Gertie and Geert van den Goor
Transplants from the Netherlands, the Van den Goors milk 3,000 cows at their Goma Dairy and were named 2014 Dairy Farmers of the Year by Michigan State University.
When Geert went to school to get his degree in dairy and animal science, he never dreamed that as a dairy farmer, he would be an employer. And being an employer has been a learning curve.
Most of the time, employees are our greatest blessing and biggest asset. But sometimes they are our biggest challenge, too.
In the beginning, we were just “doing” and learning along the way. Then we figured out it was better to be pro-active, so we invested a lot of time in developing a handbook for our employees. We put together a new hire package that addresses things ranging from how to use time cards to dress code to animal care and protocols. At first, it felt a lot like overkill but now it is nice to have.
I try to sit down with the new hire on the first few days to make sure the paperwork they need to fill in is done correctly and go over the most important things in the handbook. But it is still a challenge to make time for this. Sometimes, new hires just get the package handed with the memo, “Please fill in and return to the office.” It is also a challenge to keep the handbook updated.
In the first week of employment, new employees are scheduled to work with our best workers so that they are trained according to protocol.
After the first week, our milkers have monthly training done by one of the vets. This helps them stick with protocols and, more important, understand the why behind the protocol. If you can make the people buy into the why, the battle is half won.
The vet also meets with the calf crew on a scheduled basis.
Our feeders are the only ones who do not have a scheduled training, but Geert will sit down with them as needed. We also have a yearly audit done by an outside company to evaluate everything feeding.
Our turnover rate is not too bad so I assume that we must be doing something right as employers. But I also know there is still a lot out there to be learned and to be done better.
One thing still stands from day one: Treat employees the way you want to be treated, make sure they know that you appreciate them and give credit when credit is due.