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July 2012 Archive for 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.

Leadership: What Can We Learn from Cows?

Jul 27, 2012

Consider servant leadership, a style that seems unlikely but actually can be very effective.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges

As dairy people, you have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about cow behavior. What I want to talk about today is leadership. We can observe leadership in cows, in people and in almost any group of organisms. We have all seen groups of cows entering the parlor or in their corrals. There are almost always a few cows that come in first to the parlor and the others always follow.

We all know others in our communities, peer groups or professional associations who are natural leaders. They just make us want to follow them. We yield to what they suggest because we trust their judgment.

What do these leaders have that makes others want to follow them? What is a leader? Until I became a part of Leadership Wisconsin in 2008, I thought leaders were people who just made others do stuff. They simply ordered other folks around. Since that time, I have come to learn that there are many, many kinds and styles of leadership.

Today, I’d like to share with you a style of leadership that seems unlikely but actually can be very effective. It is not a popular style in our politics, but it maybe should be. It is called servant leadership. A giant in this style of leadership is Robert Greenleaf. ( I copy below two paragraphs about servant leadership.

“The servant-leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. . . . The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

I think this means that, in the arena of a dairy, your employees’ needs become paramount. You do whatever you can to help them meet their needs. (This doesn’t mean you are their slave, but whatever is within your power, you do). You recognize you owe them more than a paycheck. Doing this establishes a relationship of trust with them. Once you have earned their trust, they will reciprocate. You then can easily lead them, because you first helped them. The difference is that they want to follow you, because you have proven that you are interested and committed to their best interest.

Next time, I’d like to talk about some concrete ways that you can be a servant leader. Easy, feasible ways you can establish and build a relationship with your employees.

Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at or (608) 685-4705.

Keep Dairy Workers on the Safe Side

Jul 23, 2012

Your employees must understand the safety procedures for these dairy hazards.

By Gerald Higginbotham, Ph.D, Micronutrients

Unfortunately, there have been recent incidents involving dairy workers losing their life while performing their duties on the dairy. This is a good reminder of the safety procedures that need to be in place on dairy farms. Dairy farms have both animals and machinery that can pose hazards to the worker. Precautions and knowing what to do in case of emergency can prevent accidents and injuries.

The following are major safety concerns on dairies that should be discussed between the dairy manager/owner and the workers. In general, all persons working on the dairy should have a basic knowledge of first aid and where first aid kits are located. All should be instructed on when to dial the 911 emergency phone number.

Animal safety

Some corrals or groups of cows may have a bull in them. Separating cows from the bull for milking is usually not a problem. However, dairy bulls are not to be trusted, in spite of their docile appearance. They can move quite rapidly and with force. Designated escape exits located in fences or corrals should be made known to all workers. A cow with a newborn calf can be very defensive when the calf is removed from the pen. Cows have a panoramic field of vision but can’t see behind their rear legs. Sudden movements or noises from the rear can provoke a kick. Cows generally kick forward and outward to the side.

Milk barn safety

The force of crowd gates and entry/exit gates powered by hydraulic rams, air cylinders or electric motors must be respected. Avoid being trapped between a fence and an opening gate pushed by passing cows. Fingers and hands resting on milk pit curbs can be stepped on or kicked by cows. If feed augers are used to convey grain to cows in the milking barn use caution of moving parts if it is necessary to unjam stuck feed. Small children in the milking area can cause distractions and injuries. Overly loud radios can mask noises of malfunctioning equipment or cries for help in accidental situations.

Sanitation safety

Chemicals for cleaning milking equipment are safe if label directions are followed. Proper amounts and mixing procedures are very important. Rubber or plastic aprons and gloves can protect clothes and skin, while eye shields and face masks are recommended. Dangerous fumes will result from adding caustic chemicals to hot water or adding chlorine to acid rinses. Hot scalding water should also be considered a hazard. Teat dips, as well as cleaning chemicals, can cause allergic reactions in some people and gloves are advised. All workers should know location of the electrical main, gas and water valves, and release valves on hot water heaters.

Equipment safety

Belt driven compressors, vacuum pumps and PTO shafts should have guards placed over and around them. Be mindful that loose clothing may easily get caught in any moving equipment part which could cause the loss of a limb. Mixer trucks or wagons must be off and starter secured before entering the mixer box. Silage “avalanches” have resulted in deaths as well as serious injuries including permanent spinal cord damage. Use a loader with a roll-over protection cover (ROPS) cab, or at a minimum a ROPS with side screens, for silage removal. This will provide some protection for the operator if an avalanche occurs. Let other workers know about the dangers of being in close proximity to the silage face.

Many dangers can exist concerning manure storage areas. Toxic gases are produced from these areas which can pose a health threat to humans and animals. Deaths occur every year on dairies where dairy employees are working around manure storage facilities. An air respirator is recommended for those who may need to enter manure containment areas. Always use the buddy system so as to have someone call for help if the need arises.

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe workplace to all employees, by setting up the worksite as safely as possible. Employees also have a responsibility to follow safety rules.

Dr. Gerald Higginbotham is Ruminant Business Manager in California for Micronutrients, a Division of Heritage Technologies, LLC. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah and Ph.D degree from the University of Arizona. Dr. Higginbotham is a member of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists and is a diplomat of the American College of Animal Sciences. Contact him at 559-907-8013 or

5 Prerequisites for Engaging Your Employees

Jul 12, 2012

Do you have what it takes to shape employees who are more productive, safer and more likely to stay at your dairy?

By Felix Soriano and Phil Durst

Gallup, a research based management consulting firm, defines an engaged employee as “someone who works with passion and has profound connection to the company, driving results and moving the organization forward.” In other words, engaged employees are those who show passion about their job and the dairy they work for, making them highly productive and efficient at work.

Gallup’s statistics say that highly engaged employees can improve overall performance by 78%! Furthermore, engaged employees can improve:
• Employee retention by 44%
• Labor safety by 50%
• Productivity by 50%
• Profitability by 33%

So, are your employees highly engaged or not?

If they are, good for you. If they are not, start looking at your leadership and communication skills. We all recognize that good communication is critical for effective teamwork on the farm or in any business. Not only do we recognize that, but we often say that it is a priority for us. And yet, it is still a problem area for many.

As manager, you tend to assume that others understand what you want. You think that they give the same urgency to tasks as you would. You believe that they will have the same standards for how the job gets done that you have. But, unfortunately, many times this is not the case.

You probably aren’t the only one with questions and misconceptions. Many employees don’t know much of the business of the dairy, what your goals are as an owner or how they are doing compared to your expectations. The primary reason they don’t know it is because many owners don’t do a good job sharing that information.

That’s where many owners get stuck. They recognize the importance of good communication and engaged employees, but aren’t sure what to do differently. Meanwhile, many employees seem adrift. They may not contribute much beyond doing the minimum and aren’t active participants in advancing the operation to a new level.

So what can you do to have highly engaged employees? Here are five things that you must have:
1. Strong leadership and communication
2. Well-defined job roles and organizational structure
3. Effective performance management system
4. A well-defined recruitment and orientation process for new employees
5. A good training and development program

Employee surveys and evaluations can now be now done with dairy farm employees to help assess the level of engagement of your employees.

Michigan State University Extension is initiating a project along with APN Consulting, LLC to improve communication on the farm. This project is partly supported by the North Central Center for Risk Management Education and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Dairy producers in Michigan and eastern U.S. are invited to participate in this project. If you are interested in learning more about this, contact any of the project leaders:
• Phil Durst at 989-387-5346 or via email at
• Stan Moore at 231-533-8818 or via email at
• Felix Soriano at 215-738-9130 or via email at or go to

Improvement is possible but it begins with increased knowledge. This project can help you change employee management based on understanding what your employees are thinking.

Felix Soriano
Owner, APN Consulting, LLC

Phil Durst
Sr. Michigan State University Extension Dairy Educator

The Summer of Immigration Hopes and Dream(er)s

Jul 09, 2012

Do the recent “Dreamers” and Arizona legal developments signal the high-water mark for the anti-immigration movement?

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney

Just as the summer heated up, immigration law got hot as well, with two significant legal developments.

First, President Obama announced that a class of undocumented immigrants, commonly known as “Dreamers,” would qualify for certain benefits under a program known as deferred action. Second, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected most of Arizona’s controversial law known as S.B. 1070, which authorized state enforcement of immigration laws and had inspired copycat laws in many other states.

Although these developments do not provide a direct solution to the immigrant labor crisis in dairy, they are important changes in immigration law that dairy producers should understand.

“Dreamers” are young people who are undocumented and were brought to the U.S. by their parents, usually at a very young age. Many have little familiarity with their country of birth and have been educated in the U.S. for most of their lives. In most cases, they look, sound and act “American” but for the fact that they do not have status. Because most had little or no choice in coming to the U.S., they have garnered a significant amount of sympathy in the otherwise vitriolic debate over immigration reform. The DREAM Act, which would provide most of them with a pathway to permanent residence and U.S. citizenship, has long had majority support in Congress but has fallen victim to the 60-vote threshold required to move any legislation through the Senate.

In his June 15, 2012 announcement, President Obama extended “deferred action” to Dreamers. Deferred action is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion whereby the government chooses not to pursue a course of legal action. Stated more plainly, the government in this situation has decided to allow Dreamers to live and work in the U.S., even though they could otherwise be deported. For those who qualify, deferred action would provide work authorization, a Social Security number and likely a driver’s license.

Dreamers can be as old as 30 and still qualify, so it is possible that there may be dairy workers who are eligible for deferred action, so long as they arrived in the U.S. prior to the age of 16 and have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. It is important to understand that President Obama used his executive powers in ordering deferred action, so it is only a temporary solution. A pathway to permanent residence and citizenship will still require Congress to act.

On June 25, 2012, a second major immigration change occurred when the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona’s S.B. 1070. The Court concluded Arizona law was “preempted” by federal law. In other words, it was illegal for Arizona to create a state enforcement scheme in an area that long-standing constitutional precedent has reserved for the federal government.

The ruling was mixed, however, because the Court did not invalidate the part of the law that requires state police officers to check the immigration status of a person already in their custody if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully. The Court left open the possibility of invalidating this remaining provision if there is future evidence that Arizona is implementing it in a way that demonstrates racial profiling.

Reversal of most of the Arizona law is likely to have several effects that may be helpful to dairy. Beyond Arizona, the Court’s decision is likely to invalidate many of the laws in copycat states. Doubts about the wisdom of the Arizona approach had already grown in states such as Georgia and Alabama, where crippling agricultural labor shortages resulted from Arizona-style laws. Coupled with these concerns, the Court’s decision likely deals a serious blow to the immigration “state’s rights” movement.

Of course, neither development solves dairy’s ultimate problem, which is the need for an efficient and reliable visa to match immigrant labor with rural labor needs. Reading the political tea leaves is always risky, but hopefully these two developments signal the high-water mark for the anti-immigration movement. Unfortunately, only this fall’s election will show how much progress has been made towards eliminating that all-important 60-vote obstacle. 

Wake-up Call for Children Working on Farms

Jul 02, 2012

Even without new federal rules, youth safety on the farm needs to take a front-row seat.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension

Proposed federal rules limiting child labor on farms created quite an uproar over the last several months. Many players in agriculture weighed in on the discussion and created enough questions that the proposal was withdrawn by the Department of Labor. Common arguments against the proposal included that children develop a strong work ethic and learn about agriculture by being closely involved in the farm operations. While those arguments have some validity, they should come with caution as well.

Some people might look at that withdrawal as a “win” for agriculture and democracy in action. While I shared some of the concerns raised, agriculture needs to look at this incident as a wake-up call.

That exercise should have brought everyone’s greater attention to the fact agriculture is still one of our nation’s most hazardous occupations. When you add the fact that it is an industry where many of the participants literally live in their workplace and children are around a great deal, the responsibility needs to be taken seriously.

I don’t think any parent intentionally puts their children in positions where they could be injured or worse. Children on farms, however, are frequently asked to “help me for a minute” without thinking about the hazards that go with that simple request. The task may seem insignificant, but that doesn’t lessen the hazard.

Children aren’t just small adults. Children on the farm witness a lot of what their parents and others are doing on the farm, but that doesn’t mean they understand what is being done or the inherent hazards that go along with the tasks. Children lack the level of judgment, understanding, physical strength and decision-making skills that may be necessary to work safely.

Every parent or guardian who has children on the farm should spend time studying the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) to learn about appropriate tasks for children and how to develop a safe environment for young people to learn about and participate in agriculture.

NAGCAT is a product of the Marshfield (Wisconsin) Clinic Research Foundation. The Marshfield Clinic has long been involved in farm safety issues and has developed a national reputation for its work with children on farms. I think it is important to note this clinic is in the heart of farm country, not some institution in the middle of a metropolis where there is little understanding of production agriculture.

NAGCAT has produced a set of simple guideline posters (some available in Spanish) that can help a parent or guardian assess whether or not children should be performing over 60 typical tasks on the farm. The task list ranges from the typical, early task of feeding calves, to operating skid-steer loaders and large tractors. The posters include questions related to the child’s ability to focus on a task, follow simple instructions, vision and strength, training and supervision of adults recommended. All are designed to help decide whether or not a child can safely handle the task at hand.

These posters are found free of charge here. The Marshfield Clinic website has many more resources than just the posters that may be of interest. People interested in safety training, developing best practices for safe farm operation and public information on farm safety can find resources at the site.

As parents, you can also encourage others to use the resource with their children. Peer pressure among children (and perhaps even parents) to engage in larger tasks all the time can be tremendous. If all the parents in the area are working from the same set of guidelines, peer pressure backs down considerably, and it probably results in a safer neighborhood where children can still be safely involved in the farming operation, but be at appropriate levels.

So back to federal rules on youth employment in agriculture – the topic won’t go away. There will always be those who want to make the rules more stringent. The more the agriculture community does itself to practice good judgment and safety, putting children only at appropriate tasks and with adequate supervision; the less likely you will see stringent rules imposed upon you by others. The responsibility for safety of youth living and working on farms is in your hands.

Chuck Schwartau is an Extension Educator at the University of Minnesota. Contact him at


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