Employee Management Evolution

September 7, 2011 08:35 PM

CarlsonsCarlson Dairy, LLP

(Curtney & Louise Carlson, Chad & Kindra Carlson, Carl & Kellie Carlson)

Willmar, Minn.
The Carlsons milk 950 cows on a 120-year-old family farm.


*Extended comments are highlighted in blue.


Probably one of the toughest but also most critical components of dairy farming today is managing people. We have long held the belief that managing cows is quite easy in comparison to managing employees.

Come hear Chad and Kindra Carlson speak at the 2011 Elite Producer Business Conference.

It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in: To be satisfied in a job, people need to know what’s expected of them and feel appreciated in their everyday work.

As a family-owned dairy, we do our best to get to know our employees and take a personal interest in them and their families. Just a simple "good morning" and a smile can go a long way.

In mid-August, we hosted an employee picnic at the farm and celebrated with a hog roast, fellowship and games. Every employee attended with his or her family. This was the first year we did it, and we hope it will now become a summer tradition.

Over the years, we’ve been all over the board on employee reviews. We’ve gone from having no reviews to attempting monthly reviews, but we’ve now settled on doing quarterly reviews with our milkers and annual reviews with all other employees. This is a valuable time for us to provide feedback to our employees, but it also gives employees a chance to voice their opinions for the farm and owners.

Half of our workforce is Hispanic. There are times when language can become a barrier, so we hire an interpreter to allow for fluent discussions. We also work with the program director of our area’s multicultural business center, who has provided a link for our employees to take English-speaking classes. We feel that learning English is valuable not only to each employee but to our farm and community as well. We have begun compensating our employees for the hours spent completing the classes to encourage and reward them for their efforts.

We shoot for monthly milker meetings, but typically they fall every other month. These meetings normally last about an hour and are used for ongoing review of key milking and barn procedures. At each meeting, we also try to have an outside company rep come in and focus on a specific topic (i.e., heat detection, identifying sick cows, SCC, etc.) to strengthen our employees’ overall dairy knowledge.

We offer a medical reimbursement plan for all full-time employees who have been here for at least a year. With this plan, we’re able to reimburse employees for a portion of the cost of their own health insurance or for medical or dental expenses incurred by their family but not covered by insurance.

This program has worked great for us. Employees who choose to have their own insurance can put this money toward premiums or deductibles. Employees who choose not to carry insurance are still able to cover some, if not all, of their medical expenses. Plus, the money can be put toward other family members’ expenses, which is a benefit for many.

For the past three years, we’ve also utilized a somatic cell count bonus system for all of our milkers. They have the potential to earn an extra $.25 to $1.50 per hour, depending on the month’s SCC average. The starting point for the bonus is 250,000 cells/ml.

Employee management has indeed been an evolution on our farm over the past 10 years. We’ve definitely made progress in areas, but the journey continues. One of our goals in the next few years is to look at offering a retirement plan.

Carlsons' March Prices  
Milk (3.79% bf, 3.10% prt) $18.04/cwt.
Cull cows $68/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,600/head
Alfalfa hay (milk cow) $144/ton
(160 RFV)
Dry beet pulp $110/ton
Ground dry corn $252/ton
Canola $224/ton


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