In order for dairy farms to be successful, they must run like well-oiled machines day in and day out. Many tools can help make that happen, but as a dairy owner, the best tool you can ask your managers to use is a standard operating procedure (SOP).
SOPs are not new. But with the changing demographics of dairy employees across the country, have you considered what percentage of your staff can actually comprehend what any given SOP explains? Clearly communicating with your team, including your employees whose first language is not English, is essential to maintaining the smooth operation of your farm. For Iowa farmer and farm business consultant Chris Barron, SOPs are critical and non-negotiable.
“SOPs can cover a wide variety of things,” he says. On a dairy farm, SOPs could range from the milking procedure, to how to set up the wash, to vaccination guidelines, to something as simple as strapping down a piece of equipment on a sprayer. For each of these tasks, a different type of SOP could be used. Maybe a checklist makes the most sense or maybe it’s a diagram. For chaining down a piece of equipment, Barron suggests making a video.
“[An SOP] is just a way to clearly communicate and make sure all the steps are understood and nothing missed,” he says. Clearly communicating can be difficult on dairies with staff who are not native English speakers.
“You lose a lot in translation when you write SOPs only in English,” says Mireille Chahine, Ph.D., an Extension dairy specialist at the University of Idaho. “It’s about the people who are doing the work actually understanding what they’re supposed to do,” she says. To that end, keep the words simple and use bullet points if possible.
Where on your operation should you have an SOP in place? “It’s a matter of determining where a standard procedure would benefit your business,” Barron says. Barron is such a fan of SOPs, he once invited a United Airlines pilot to a staff meeting to describe the rigorous SOPs they use when flying planes full of passengers. “SOPs help reinforce there is a reason we do things the way we do them, and a big part of that is safety,” Barron says.