important that, during the first days of work, managers and owners take the necessary time to work and orient the new employee to their new job and the dairy.

  1. Develop an effective orientation program and you will be able to:
    Create a positive attitude and job satisfaction among your new employees
  2. Better align what people do to what you expect them to do.
  3. Reduce labor turn over
  4. Reduce start up cost by reducing costly accidents or mistakes
  5. Save time for you and your managers

This is why it’s so important to spend time planning out the first days of work before the new employee arrives. The top 10 things that you will need to have ready for the orientation day are the following:

  1. A mission statement, vision, and history of your dairy – This will be part of the introduction to the dairy and will help create a sense of belonging to the new employee. He/she will value your operation more!
  2. Job specifications and description – Very important to be able to better orient and train the new employee on what needs to be done and what it takes to get it done.
  3. Employee handbook – Every dairy operation needs to have a simple, but yet complete employee handbook with all the necessary information for people that work at the dairy (for more information about preparing an employee handbook contact me at felix@apndairy.com).
  4. Standard operating procedures (SOP) – Every employee needs to do the job the same way. SOP’s will help during the training process and will promote job consistency among employees.
  5. Organizational chart – The new employee needs to know who will they be reporting to, who the managers are, who’s in charge of what, and what the chain of command looks like.
  6. Layout of the facilities and barns – Very useful during the orientation. Every new employee should have one.
  7. Housing accommodations should be ready – Have their room ready and clean. Make sure you also have house rules in place and that these are included in the employee handbook. What are the expenses covered by the farm? Which are the ones they need to cover themselves?
  8. Have a trainer/buddy assigned – This person will not only be your trainer but, also your ambassador of the dairy. Define who’s the right candidate for this job and train him or she. Use outside consultants to help you train your trainer if necessary. Define step-by-step and day-by-day what your trainer needs to do and accomplish with the new employee. Train the trainer!
  9. A formal training program of proper cow handling techniques – No matter how much experience the new employee has, every new employee needs to go through a basic training on cow handling techniques.
  10. Training on safety – Every new employee needs to go through basic training on safety. Safety when being around animals, forage bunk safety, equipment safety, the use chemicals, and manure pit / lagoon safety.

Finally, hire an interpreter if your trainer or buddy cannot do the translation when you hire Spanish-speaking employees. Both the orientation and training program of new employees needs to be done in the native language of the worker.

So remember, the first days on the job can set the tone for an employee’s experience at your dairy. Usually, new employees will be more receptive and eager to learn during the first days at the new job, so make sure that you and your supervisors do their best to make these first days a great experience for them.

 

February 2011

Parlor efficiency – What affects it and how can you improve it?

How do you measure parlor efficiency? Does having less milkers means my parlor is more labor efficient? Am I paying too much to my milkers and that makes my parlor labor efficiency poor? These are some of the questions I usually get from clients that are looking to improve parlor performance and efficiency.

Last year I surveyed 6 different dairies where I did parlor audits and milker training schools, and evaluated parlor efficiency. All 6 dairies had fairly modern parallel or herringbone parlors and varied in cow numbers from 380 to 3,000. All dairies were located in the North Eastern United States (Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont) except for one which was located in New Mexico.

From this survey and personal experience, I believe that there are 3 factors that affect parlor efficiency the most. Of the three only one have to do with labor. These main factors are:

1. Cow numbers – The more cows that need to be milked the more diluted parlor operating costs will be.
2. Average milk production per cow – As shown in the data from my survey, the higher the individual milk production the more we can reduce labor cost per cwt.
3. Milking speed – This is the one factor that is labor related. By constantly working and training milkers at the dairy we can have a positive impact on parlor efficiency.

Let’s pay particular attention to this last point. The bottom line is how fast can we get cows milked and the best way to keep track of this parameter is by monitoring both:

• Cows / hour or turns / hour
• Number of cows milked / milker per hour

As showed in the table below, dairies with the highest number of cows milked per milker per hour were the most labor efficient. We can see from this data that the most efficient dairy is the one from New Mexico with only $0.22 of labor cost per cwt, followed by one of the dairies from New York with a labor cost per cwt of $0.47.

For any of these parameters it is important to set up your own benchmarks and goals according to the type and size of your parlor. Also, geographical area, weather conditions, and other factors will have an impact when defining those goals.

However, don’t focus only on milking speed. Milking quality, attention to the cows while milking, and adequate udder prepping and milking routine are crucial to the success of your milking program as well.

What should be monitored when it comes to parlor efficiency? - The two parameters that I always suggest monitoring on a monthly base are:

1-Labor cost / cwt – It’s hard to compare large dairies from the West coast to dairies in the North East because of cow numbers. However, it is important to define your own goals based on where your dairy stands today. Some dairies in the North East have been able to obtain numbers under $0.50 of labor cost per cwt throughout 2010. As seen on the table, it’s not about pay salary but most importantly how many cows can each milker milk in 1 hour. A reasonable target, in some dairies with a full milking routine, could be between 70-75 cows per milker per hour. In dairies with minimal prepping procedures targeting around 140-150 cows per milker per hour wouldn’t be unreasonable.

2-Pounds of milk / stall per hour – This is an excellent parameter to evaluate parlor efficiency. Once again base your benchmarks and goals according to your herd size, type of parlor, and individual milk production per cow. See table to compare dairies from my survey.

Finally, push your milkers to keep a fast pace while in the parlor. However, always remember that it’s important to have a good balance between speed and quality of work. This balance may differ according to the regional location of the dairy. A dairy in New Mexico will have a lot less health and environmental problems than a dairy in Pennsylvania or Florida. Also, the type of facilities, stalls, and bedding are important when it comes to defining the right milking routine and milking pace expected by your milkers. Expected employee turn over rate can also be of importance when defining those goals.

Consider all these factors when establishing your own milking program and setting parlor efficiency goals. Always discuss these with your veterinarian and external consultant.

Info
Dairy 1 NM
Dairy 2 PA
Dairy 3 PA
Dairy 4 VT
Dairy 5 NY
Dairy 6
NY
Milking cows
3000
1350
650
380
2,100
900
Ave. Milk/cow
80
86,4
68,4
68
78,6
70
Stalls
60
40
40
28
80
28
$ Labor/cwt
$0,22
$0,65
$0,76
$0,70
$0,60
$0,47
Cows/milker per Hr
143
56
46
51
67
75
Lbs milk/stall per Hr
190,5
121,5
52,9
61,5
98,2
125

 

For more information about parlor efficiency please contact Felix Soriano at felix@apndairy.com.

 

January 2011

Tips for more effective delegation

As a dairy owner or manager, are you still feeding cows or treating fresh cows? Would you like to delegate these or other jobs and have more time to focus on other management issues at your dairy but you can’t because you feel you are the only one that can do these tasks right? If so, you are not alone. I see this happening in many dairies around the country independently of the herd size.

Like I always tell my clients, most likely there are people at your dairy that can do these jobs as well or even better than you can. Because many owners and managers are multitasking and trying to do too many things at the same time they end up not performing these jobs the way they would like. Instead, one of your employees that can focus on the task will be more dedicated, will pay more attention to detail, and will perform the task better if properly trained.

Delegating these jobs and other projects to people at the dairy can decrease your workload, allow you and your team to get more done on time, and can boost confidence in your people. Follow these tips for effective delegation:

1. Evaluate who is the right candidate for the job: This is a crucial step before delegating any job. Depending on the type of work you are delegating, the right candidate may be your herdsman, one of your milkers, your heifer feeder, etc. Most likely you will find someone in house capable of doing the job. Having a job description will help identify the right candidate.

2. Discuss the job with the candidate: Developing a good training program is very important to ensure that the employee understands the importance of the job, what needs to get done, how, when, and why it needs to be done that way.

3. Clearly define the task to be completed: Having SOP’s will help during the training process and it will ensure that the job gets done the same way every time.

4. Define a timeline: It should be stipulated from the beginning how long the job should take. Identify a timeline of how long the training period will last and another that specifies how long each task and entire process should take.

5. Identify checkpoints: Determine how often and when you will meet with the employee to review progress and offer guidance. Have these meetings more frequently at first; reduce frequency once you see the job is mastered. Also, identify key performance indicators that will be periodically monitored to provide better feedback to your employee.

Effective delegation can reduce your workload and help you improve performance and profitability of your dairy.