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Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Train Your Milkers to Make You More Money

Oct 02, 2011

If you haven’t yet provided training to your milking crew, don’t assume they already understand or that they don’t need to understand.

GregCofftaPhoto webBy Greg Coffta, Cornell University’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team

During times of high -- or low -- milk prices, scouting for ways to improve income in the milking parlor is a wise way to spend a little time. Many cooperatives pay producers based on a scale of milk quality, so if a dairy operation is seeking more income, an obvious method is to improve quality. 

This trend has emerged recently, and producers are implementing various strategies for improvement. These include milking parlor and routine evaluations, changing routines, changing equipment, updating equipment, improved mastitis monitoring and overall vigilance. 

It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of systematic changes, only to be left wondering which strategies are and are not working. It’s also easy to waste a lot of capital and time. Before adopting a costly or potentially risky change, consider providing training to your Spanish-speaking milking crew to improve current and continued milk quality. After all, they live in the heart of the dairy operation. It’s important that they too develop an understanding of milk quality and prices.

The first step is to provide an educational meeting to inform Spanish-speaking employees about milk quality topics such as somatic cell count, bacteria count, mastitis, treated cows, milk components, etc.  If you haven’t yet provided training to your milking crew, don’t assume that they already understand or that they don’t need to understand. It is important that they develop a knowledge of the job and the reasoning behind the procedures. This allows for improvement and for their ability to make good, independent decisions when you are not readily available for advice. 

Look around for agribusinesses or Extension programs in the area that can provide these services. Try to find a program that offers support for dairy farms that employ Spanish speakers and that includes a wide range of dairy-specific training programs, meeting facilitations and document creation in Spanish.  Another option might be to work with your milk testing lab. It may have a bilingual staff member that can tailor a training program with a parlor evaluation, laboratory analyses and other specialized services.

Along with milker training, continued follow-up is essential to ensure that employees are adhering to procedures and that they understand protocols. A regular staff meeting is an excellent forum for discussing these topics and addressing the unforeseen issues that will certainly arise.

At the staff meeting, always include a time to discuss the somatic cell count (SCC), and keep the information posted in the break room for the employees to review. Use the SCC to set goals and benchmark progress. Create standard operating procedures and post them conspicuously around the parlor and milk house. Remember, however, that SOPs are most effective when they are introduced to the employees as part of training and then periodically revisited in staff meetings. 

Finally, once some gains have been made, consider introducing a quality milk bonus to motivate and reward employees for producing quality milk. This builds a sense of positive interdependence among your milking employees. A clear understanding, a clear goal and a sense of teamwork can help your milkers make you more money.

In his role as bilingual dairy support specialist for Cornell University’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team, Greg Coffta provides training, translations and meeting facilitation as well as management consulting in English to New York dairy farms. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from SUNY College in Brockport with a double major in Spanish and communications. He earned a master’s degree in education from the University at Buffalo. Contact Coffta at

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