FOUNTAIN, Minn. – Managing a dairy farm is as much about managing people as it is cattle. Keeping the farm crew well-informed, well-educated and maintaining open communication has become a key to Trailside Holsteins’ success.
“I am preparing right now for an employee meeting. That's a big deal that I've added and improved on in our farm management philosophy since I became part of the management,” said Michael Johnson.
Prior to Michael organizing these meetings, Trailside really did not meet regularly with the entire farm team. Small groups would meet informally to discuss tasks, and the theory was that as long as everything was being done, there was no need to meet.
“As we added more cows and employees, it definitely became a necessary addition to be able to all get together, all get on the same page and start having formalized meetings,” Michael said.
The farm employees meet once a month. Sometimes there is not much to discuss, and the meetings are short, just a quick talk to get everyone on the same page. The team will review any issues anyone might have and discuss things that are coming up in the barns.
Other times, Michael plans different activities, team building or training.
The agenda for the meeting is posted a couple days in advance so employees can see what will be discussed and maybe add something they would like to talk about.
“We do bring in an outside specialist every once in a while, and that helps me because maybe they have a different expertise than I do,” he said.
The meeting Michael was preparing for will feature a representative from Alltech, a specialist on employee training and team building. This is not the first time Trailside has had this individual out and the employees have always responded well to his presentation.
Past meetings have included on-farm labs, where the employees were able to dissect a calf and an udder. Throughout the process, they were able to gain a better understanding of cattle anatomy and physiology.
“Instead of just talking about the sphincter, the teat and the mammary glands, actually dissecting an udder and seeing those things, that helps them see what you're talking about,” he said. “It brings the message to a different level.”
The employees take that knowledge and understanding with them back to the parlor. Now, when they clean the teats prior to milking, they better understand why they do it and how to do it well.
There is more understanding of how the cow works to produce milk and how each step in the parlor impacts that animal.
Michael works with his vendors and University of Minnesota Extension to line up the different specialists that he brings in.
He also works with an organization that specializes in conducting meetings at dairy farms, particularly with Spanish-speaking employees.
The individual that comes out to the farm helps bridge both the language gap between the employees, as well as the cultural gap.
“Even guys that that speak really good English, sometimes they're more comfortable talking about something that's maybe a little sensitive in their native language. I found after we started bringing her out, guys really opened up more,” Michael said.
Depending on the issue, sometimes it is difficult for the employee to find the right words to express themselves in English, and talking about it in Spanish is much easier for them. Having a way for those employees to convey their message appropriately has helped build a stronger team on the farm.
“Overall, these meetings have helped a lot with protocols, employee retention and job satisfaction,” he said. “Just people knowing what they're supposed to be doing and how they're doing.”
Minnesota Farm Guide would like to thank Trailside Holsteins for offering our readership and peek inside their operation. We wish them the best of luck into the future!