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July 2013 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.

More Dairy Probes Possible As U.S. Department of Labor Initiates Seasonal Worker Investigation

Jul 29, 2013

Think your dairy is exempt from temporary worker laws? A highly unusual federal investigation of a California dairy signals that more DOL activity may be on the way.

Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony P. Raimondo, attorney

The U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for the enforcement of federal labor laws, including wage and hour laws. The primary law that the DOL enforces is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets forth minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and related requirements. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and the FLSA requires overtime after 40 hours in a week.

Compliance with the FLSA is relatively simple for most dairy producers, because employees who work in the care and handling of livestock and employees who work in the fields raising crops are exempt from FLSA overtime. As a result, dairies have not been the focus of DOL investigations and enforcement activities in recent years.

But this may be changing. In the last few years, DOL has considered agriculture to be a target of its enforcement activities. The law that has been the primary focus of these activities is the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA). MSPA places detailed compliance obligations on farm labor contractors and agricultural employers, and regulates recruitment, payment of wages, housing and transportation. MSPA applies any time that agricultural workers are engaged in work of a "seasonal or other temporary nature." In seasonal crops, MSPA investigations, enforcement and compliance responsibilities are a way of life. Employers have faced significant challenges with regard to regulations covering housing and transportation.

But the dairy industry has largely been spared the burden of MSPA compliance and the inevitable DOL visits that come along with it because dairy work is not seasonal, and the perception has been that MSPA does not apply. Within the last month, a California dairy has been targeted with a MSPA investigation, with DOL very interested in inspecting the housing. This is a highly unusual step, and there are some concerns that this investigation may be the first in a move to look more closely at MSPA application in the dairy industry.

The fact is that many dairies are likely subject to MSPA, at least partially. For example, while dairy work is not seasonal, it is not uncommon for dairies to farm feed crops and to hire seasonal workers in those operations. The dairy will have to comply with MSPA to respect to those workers.

Even workers who are employed through most or all of the year can be considered "seasonal" if they move from seasonal activity to seasonal activity throughout the year. For example, an employee who plants during part of the year, cultivates during another part of the year, and harvests during another part of the year is considered a "seasonal" employee even if the employee is never laid off during the year. In addition, many dairies retain custom harvesters or other outside service providers to plant and harvest feed crops. These service providers may be "farm labor contractors" who must be licensed under MSPA.

The biggest gray area is employees who spend almost all of their time engaged in dairy work, but simply lend a hand in seasonal farming when needed. The law remains unsettled with respect to the status of an employee who has enough dairy work to keep him employed full time year round, but who does some small amount of work in seasonal agricultural work as well. At this point, it appears that DOL will treat such individuals as non-seasonal, but there has been little or no legal guidance on this point.

Dairy producers should keep their eyes and ears open for DOL activity in their area, and should be prepared for the possibility that they will be investigated. These investigations will likely include questions designed to determine if MSPA applies. Producers should be aware and prepared to deal with these questions.

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 McCormick Barstow LLP in Fresno at (559) 433-1300.

Is Robotic Milking Right for Your Operation?

Jul 15, 2013

Switching to robotic milking is a weighty decision. But those who have done it say it is life-changing.

GEA Greg Larson 010313By Greg Larson, MIone multi-box robotic milking system expert with GEA Farm Technologies

You’ve read about them in Dairy Today. Your neighbor, or a dairy in the next county, may have one. Now you’re wondering if your farm, too, might someday be the home of a robotic or automatic milking system (AMS).

Switching to robotic milking is a weighty decision. But those who have done it say it has been a life-changing leap that has permanently transformed their life as dairy producers.

A More Flexible Lifestyle

Quality of life is the most obvious advantage of robotic milking. Instead of your schedule being ruled by milking times, you have the flexibility to adjust your work hours around other activities.

While using an AMS might initially sound like a way of removing oneself from the cows, the opposite is actually true. Being freed of milking responsibilities provides more time to walk among the cows in the barn, observing their behaviors and monitoring their physical condition. It also makes it possible to focus more on reproduction programs, hoof health, calf and heifer rearing, and excellent forage production.

Many dairy producers who have switched to an AMS also say their work now focuses less on the physical task of executing milking two or three times a day and more on analyzing data, working on feeding and breeding strategies, and setting and monitoring goals for the farm. With relief from the physical exhaustion of the constant demands of milking, they can focus more clearly on the bigger picture of their dairy enterprises.

Hired labor savings is another tremendous advantage. Locating, hiring, training and managing labor are time-consuming and sometimes frustrating tasks for dairy managers. With an AMS, you’ll never have to scramble when a worker doesn’t show up for a shift, quits or is fired. You not only are relieved of the time and expense of hiring additional workers, but also of the regulatory and accounting tasks that are a part of employing on-farm labor. And, because robotic milking systems prepare and milk every cow the same way, every time, you eliminate the "procedural drift" and human error that can otherwise occur.

But What About the Cows?

Robotic milking allows cows to listen to their natural instincts. They have the freedom to be milked, eat, rest and ruminate on their own schedule, not one that has been predetermined for them. This allows for improved udder health; fewer digestive upsets and metabolic problems; and — almost always — higher milk production.

MMS robotic milker
Robotic milking allows cows to listen to their natural instincts. They have the freedom to be milked, eat, rest and ruminate on their own schedule, not one that has been predetermined for them. Photo courtesy of GEA Farm Technologies.

 

Cow health and well-being is carefully monitored for every animal, because computerized AMS monitoring detects cows that are not visiting the robot frequently enough. This could be an indication of a foot injury or other ailment. Daily monitoring of individual-cow milk production, activity level and feed intake during milking are additional indicators of animal health. And evaluation of milk conductivity can detect mastitis infections at the subclinical stage, so they can be treated and cured efficiently.

Customized feeding options also help to create a nutrition plan tailored to the individual needs of every cow. Feeding of concentrates in the milker box is programmed for each animal, and can be adjusted to meet specific nutritional needs that change throughout lactation. Some robotic milking systems also allow for zone feeding post-milking. This system releases cows to specific feeding areas where they receive a TMR or PMR (partial mixed ration, minus the concentrates) based on their level of production, stage of lactation, parity or other factors prioritized by the herd owner and nutritionist.

Special-care areas also can be set up in conjunction with an AMS that might include a hospital area, maternity pens, fresh-cow pens, hoof-trimming facilities and palpation rails.

Questions to Ask

As you explore the possibility of switching to robotic milking, you will no doubt have many questions for the companies who manufacture and install AMS. Among them might be:

• How many milking units will be required to accommodate my herd size?
• What is the cost per unit, and how does it compare to the construction of a traditional parlor?
• How many hours of hired labor can I expect the system to replace?
• What improvement in milk production can I expect to realize?
• Can my current facilities be retrofitted to accommodate an AMS?
• If we’re building new facilities, can the AMS manufacturer assist with their design?
• What accommodations can be made to the milking system to allow for future herd growth?
• Does the system allow for various methods of controlling cow traffic?
• Does the system allow for customized zone feeding after milking?
• What will the transition to robotic milking be like for me and my cows?
• What type of technical support does the manufacturer offer, both during the start-up transition, and after the system is up and running?

Talk to Current Users

One of the best ways to explore the merits of robotic milking systems is to visit dairies on which they already are in use and talk to the producers who own them. They will be able to share their own decision-making processes, explain the functions of their individual systems and facility designs, and tell you the results that they have witnessed in their own operations.

If you’re interested in focusing less time and effort on managing hired labor and more of it on managing your cows — on your own schedule — then robotic milking may be right for you.

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

 

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