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Managing the modern dairy cow: Building and maintaining a motivated workforce

American dairy farmers Lloyd and Daphne Holterman believe there are five main ‘non-negotiables’ for managing the modern dairy cow. Hannah Noble reports.

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Daphne and Lloyd Holterman say their business motto is 'great people, great cows, great returns'.
Daphne and Lloyd Holterman say their business motto is 'great people, great cows, great returns'.
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Great people, great cows, great returns, how one Wisconsin dairy has built a motivated workforce #RosyLaneChange

For Lloyd and Daphne Holterman, owners of Rosy-Lane Dairies, Wisconsin, the five main non-negotiables for managing the modern dairy cow are; great people, measuring performance, finances and record keeping, excellent genetics, and biosecurity and disease control.

 

Rosy-Lane Holsteins, farmed in partnership with Jordan Matthews and Tim Strobel, comprises of a milking herd of 1,100 Holstein cows and 790 heifers. The farm covers 728 hectares (1,800 acres) and they also contract farm another 485 hectares (1,200 acres). The Holtermans regularly sell bulls into AI and have produced several high-ranking genomic females over recent years.

 

Speaking at a meeting in Cheshire, one of a series of AHDB-organised events, Mr Holterman said: “If you do not achieve excellence in these five areas you are going to achieve average or less profits.”

 

The Rosy-Lane tag line is ‘great people, great cows, great returns’ and this is their goal with everything about their business designed around that motto.

 

Referring to great cows, Mr Holterman said: “A great cow to us may be different from a great cow to you, we want one that does not get sick, calves on her own, breeds on one or two services, does not get lame, does not get mastitis, does not get ketosis, and keeps calving around again, lasting at least five lactations.”


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Great returns

They also want to see great returns from their business, great returns to their community, and the environment: “We are trying to be more sustainable so we will be more feed efficient, making better use of water and feed, each acre will be putting out more if we have less mistakes, and therefore making greater financial returns.”

 

The focus is also on increasing cow margins, reducing antibiotic use and making cows live longer, in turn making more money.

 

However, Mr Holterman said it all starts with great people. The Holtermans and their partners have developed a labour force mostly from people who, before they worked at Rosy-Lane had never seen a cow and there are currently 20 full-time staff on the farm.

 

Mr Holterman said: “Much like a championship soccer team, they consist of great players, great coaches and great owners, willing to invest to make things better. That is how you develop a winning team on your farm too.”

 

Mr Matthews joined the farm at the age of 14, working in the calf barn, he studied dairy science at college and speaks fluent Spanish. As half the workforce speaks Spanish as their first language, this has been a great asset to the team, Mr Matthews now manages 13 people.

 

“When Jordan took over the people, performance went up, he knows how to speak Spanish so he could communicate why we are doing these jobs, not just do the job, which is critically important,” said Mr Holterman.

 

Mr Holterman also said it is also important to hire people with a good attitude.

Good attitude

“If you hire people who have never worked with cows before you will be happier, they will not come with habits you do not like, you are going to have to train them to your system anyway, so you spend a little more time with them, if you hire people with good attitudes first, the rest is easy.”

 

Mr Holterman said communication had to be clear, so each task on-farm has a written standard operating procedure (SOP) which have proved vital.

 

“Everything is written in both English and Spanish. This saves time and makes sure things are done properly.

 

Writing SOPs for each task also means that the people who write them have to justify why and how they are doing a task, if they are doing it the correct way or if there is a better way to do it, and if it is understandable.

 

Mr Holterman said: “If people follow the SOPs and things start going wrong, it is not a people problem, it is a protocol problem, so change the protocol.

 

“You do not want to go round catching people making mistakes, you want to catch them doing something good and thank them,” he added.

 

Rosy-Lane dairies have two full-time health and safety directors, Mrs Holterman and Mr Strobel. Workers are taught how to operate equipment properly and Mr Holterman said they should go home from work in the same physical condition they arrived in.

 

This goes alongside their ethos of using people within the work force to teach others and doing as much in-house as possible to manage costs.

Rosy-Lane Holsteins in Wisconsin comprises a milking herd of 1,100 Holstein cows and 790 heifers
Rosy-Lane Holsteins in Wisconsin comprises a milking herd of 1,100 Holstein cows and 790 heifers

Motivation

Mr Holterman said it is important to teach new skills to keep people motivated and promote from within. “This sends a good message to all new people that they have a chance and they are important, internal growth allows a culture to develop positively.”

 

It is also important to make people feel appreciated for their efforts, “Find a way to say thank you instead of correcting them when they are wrong. If you create a positive attitude, people will make less mistakes,” he said.

 

Cross-training employees within departments creates a respect for other team members in other roles said Mr Holterman: “You have to get people out of their roles once in a while and mix it up, it creates appreciation for other team members.”

 

“A diverse work force is part of building a team and building cultural respect for each other which is very important.

 

“Identify people’s talents and never mistake intelligence with education, one member of staff started out as a cow pusher but we recognised his talent for cows and now he scans cows as well as any vet.”

 

Mrs Holterman said: “We want to empower people to be able to make their own decisions within the realms of the SOPs we remunerate them with their wages and hopefully make them feel like they are part of the team.”

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