Jon Patterson’s dairy milks 1,100 cows on a farm that’s been in the family since 1832.
Extended comments are highlighted in blue.
Communication is very important--from finding and hiring to keeping good employees.
Communicating the needs of the dairy to potential employees is a good start. We try to have a written job description for most jobs on the dairy. This explains what is expected of the employee, who the supervisor is they report to, and basic skills that are needed.
We use the Internet, print ads, word of mouth and head hunters to find people for openings on the farm. Some positions, we have lots of people applying for, and other spots, we have trouble finding the right fit for our team. It is important to find the right fit, since positive attitude and the ability to work with other people is very important. I don’t like negativity coordinators (people that infect negativity into co-workers). We have turned over a few people because they brought the team down, even when their performance was good.
Training is another way we can focus on communication. We will put a new hire with a person who is experienced in the job for a few days to train them and make the trainer available to answer questions and check procedures. I will also bring in our vet, who is bilingual, to put on training for the people who need it for calving procedures, new calf protocols, milking procedures, and lame- and heat-cow identification. We will repeat this training as needed. If we are having more calves born in the alley and not on the pack than I think is acceptable, I will bring the vet in for a refresher.
I try to meet once or twice a month with the milking staff to talk about milk quality. I usually provide something to eat at these meetings and try to keep them positive and upbeat. I pay a quality bonus to all the people who work in the dairy based on the quality premium we get for our milk. I pay a crop bonus to the people who work in the crop crew one or two times a year if our goals are met by the crop crew. We also pay a bonus to employees if we meet our profit goals for the year. If we have a bad year and don’t meet the profit goals, we don’t pay this out, but the quality and crop bonus we pay if the goals are met.
We also meet monthly with key management people on the farm to help keep everyone on the same page and focused on the goals of the business. This is where we set the goals for the year and discuss what we need to do to meet these goals. I do bring in someone to facilitate these meetings to keep them moving and on track. Having our key employees take part in setting our goals together is a good way for everyone to have input and be part of the team.
I try not to micro-manage people on the farm. I try to lay out the objectives and get out of the way so the people can get the job done. It is my goal that things run better when I am not around than they do when I am because I am always trying to tweak systems and think of ways to make them better.
Patterson’s recent prices
Milk $21.45 (3.81 bf, 3.1 prt)
Cull cows $72.50/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,800/head
Alfalfa hay (milk cow) $382/ton
Corn meal $266/ton