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SOPs: A Great Tool for Effective Communication on Dairies

Oct 14, 2011

Well-written standard operating procedures provide direction, improve communication, reduce training time and improve work consistency.

Chahine photo   Copy
By Dr. Mireille Chahine and Dr. Rick Norell, Extension Dairy Specialists, University of Idaho
Dairy herd performance is optimized when routine management tasks are consistently followed by the dairy crew.  Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) development is essential to ensure that routine tasks are done the same way by everyone, every time. SOPs can be used to facilitate training of new employees and can be used to evaluate employee performance.  
It is especially important to have SOPs in place if you employ Hispanic workers because some of them might not fully understand written or oral instructions in English. Developing SOPs in English and Spanish will provide step-by-step instructions on how a routine task is done.
Some dairies avoid creating SOPs because they consider the work to be relatively consuming, so they do not take time to generate them. Taking time to generate SOPs for tasks conducted routinely on the dairy (feed bunk management, feeding, milking routines, parlor management, treatment protocols, semen handling, calf raising, etc.) will increase operational effectiveness by improving consistency in daily management practices. This, in turn, can increase herd performance and profitability.
SOPs written in English and Spanish will also improve communication among farm workers and improve training of Hispanic employees. Exemplary performance doesn't just happen; rather, it is driven by effective training, motivation and communication between the key players on the dairy team. Well-written SOPs provide direction, improve communication, reduce training time and improve work consistency. 
SOPs provide:
1.       A guide for relief workers filling in during vacations, illness or turnover;
2.       A standard reference for employee training;
3.       Reduce chaos and confusion when employees leave;
4.       Improve consistency of job performance;
5.       Approved procedures that reduce the risk of job failures and interruptions;
6.       A basis for effective performance evaluation;
7.       Improved acceptance of practices because people support what they help create.
8.       A means for everyone to think through the whole process of a task.
9.       A statement of who does what, where, why and how.
10.   Legal protection since a detailed process is documented.
11.   Reference document in accident investigations.               
12.   An opportunity to build unity around attainable standards and goals with procedures to achieve them.
13.   An evaluation of labor efficiency and procedural correctness
14.   A checklist for co- workers to observe performance and reinforce it if it's correct.
15.   An aid in writing job descriptions and identifying skill requirements.
SOPs can take considerable time and effort to develop. Yet they can have very high value for attaining consistency in dairy management. They can build a sense of teamwork and a sense of order about the job at hand. Once developed, they need to be implemented and evaluated with periodical revisions or as needed.
Dr. Mireille Chahine is Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist in the Animal and Veterinary Science Department at the University of Idaho in Twin Falls. Contact her at 208-736-3609 or


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