Manage Your Humans Instead of Your Cows

13 Mar 2016

Your cows are the most important part of your farm. Of course everything revolves around them. Herd management is critical. But how good can your herd management be if the human management isn't taken care of?

As you add cows, the workload increases, and you need more people. Your herd’s health and milk quality depends on more people doing their jobs, and doing their jobs right. As a business owner, you have to pay attention to human resource (HR) functions like administration details, training of your crew, and creating happy, dedicated people all working toward the success of the farm.

There are some farmers who think the human side of a business is only for offices. Those farmers are missing out on being the best, and most profitable, they can be. 

More People Means More Paperwork

When a farming staff that extends beyond the family, administration takes on a larger role on the farm. Systems have to be in place to manage people and new tasks as they arise.

Compliance with labor laws is a must. Depending on your location, rules and regulations might come from federal, state or provincial, and local county or township levels of government.

Payroll systems have to be in place, and the banking to support it has to be in order. People you hire need to be paid on time if you want them to stay happy. Any benefits and insurance plans you have must be administered.

Even your own internal rules – like vacation time – have to be formalized to make sure everyone knows they are being treated fairly. Part of your human resource responsibility includes documentation. It’s time consuming, but necessary.

More People Means Better Training

You know how critical proper hygiene is. Avoiding contamination keeps your herd healthy, and it protects your bulk tank and premiums. But does everyone on the team understand it the way you do?

Does everyone who comes into contact with cows, their surroundings, and milk know their jobs? Do they know what the consequences may be if they take shortcuts? A large, insufficiently trained and uninformed team increases the chance of error. Training becomes all the more important.

You can assign specific roles to specific team members when you have more people. Not everyone can, or should, do everything. With more people, the number of tasks each person is responsible for can be lowered. That can improve efficiency as long as it comes with proper training. And of course, when any equipment is involved, knowing what’s safe and what’s not is vital.

Investing in Your People

Your growing team needs to be nurtured and cared for as any other investment on the farm.

Make sure that each individual knows what’s expected of them. Be sure to lay out everyone’s individual goals, and that they understand how they, in turn, fit into the goals of the farm. If you want your people to grow with you, implementing performance reviews will help both you and your staff know how they are doing and where they stand as they progress in their job.

Everyone likes to be noticed for their contribution. People need to know that they are doing a good job. Be sure to recognize good work. Be sure to offer feedback. Both positive and negative feedback is important, but remember to deliver the negatives in a way that’s constructive and helpful, and preferably not in front of others.

Help each person grow by making it easy for them to offer their ideas about process and technology that you use on the farm. Where possible, allow some independence on decisions.

Growing Your Team

Taking care of individuals is only one part of a proactive HR solution. In order for the farm to operate best from end-to-end, all of these individuals have to work as a team.

Ensure that everyone understands their roles and how their jobs affect others, and how the team is responsible for the success of the farm. Cross training may also be appropriate. There’s no better way to appreciate the work of others than by standing in their shoes. Not only will you have more people trained for a specific job, they’ll also better understand where their part fits in.

Critical to team building is communication. The more the whole team knows about the needs of the farm, the more they will act together to get that job accomplished. And, by fostering an environment of easy and open communication, there’s more opportunity to exchange ideas and solve problems together.

Engage your team in activities that will bring you all closer together. If you are attending farm shows, bring along the team or encourage them to visit together. If you are active in your local community, include some of the team in events.

And be sure to celebrate the successes of your team. You all work hard to produce the highest quality milk or reach new production goals. Taking time to recognize the accomplishments that got you there will boost morale and bring the team closer. Imagine the impact of offering a bonus to the team for consistently good milk returns.
As your farm grows, the human element takes on a larger role. By focusing on the HR function of your business, developing your people, and building a team, your farm will run better.

Managing your humans will help you help your cows as you set the stage for optimal herd health, improved production and milk quality, streamlined operations, and an improving bottom line.