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May 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.

4 Steps to Lead Your Team to Success

May 25, 2012

How great managers do it during periods of low milk prices.

Soriano photo 1 12By Felix Soriano, MS, PAS, APN Consulting, LLC
I many times preach about the importance of “consistency” when it comes to managing a dairy operation. Furthermore, I preach about this when I work with front-line workers who are involved with the daily “cow work” at the farm. I do this because I believe that consistency is one of the most important traits that a dairy needs to have in order to be profitable and successful. 

However, managers and owners are sometimes the first to become inconsistent with their decisions and make unpredictable changes during unstable economic times. For example, they will typically ask their nutritionist to make changes in the diets without evaluating the impact that those changes will have on their income over feed cost, or bottom-line profitability of their dairy. 
Instead, what great dairy leaders and managers do is stick to their solid plans and goals, even during uncertain times like the ones we are living today. Great managers know and understand that the dairy industry has become very unpredictable, but they still lead in a consistent manner and therefore get more predictable results. This doesn’t mean they may not have to make some adjustments to their plans during low milk prices, but the core mission and vision of their business stays the same.
How do they do it? Among other things, I see great leaders following these four things:
1. They define and focus on their top goals. There are two main issues that I typically find among dairy managers that lack good leadership and focus.  Either: a) They don’t have any defined goals, and, if they do, they are not communicating them properly to the rest of the employees, or b) They have goals but often times get distracted from them.
a. No defined goals: Too many dairies have no goals to speak of.  In some instances, the manager or owner may have a set of goals defined, but when employees are asked about these goals, they don’t know them or can’t remember them. It is very important for any organization to have one, two or three clear, well-defined measurable goals that can be shared with employees. Examples of well-defined and measurable goals can be found at Of course, these goals will vary from dairy to dairy and it’s always recommended to have your key employees, nutritionist, veterinarian, and consultants involved when defining those goals for each area in the dairy.
b. Managers get distracted from the goals: Even if the goals are well defined, often times pressures of the day-to-day activities take over and managers and employees forget about the goals. It’s the leader/manager’s role to regularly emphasize the goals, rethink people’s jobs to help them achieve those goals, and minimize the distractions at work in order to better focus on the goals that need to be achieved.
In summary, the manager’s job starts with identifying the goal(s), communicating those goals, explaining them, and making sure that everyone understands them.  There should only be one, two or three well-defined goals, and you may have different goals for different units within your dairy. For example: One or two main goals for calf feeders, one or two main goals for feeders, one or two main goals for milkers, etc.
2. They make sure everyone knows what role they play and what they need to do to achieve those goals. Many times, dairy managers set up goals but they don’t define and communicate what needs to be done to achieve those goals. Good leaders will give employees all the necessary tools to succeed, including SOPs, job descriptions and any other tools necessary to achieve those goals. Also, great managers will involve team members in defining how those goals will be reached.
3. They keep score. It is essential to track measures that will lead to the achievement of those goals. There are two types of measures to track: lag measures and lead measures.  Lag measures will tell us what happened and are what managers usually look at on a monthly basis to evaluate the dairy overall.  Lead measures, on the other hand, are predictive and can be influenced by people’s daily performance. Managers and employees can look at these measures daily, weekly and/or on a monthly basis. Good managers focus on a few lead measures that the team can control and help employees stay focused on them by monitoring those lead measures consistently. An example of these would be parlor throughput, milk flow and milk per stall per hour. Combined, these are lead measures that will help milkers in each shift stay focused on their task and achieve their parlor performance and efficiency goals expected by the manager.
4. They set up a regular cycle of follow-through. Good leaders and managers conduct regular meetings where both manager and employees are held accountable for achieving results. This is the time to ask and discuss about the goals and to refresh what needs to be done in order to achieve those goals. If these meetings are not done and goals are not discussed on a consistent basis, then employees will quickly forget about them and won’t care. The meetings should be conducted weekly. (For more information about running effective meetings at your dairy go to Develop a scoreboard where team members can see where they are at in reference to their goals.  Have employees discuss what changes they need to do or issues that they may have in reference to achieving those goals and plan what to do next.
Following these four steps will help you improve your leadership skills and consistency at your dairy operation. Remember that it is not enough to announce your goals and expect people to be on board. To become a great leader, you must engage your team to figure out the necessary measures to take to achieve those goals. Then relentlessly monitor those measures.
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 Visit his website at

Do You Need a Timeout?

May 19, 2012

Declining milk prices and rising stress levels may trigger emotional outbursts toward employees when they don’t perform as required. Learn to control anger before it controls you.

Higgenbotham 5 12   CopyBy Gerald Higginbotham, Ph.D. Dairy Advisor, Fresno/Madera Counties, University of California Cooperative Extension
Anybody who has raised children or experienced some form of discipline by their own parents may have experience with the term “timeout.” When given a timeout, the child is given a chance to cool down to control their emotions.
Those who manage dairy employees may need a “timeout” to control their emotions if situations arise where verbal abuse of an employee may happen. I had an experience when I was visiting with a dairy owner inside his milking parlor about a particular milk quality problem. While we were visiting, I noticed that a milker was not teat-dipping cows as required by the dairy owner. Upon my mentioning this to the owner, he became quite angry toward the milker and proceeded to give him quite a tongue lashing. Of course, the milker was not following the prescribed milking procedures protocol, but could his reprimand have been handled differently? Could the dairy owner have controlled his temper?
Dairy farmers have seen their monthly income drop significantly due to low milk prices and high feed costs. This stressful atmosphere may result in emotional outbursts toward employees when they don’t perform as required. It is at this time that a “timeout” may be needed for the dairy owner/manager to collect his emotions before a verbal assault is launched towards one of his or her employees.
According to the American Psychological Association, the instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. People use a variety of processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing and calming. Anger can be suppressed and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. You need, though, to realize that the danger in this type of response is that your anger may turn inward on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure or depression.
Counting to 10 isn’t just for kids. Before reacting to a tense situation, take a few moments to breathe deeply and count to 10. Slowing down can help defuse your temper. Take a “timeout” from the person or situation until your frustration subsides a bit. As soon as you’re thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but non-confrontational way. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them. Also, in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something you’ll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything.
Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone. You may want to consider seeking help for anger or stress related issues if you feel it might be problem. Anger management classes are sometimes held by health-related agencies. Life will be filled with frustration, pain, loss and the unpredictable actions of others. You can’t change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you.
American Psychological Association. Controlling anger before it controls you.
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

DREAM Act Provides Insight for Agriculture’s Immigration Reform Efforts

May 14, 2012

If Congress can enact the DREAM Act, it would demonstrate that reforming immigration is not impossible, only impossibly slow. It should also put agriculture next in line. 

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney
Cinco de Mayo was nearly two weeks ago. President Obama used the occasion to encourage Congress to pass the DREAM Act.  In short, the DREAM Act would provide students who have been brought into the country illegally an opportunity to obtain legal status if they serve two years in the military or four years in college. The minors would have to have been in the United States for at least five years before the passage of the Act.
The group that would benefit from the proposed new law is quite possibly the most sympathetic group in the entire debate over immigration reform. For that reason, it is generally thought that the DREAM Act is the most likely piece of targeted immigration reform to have a chance at passage.
The consensus is that if Congress would not act to provide residency to children who broke no laws of their own volition, have a background without significant blemish, and agree to serve this nation or obtain a higher education, then the chances of a broader bill are miniscule. 
In the last Congress, while the House of Representatives passed a version of the bill, the Democrat-controlled Senate was unable to even bring the measure to a vote. Instead, it was filibustered.

On several occasions, the President has called on Congress to take action on the bill, citing moral and humanitarian obligations to passing the bill. Thus far, Congress has declined the opportunity. 
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio is working on alternative DREAM Act. The key difference between the existing bill and the one forthcoming from Senator Rubio is the “pathway to citizenship” provisions. While the original DREAM Act would allow for those who complete military service or their education to become citizens, Rubio’s alternative will purportedly allow application for citizenship but with no guarantee. The National Journal reports that in a survey, 49% of voters prefer the guaranteed citizenship option, while 35% prefer Rubio’s alternative. 
Now, as I interpret those survey numbers, that means that a full 84% of those surveyed believe that some kind of DREAM Act is desired. If that is the case, then we should see something passed, right?  Well, it is an election year, and the Congress has not exactly been keen on compromise for the sake of public majority desires lately.
If there can be a DREAM Act enacted, however, then it would at least demonstrate that reforming immigration is not impossible, only impossibly slow. It should also put agriculture next in line as the group to be addressed.  Since comprehensive immigration legislation is certainly not going to happen, those in agriculture needing workers should be hoping for this dream to come true.
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at

Are You Positive?

May 07, 2012

Are you the manager who only sees what’s wrong at your dairy? Here’s how to turn that around for big results.

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

“Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting golden delicious.” – Bill Meyer

I am not sure who Bill Meyer is, but his words are right on. Today I am talking about fostering an attitude of positivity. I’d like to suggest that a stubborn commitment to finding and focusing on the positives on your farm will bring big results.
We have all had papers graded by our teachers. I don’t know about you, but I always relished the positive comments, and pretty much didn’t read the red-lined ones. In my career as a teacher, I used to red-line a lot. Then one day, I decided that I would highlight in yellow the things that were accurate or good. I found that over time, the students’ quality of written work went way up.
First, I think that we all need to acknowledge that there are many more good things happening on our farms than there are negative. Not to be “Pollyanna-ish,” but I believe it’s better to build the confidence and trust of our employees first, so that when something does need correction, it can be accomplished easily. Your employees are much like my students. They want to do well. How many employees have you had come to work each day saying, “I am really going to screw up badly today”?
With each positive observation, you are building your employees’ confidence in their ability to do a good job, that they are doing many things well, and that you believe in them. Adopt that as your primary mindset. People are really interested in doing well. And recognition from you means a lot, often more than a big salary. Rather than saying what went wrong today, say, what really went well with the employees, the cows, with me? I would bet that you’ll feel better as well.
I work with a farm in Minnesota where the producer took a punishing negative attitude. At farm meetings, he would only focus on what was wrong. The employees were understandably passive, and it seemed that there never was progress. (As a Spanish translator, I would interpret these meetings, so I was an observer). They would discuss the same issues each month, down to deducting from paychecks for damage, etc., (which may not be legal).
Then, one day, the producer focused the entire meeting on the good things. This is a very good farm in terms of milk quality and production. It was like he planted golden delicious and was beginning to harvest them! Remember also that your stresses and problems are very evident to your employees. Try not to let them affect the way you deal with them.
Subsequent meetings have all been very productive, and there is genuine enjoyment of the meetings. The employees believe that their “patrón” is interested in them, and they want to do their best.
Now that the employer has earned the commitment of the employees, he/she can focus on the major areas of improvement on his farm. And he can lead his employees willingly, rather than drag them kicking and screaming. Remember, it is all about leadership by example.
Next time, I’ll talk about the benefits to you of adopting a positive focus.
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.
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