Jul 24, 2014
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Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

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

Which Robotic Milking Traffic System Is the Best?

Jul 21, 2014

How to decide whether the "free flow" or "guided flow" method is right for your dairy.

GEA Greg Larson 010313

By Greg Larson, MIone multi-box robotic milking system expert with GEA Farm Technologies

Of the many decisions that must be made when converting to a robotic milking system, choosing a cow traffic flow method will be one of the biggest decisions made.

There are two basic approaches to cow traffic in robotic milking systems – "free flow" or "guided flow." Both can work extremely well. As evidence, there are herds in the United States achieving production of 90 pounds per cow per day using each of these systems.

The choice between the two is a matter of herd goals and priorities; facility accommodations; and cost considerations.

Free flow promotes cow choice

As the name implies, free-flow traffic systems allow cows to operate on their own instincts. They choose how often they visit the robot, visit the feed bunk and rest in the free stalls. As a result, the cows usually eat smaller, more frequent meals, which can promote rumen health and a stable energy-balance. Ample resting time and low stress promote healthy feet and legs and a strong immune system.

Free-flow systems also have the lowest cost in the start-up phase because they require the least amount of sorting gates and other equipment. Most retrofitted barns are a free-flow system because it is the most practical to install in existing facilities.

The major drawback to a free-flow system is that you will spend more time "fetching" cows that do not visit the robot often enough. Feeding a high-cost feed concentrate in the robot and more pounds of concentrate per milking is necessary to entice cows to visit. Nutritional balancing also is more challenging, because the higher level of concentrate feeding results in the need to manage a "partial mixed ration" (PMR) at the bunk, versus a more traditional TMR system that dairyman are comfortable balancing.

"Milk-first" adds precision

Most herds using a guided-flow system take a "milk-first, feed-second" approach. Via a system of selection gates, cows are guided up to the robot for milking on a priority basis, ensuring that they are milked at regular intervals, up to four times per day. They then are released to the feeding area after milking.

Because the enticement of feed is not needed to attract cows to the robot, "milk-first" cows consume at least 40 percent less concentrate per day than cows in free-flow systems. This represents considerable savings in purchased feed costs. Guided traffic also allows for more customized feeding groups. After milking, cows can be sorted into different feeding zones based on production level, parity, stage of lactation or other desired criteria. Herds with milk-first barns typically utilize a post-selection system for management and veterinary actions and post-fresh cows.

Rations are formulated for milk-first barns mirror traditional TMR standards. Less purchased concentrate feed also allows producers to maximize their use of home-grown forages for maximum robotic profitability.

The milk-first approach also reduces the labor required to fetch cows that do not visit the robot frequently enough. The milking system also does not tie up cows that visit too frequently and must be refused. However, more timid and subservient cows may not fare as well in a guided system, and cows may spend more time standing in holding pens waiting to be milked.

Weigh your options

To identify the traffic system that will best suit your business model, it is important to identify your goals and priorities, for your dairy enterprise, your personal life and the future. Think about why you are adopting the technology, and what you hope to accomplish with it. You will have more flexibility in your options if you are building a new facility. At the same time, you need to choose your traffic system in advance, because details like barn design, ventilation and manure handling vary significantly between the two systems.

You should visit many other dairies using robotic milking systems as you develop your own plan. Allow for at least 12 months of research before finalizing your robotic milking decisions. And, of utmost importance, be sure to include options in your site plan to accommodate future expansions and the next generations.

For more information, contact Greg Larson, MIone multi-box robotic milking system expert with GEA Farm Technologies at (877) 973-2479, email: MIone.na@gea.com, or go to: http://www.gea-farmtechnologies.com.


Dairy Lawsuits Rise Again

Jun 30, 2014

Protect yourself against the spike in legal claims, especially these three litigation areas.

Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photo

By Anthony P. Raimondo, attorney

As the industry faced economic crisis through low milk prices and high feed costs, the rush of legal claims against California dairies began to subside as plaintiffs’ attorneys faced difficulty collecting settlements or judgments against financially strapped dairy producers.

However, as the economics of the industry have improved, the attorneys are returning as well, and a new rush of lawsuits has arisen against California dairies. Dairies nationwide should be alert to these trends, as the nation often follows what happens in the West.

The types of claims faced by dairies include the following:

  • Wage and Hour: While federal law provides only for minimum wage for agricultural workers, such as dairy employees, many state laws impose overtime and other obligations on employers. Producers should be aware of their state’s minimum wage and overtime requirements, as well as pitfalls that can lead to liability. For example, in California, employers can credit the value of housing towards minimum wage, but only if there is a written agreement where the employee agrees to the amount of the credit. In addition, while federal laws allow for salaries that cover both regular and overtime hours, states such as California make it very difficult to defend against overtime claims from salaried dairy employees. Producers need to be aware of the wage and hour and recordkeeping requirements for their particular state.
  • Discrimination/Harassment: Dairies have seen a spike in cases alleging discrimination or harassment, often on the basis of race or national origin. Federal agencies are increasingly aggressive about claims of sexual origin or gender identity discrimination, and producers should take care to avoid such claims. Dairies should be alert to prevent teasing or other behavior that can lead to claims of discrimination or harassment. Maintaining written records of discipline and performance can also help defend against claims of discrimination. Producers should be alert to employees who are on extended workers’ compensation leave who then make claims of disability discrimination. Employers must remember that they have an obligation to engage in an interactive process with injured employees to determine what, if any, accommodation is needed to return to work, and whether that accommodation is reasonable or presents an undue hardship to the ranch.
  • Pension Withdrawal Liability: Many dairies were unionized at one time, and have moved or otherwise left the union behind. The law broadly protects financially strapped pension plans, and can impose liability on participating employers to make up the plan’s shortfall when the employer withdraws from participation. Dairies should seek legal advice if they plan to withdraw or have already withdrawn from a multi-employer pension trust, as the exposure to liability can be significant.

Sadly, as the economics of the industry improve, farmers and other employers must be cautious that the improved conditions also attract attorneys who will target farmers in attempts to divert the flow of income away from the ranch and toward the attorneys. Producers must be proactive to educate themselves and protect against this threat.

The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at Raimondo & Associates in Fresno, at (559) 432-3000.

Become a SAFER Farm

Jun 12, 2014

As dairy farms grow in size and the number of workers (family and non-family) increases, providing a safe working environment becomes more important.

By Chuck Schwartau, Regional Director, University of Minnesota Extension

As dairy farms grow in size and the number of workers (family and non-family) increases, providing a safe working environment becomes more important.

An Australian program, "The People in Dairy" suggests "SAFER" Principles for farm safety.

See - identify hazards to health and safety on the farm
Assess - decide the risk associated with the hazard
Fix - take appropriate action to control the risk
Evaluate - check to be sure your controls are effective
Record - record actions you take or plan

Seeing hazards is a job in which everyone on the farm must participate. Encourage everyone to be watching for hazards on the farm. Make it easy for workers to report and record hazards as they are seen so someone can Assess them promptly.

An assessment should be conducted to establish the severity of the hazard and determine appropriate action steps -- the Fix...

Action steps don’t always mean expensive fixes or changes. High risk hazards should be eliminated if at all possible, but many hazards can be more simply addressed:

1. Eliminate the hazard when possible. This might mean replacing a product or piece of equipment or totally eliminating it from the farm.

2. Substitution is another option. You might be able to replace the hazard with equipment or a procedure that is less hazardous.

3. Engineering might minimize the hazard. Installation of guards, railings, safety switches or building proper storage units often eliminates or minimizes the hazard.

4. Safe work practices and procedural changes may minimize the risk to workers. A set of well written standard operating procedures (SOP’s) should include practices that avoid or minimize risks.

5. Don’t forget personal protective equipment (PPE). After everything else is done and there is still some degree of hazard, provide proper PPE for workers and insist it be used as it is intended. PPE’s on a shelf, in a cupboard or hanging on a hook are no protection.

Evaluate is the fourth stage of the SAFER program. Check the impact of the Fix that was implemented. It is important for employers to check back and be sure the steps taken have achieved the desired outcome. Did hazard elimination or guarding get done? Were Stand Operating Procedures (SOPs) developed and are they being followed to eliminate or minimize the hazard? Is PPE being used all the time? If any of these questions leave doubt that the hazard has been fully addressed, you know your job of providing a safe workplace isn’t quite done and you need to look again at the action step.

Record all the actions you take or plan to take. This will provide the documentation that would probably be requested if your farm is ever the subject of an OSHA audit.

The most important factor to achieve success is the people on the farm. If the people aren’t willing to work with you on safety, a good safety program will be difficult to implement. If the workers are engaged in the plan development, they are much more likely to implement it.

Suggested steps to worker engagement are:

  • Work with the workers to identify hazards and have them help with assessment.
  • Regularly include health and safety discussions in staff meetings.
  • Record workers’ input and actions taken on any safety items. This step will help demonstrate your effort to comply with regulations.

Be a good role model for your workers. Be sure to practice good safety yourself in everything you do on the farm.

I very deliberately used the term "workers" rather than "employees" because it includes all owners and managers on the farm, as well as non-family employees. A culture of safety on the dairy means everyone needs to take the issue seriously and practice safety all the time. If you don’t work safely all the time, why should anyone else?

GINA Lawsuit Is a Warning to Employers

Apr 28, 2014

Think twice before asking applicants and employees about their family medical history and then basing employment decisions on that information.

Robin DSC Small

By Robin Paggi, Worklogic HR

When I conduct harassment and discrimination prevention workshops, I include the fact that it is illegal to discriminate against applicants and employees because of genetic information obtained by the employer. Invariably participants give me a puzzled look – how could an employer obtain genetic information about someone and why would they want to? A recent lawsuit answers those questions and demonstrates what can happen to an employer as a result.

Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) took effect in 2009. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency that enforces GINA, genetic information includes, "Information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in an individual’s family members (i.e. family medical history)."

In other words, employers are not allowed to ask applicants and employees about their family medical history to find out what kinds of diseases or disorders they might inherit and then base employment decisions (whether to hire, promote, fire, etc.) on that information. According to the EEOC, a company called Fabricut, Inc. did just that and was sued by the agency for doing so.

In a press release dated May 7, 2013, the EEOC said that when Rhonda Jones, a temporary employee at Fabricut, applied for a permanent position there, she was sent to a medical examiner for a pre-employment drug screen and physical after being offered the job. While there, "she was required to fill out a questionnaire and disclose the existence of numerous separately listed disorders in her family medical history."

After her medical testing, the examiner decided that Jones needed to be evaluated by her personal physician to determine whether she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). After a variety of tests, Jones’s physician said that she did not have CTS, and Jones forwarded that information to Fabricut; however, the company rescinded the job offer because the lab it used said she did have CTS.

This is what the EEOC said: "Such alleged conduct violates GINA, which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information, which includes family medical history; and also restricts employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing such information." So, the EEOC sued Fabricut, and the company agreed to pay $50,000.

This was the first GINA-based employment discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC, but based upon this statement in its May 7 press release, it won’t be its last: "One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, which includes genetic information."

Said EEOC Regional Attorney Barbara Seely, "Although GINA has been law since 2009, many employers still do not understand that requesting family medical history, even through a contract medical examiner, violates this law."

Employers that require medical examinations would be wise to check with their medical examiners to ensure they are in compliance with this law.

Robin Paggi is the training coordinator at Worklogic HR, a human resources outsourcing company. In addition to conducting workshops on HR issues, she is a frequent presenter at conferences and a regular contributor to The Bakersfield Californian, The Kern Business Journal and Bakersfield Magazine. Contact her at rpaggi@worklogiclegal.com.

Stop Putting Out the Same Fires

Apr 24, 2014

Get to the root of recurring dairy problems, employee issues and your own management style.

Jorge Estrada

By Jorge Estrada, Zoetis PeopleFirst™ consultant

Have you ever been challenged by the same problem over and over again? Perhaps you have a somatic cell count issue that keeps popping up. You try to solve it by retraining milkers on proper parlor procedures. Maybe you even try to put an incentive in place. But six months later, the same problem happens again.

This happens because this reactive management style will only help you solve problems as they happen. As a result, you’ll always feel one step behind. Problems will continue to surface. To break the cycle of putting out fires, you need to get to the root of issues on your dairy. Taking a strategic, proactive approach can help you prevent and control these challenges.

To help you understand whether your management is more reactive than it should be, I suggest asking yourself these questions:

Who understands our company strategy?

There should be a link between a company’s goals and employee development. Part of managing people strategically is making sure leaders of the dairy have objectives and strategies, then helping employees understand how work on the dairy should align with achieving those objectives. Your workers know they need to make milk and do so efficiently. But does everyone know the goals for overall growth? Clarify these objectives.

Am I hiring the right people?

Managers need to know the culture and behaviors of the operation and recruit and hire quality employees who fit. I recommend a good onboarding program to bring employees up to speed and engage them in the operation’s environment. If you hire strong employees and get to know them, you’ll know how to best use their talents and place them in positions so they and the dairy are successful.

How are mangers learning their roles?

Leadership is defined by people who get things accomplished through others. Developing leaders is an important component of people management. People need to know themselves and how to properly manage processes before they can lead others. Leaders also need skills to manage change, which is a constant in our business.

Am I giving appropriate feedback?

Communication helps people know and understand their job. Communication can be formal and informal and has many components. One important component is feedback, which is key for strategic management. It’s not limited to, say, giving feedback to someone who handled a procedure incorrectly yesterday or who performed a task really well last month. When it comes to people development, feedback should be ongoing and forward-looking.

Do I know whether we’re reaching our goals?

Let’s say you have procedures in place to produce results. How do you measure whether you are reaching your goals? Look at the numbers. I’ve seen some operations where there are no consequences for people who fail to reach goals. The numbers, targets and goals all play an important role in measuring and moving forward.

Understand these areas at your dairy to help adopt a proactive approach. When all of these strategic elements come together, employees find clarity. Clarity is important for performing tasks efficiently and correctly. It also increases the number of employees who are committed and engaged. And the more engagement you have in the company, the higher the productivity — which directly ties to profit and overall success of the operation.

Jorge Estrada is a consultant for PeopleFirst™ from Zoetis. He works with dairy producers to meet their human resources, training, development and leadership needs. PeopleFirst is the industry’s first comprehensive human capital and business management solutions program. These services were created in direct response to challenges customers expressed with managing today’s complex agricultural businesses. For more ways to help develop your employees, contact Jorge at Jorge.Estrada@GrowPeopleFirst.com or visit GrowPeopleFirst.com.

All trademarks are the property of Zoetis Inc., its affiliates and/or its licensors. ©2014 Zoetis Inc. All rights reserved.


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