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March 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.

Get Your New Employees “On Board”

Mar 30, 2012

Onboarding is the complete integration or immersion of new employees to your operation. Properly onboarding new employees takes some extra time, but the time commitment will be worth it.

buttars nicolasBy Nicolas Buttars, labor management specialist, Pfizer Animal Health
Imagine you are looking for a job. A friend of yours works on a nearby dairy and tells you he heard they are hiring. You go to the dairy and meet the owner. He says they are looking for some additional help in the milking parlor. Then he asks if you can start that night. Not wanting to miss out on a job, you agree and are instructed to go to the milking parlor. The owner points you in the direction of the parlor and tells you that the milking crew will show you what to do. Just like that, you are off to your first shift.
If this happened to you, how would you feel? Would you feel confident about the management at the dairy you are now working at? Would you feel prepared and want to come back the next day? Would you feel confident in the job you are doing?
This scenario is a common one playing out on dairies across the country. And this type of “hiring and training” is not good for the new employee, the existing employees or the owner of the dairy. Successful operations and employees need a formal, structured onboarding process.
Onboarding is the complete integration or immersion of new employees to your operation. Properly onboarding new employees does take some extra time, but the time commitment will be worth it as there are many benefits. Research has shown that offering a complete training will help your employees and your bottom line.

• Properly trained employees will become more productive earlier in their term of employment.
• Complete training reduces the risks of costly mistakes and accidents.
• Employees who have proper training are more committed and engaged in their work.
• Your dairy will see a lower employee turnover rate which saves you money. The American Management Association states employee turnover can cost an operation 1.5 to 2 times the person’s annual salary. For an employee making $25,000 per year, that’s a loss of up to $50,000.
Onboarding starts when the employee first comes in contact with the dairy and lasts about the first 60 to 90 days of employment. It includes not just the orientation and training process but also the hiring process.
Here are some things to consider when evaluating how your dairy onboards employees:
• Interviewing: Develop and train managers to ask good questions of potential employees, more than just “When can you start?” Learning a little bit about people and their previous experience can help you determine whether they will be good team members of your operation and into what role they might best fit.
• Hiring and orientation: Once you’ve determined who you are going to hire, it is important to make them feel welcomed and part of the team and assimilate the culture right from the start. You also need to make sure the new hires understand the procedures on your dairy. Take the time to discuss things that are important to the success of your operation and what role they play in it instead of just handing new people a stack of standard operating procedures to read on their own time.
• Job training: The way you train employees is crucial to their success in your operation. The responsibility of training new hires should not be left to chance but well prepared. Whoever is conducting the training needs to not only explain the tasks or processes but work through it with the new hires. This is also a great time to go back to the basics of the job. For example, if you have hired a new milker, it is a good idea to review how a cow produces milk so the new employee understands why certain tasks, like using a post dip, are important steps in the milking process.
• Reviewing: Once the initial training is complete and the new employees are put in position to do the work, checking regularly in to see how they are doing will help keep them engaged in their job. These formal and informal reviews give employees an opportunity to correct any mistakes they might be making and/or give them positive reinforcement to keep up the good work as well as share with management what is working well and what isn’t.
• Setting milestones: Whether worked in conjunction with reviews or as separate occasions, setting milestones for new employees will give them motivation to continue the good work. You can incorporate incentives like a salary scale or other benefits into milestones, such as working a set total number of days or shifts with no absences. And once an employee reaches one milestone, work with him or her to set the next.
Not only is it important to do all of these things when hiring a new employee, but it is also important to designate these responsibilities to someone on your dairy. Having an existing employee be responsible for training new employees is the key to having a consistent and complete onboarding process.
Not sure how to get an employee onboarding process started on your dairy? There are certified consultants who can help. One such group is PeopleFirst™, which was created after hearing about and seeing challenges from customers who provide work for a large number of employees. Visit to learn more about what PeopleFirst can bring to your dairy.

Re-evaluate Your Hiring Process

Mar 26, 2012

Are you hiring the right people or leaving it up to chance?

By Dr. Gerald Higginbotham, University of California Cooperative Extension
Higgenbotham photo   CopyI was recently on a dairy farm where, in the two to three hours I was there, approximately three individuals came looking for work. The dairy producer took down their names and phone numbers with no application handed to them to fill out for describing their work history.
Hiring somebody when you have no history of how they performed at other dairies is a recipe for disaster. Very few businesses hire individuals without any background of their prior or current work history. Dairies should act no differently.
In the hiring process on dairies, Estrada and Simmonds, 2005, provide guidelines for recruiting and hiring personnel for dairies:
  1. Prepare a clear and concise description of the roles and responsibilities you are seeking an individual to fill. This will help you know which candidates might fit the role better, and it helps screen candidates.
  2. Prepare a summary that would fit an advertisement. Disseminate the information to your veterinarian, nutritionist, suppliers, etc., and place it in newspapers and publications that possible candidates would have access to.
  3. Have the applicants fill out an employee application, and ask for references. Note: Some applicants may not have writing or reading ability in English or Spanish.
  4. Review applications and select those who you might have an interest in interviewing.
  5. Consider performing an initial phone interview to ask some basic questions. Schedule an interview date.
  6. Prepare for interviews. Define the questions that can be asked for the particular job being applied for. Strongly consider a hands-on, practical interview, where the applicant has a chance to demonstrate abilities claimed in the application (i.e., have a milker applicant milk for one shift).
  7. Try to determine the talent, knowledge, skills and experience of the person, and establish a rank or grading scale, which you will use in determining who to hire.
  8. Thank the applicants and tell them they will be notified of your decision. Do follow-up with each one.
  9. Communicate your decision to the person you selected for the job, establish a date to show up for work, and explain what to expect in the first few days of employment.
One aspect of hiring quality dairy farm workers is to have specific job descriptions for each duty on the dairy. According to Erven, 2008, job descriptions help both the employer and employees by answering three questions: 
  1. What does the jobholder do? 
  2. How is it done?
  3. Under what conditions is it done? 
The job description has at least four parts:
  1. Job title
  2. A brief one or two sentence summary of the job
  3. A listing of the major tasks involved in the job, summarized under three to seven headlines
  4. A listing of the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to do the job.
People who work on the dairy are an extremely important part of your dairy team. You reach success through your people. Poor screening of potential job applicants can be a stumbling block in reaching your goals as a herd owner or dairy manager. Are you hiring the right people or leaving it up to chance? Each dairy owner or manager needs to answer this question.
Erven, B. L. 2008.  Proceedings of the 2008 annual convention of the American Association of Bovine Practioners. 41:145-147.
Estrada, J. M. and C. M. Simmonds. 2005.  Selecting, training and developing personnel to deliver results.  Proceedings of the 7th Western Dairy Management Conference.  March 9-11.pp 41-48.
Dr. Gerald Higginbotham is a Dairy Advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension Service for Fresno and Madera Counties. 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 559-675-7879, Ext 209 or

Tips for More Effective Delegation

Mar 16, 2012

Trying to do too many things at the same time and leaving too little time to focus on other management issues? It’s time to delegate some responsibilities to others at your dairy.

Soriano photo 1 12By Felix Soriano, MS, PAS, APN Consulting, LLC
As a dairy owner or manager, are you still feeding cows or treating fresh cows? Would you like to delegate these or other jobs and have more time to focus on other management issues at your dairy but you can’t because you feel you are the only one that can do these tasks right? If so, you are not alone. I see this happening in many dairies around the country independently of the herd size.
As I always tell my clients, most likely there are people at your dairy who can do these jobs as well or even better than you can. Because many owners and managers are multi-tasking and trying to do too many things at the same time, they end up not performing these jobs the way they would like. Instead, one of your employees who can focus on the task will be more dedicated, will pay more attention to detail, and will perform the task better if properly trained.
Delegating these jobs and other projects to people at the dairy can decrease your workload, allow you and your team to get more done on time, and can boost confidence in your people. 
Follow these tips for effective delegation:
1.       Evaluate who is the right candidate for the job. This is a crucial step before delegating any job. Depending on the type of work you are delegating, the right candidate may be your herdsman, one of your milkers, your heifer feeder, etc. Most likely you will find someone in-house capable of doing the job. Having a job description will help identify the right candidate.
2.       Discuss the job with the candidate. Developing a good training program is very important to ensure that the employee understands the importance of the job, what needs to get done, how, when, and why it needs to be done that way. 
3.       Clearly define the task to be completed. Having Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will help during the training process, and it will ensure that the job gets done the same way every time.
4.       Define a timeline. It should be stipulated from the beginning how long the job should take. Identify a timeline of how long the training period will last and another that specifies how long each task and entire process should take.  
5.       Identify checkpoints. Determine how often and when you will meet with the employee to review progress and offer guidance. Have these meetings more frequently at first; reduce frequency once you see the job is mastered. Also, identify key performance indicators that will be periodically monitored to provide better feedback to your employee.
Effective delegation can reduce your workload and help you improve performance and profitability of your dairy.
Felix Soriano, president and founder of APN Consulting, has more than 10 years of experience working with dairy producers and developing tools and programs to improve dairy performance and profitability. He has a Master of Science degree from Virginia Tech and received an Agricultural Labor Management Certificate from the University of California. Born and raised in Argentina, Soriano can relate and communicate very well with Hispanic employees to help bridge the communication and cultural gap between workers and managers. While working as a manager for a feed additive company, Soriano developed his leadership and supervisory skills. Now based in Pennsylvania, Soriano can be reached at 215-738-9130 or or Visit his website

What to Expect with an I-9 Audit

Mar 12, 2012

With ICE promising even more inspections in the future, here is a quick guide to preparing for an I-9 audit of your dairy.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich C. Straub, attorney
In 2009, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began increasing the number of Form I-9 audits of U.S. businesses. Nicknamed “silent raids,” this enforcement policy change targeted employers who hire undocumented workers. Since 2009, the number I-9 audits has increased over 300%. With ICE promising even more audits in the future, this column offers a quick guide to preparing for an I-9 audit.
Dealing with ICE
An I-9 audit will usually begin with ICE agents making an unannounced visit to a business to serve a Notice of Inspection (NOI) and subpoena for the production of business records. The NOI gives an employer 72 hours to turn over Form I-9s and other business documents to ICE. The business documents requested will likely include payroll records, Form 943 Annual Tax Statements, prior Social Security Administration “No-Match” Notices, a list of federal contracts, a list of subcontractors or temporary employment agencies, business licenses, and articles of incorporation and other business entity documentation.
The NOI gives the business the option of waiving the 72-hour period to produce the documents. This is an offer that only benefits ICE, and a business should never sign the waiver. A business owner and any supervising employee should be polite and cooperative but should engage in minimal discussion with the officers. Questions regarding employees, employment hiring practices or the immigration status of employees should never be answered at this stage. Instead, a business owner or supervising employee should politely state that they are not presently in a position to answer any questions, that an attorney for the business must be consulted, and that a response to the subpoena will come prior to 72-hour deadline.   
Do you need an attorney?
The answer is an unqualified “yes.” The stakes are very high for a business in an I-9 audit. While most investigations result in fines for I-9 “paperwork” violations, anyone in an audit has the potential for criminal liability. ICE officers are expert investigators, and as polite as they may seem, it is their job is to use every legal method at their disposal to determine whether your business has unauthorized workers and whether you knowingly have hired them. Retaining an attorney who is experienced with I-9 audits and immigration law allows you to level the playing field.  
Remember: A subpoena is an order to produce documents, not a request. The response can have significant legal consequences for a business, its owners and its employees. These consequences can include significant fines, criminal prosecution and deportation. An experienced attorney will usually conduct an I-9 audit, prepare the response to the subpoena, and handle all communications with ICE. The attorney will also explain an owner’s legal rights, assess risks and mitigate damage when possible.
After the investigation
Once ICE has reviewed the requested documentation, the employer will receive one of three responses for each employee. First, ICE may determine there is no problem with the documentation provided by the employee. Second, ICE may determine that the employee is unauthorized to work and that continued employment will result in fines or criminal liability. Third, ICE may determine that there are discrepancies in the documentation and a direct interview with the employee is necessary. Under the third scenario, the employer will be given a Notice of Discrepancies that must be given to the employee, and signed by both the employer and employee to acknowledge receipt.
Business contingency planning
Other than criminal prosecution, the most devastating consequence of an I-9 audit is that a business may not be able to survive the sudden loss of all or significant portions of its immigrant labor force. Under the second and third scenarios described above, a common reaction is for the employee to simply leave rather than be interviewed by ICE agents. This problem is particularly acute for dairy producers, who have animals that require daily care and cannot simply put up the “closed” sign for a few days while they hire a new workforce.
Whether actually experiencing an audit or not, producers should create a business contingency plan that anticipates the sudden loss of their entire immigrant workforce. Again, an attorney can be very helpful in assisting you in forming the plan. Unfortunately, the end result may well be an acknowledgement that the business will not survive, but it is better to have thought through such a devastating consequence in advance.
Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or

What’s In Your Job Description?

Mar 02, 2012

As an owner/manager, put a title on your job and take time to list the necessary tasks on the dairy that only you can perform. This may involve making a significant attitude change in your thinking.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
It is becoming more common for dairy farms to develop and use job descriptions for their employees.   Owner/managers should have a job description as well, and there are differences in what should be in that job description.
The first item should be putting a title on your job and getting key elements included in the description. For many dairy operators, this may involve making a significant attitude change in their thinking. Most consider themselves ‘farmers’; and historically, farmers think of themselves as "do-ers." Farmers do things. The change needs to include the idea that farmers also manage.
Most dairy farmers are in the business because they like cows. There is another important aspect that needs to move up the priority ladder, though, and that is managing the business. A manager is responsible for the health of the business and for generating wealth to sustain the business. Those management tasks cannot afford to be put off to the end of the day, or when time happens to come along. Management time needs to be given a high priority and become part of the work routine. 
Dairy farms today, large and small, have a significant investment in cattle and facilities. They also have a tremendous production capacity in the value of milk and beef that can be produced in a year. Managing that production facility cannot be done by the "seat of your pants" anymore. Management needs to be a deliberate part of the owner/manager’s daily routine.
The trouble comes when the owner thinks he or she has to spend the entire day doing physical work on the farm to show value to the farm. At a New Zealand South Island Dairy Event (SIDE), Owen Grieg, operations manager for Grieg Farming Ltd., made the following statement, "Not feeling guilty when you are not doing physical farm work is a hard skill to learn."
Dairy owner/managers need to imbed in their minds the idea that management tasks are important to the health and wealth of the farm. They are as important as physical work. If sufficient quality time is not devoted to management, decisions are more likely made because they are quick, not because they are well thought out and the right decisions.
The other people involved in the farm business also need to realize the value of the right person having time to manage. If others on the farm do not see the value of the manager spending time maintaining and analyzing records, visiting with consultants, or attending industry seminars, they may become critical of the manager, who appears in their minds to be slacking off and not holding up his or her end of the business.   
This brings us back to the topic of job descriptions. As an owner/manager, take time to list the necessary tasks on the farm that only you can perform because you are the owner/manager. Consider such tasks as working with lenders, marketing, purchasing, dealing with regulatory agencies, planning for routine maintenance as well as major improvements or expansions, visiting with nutritionists and veterinarians for health management, hiring employees, staff meetings (family or hired labor), performance evaluations, attending seminars and workshops to enhance your skills, train other staff, and endless other tasks that maybe specific to your farm. Larger farms may distribute some of the duties among other partners or even key employees.  
All of those tasks are important to the success of a dairy farm, and not one of them relates directly to working with a cow. That is not to say owner/managers shouldn’t work with the cattle, but it points out there are many important tasks that need to be done to support the farm having cattle.
Once you have completed that management list for your job description, share it with others on the farm. They need to know the important tasks you perform for the farm, even when they don’t see you in the barn working side by side with them.   
If you look at the list and think, "I don’t have time for all that," maybe you need to look at the workload on your farm and determine how to better balance the load and the labor supply. Hiring labor is never an easy decision, but it might be a good investment, freeing up the owner/manager to do a better job of managing. The gains on the farm by devoting adequate and quality time to management may well pay more than the cost of the hired labor. 
What’s in your job description?  Take a look. Update it. Then follow it to make your dairy business more successful.
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at or (507) 536-6301.
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