How We Build a Positive Work Environment

September 10, 2014 09:37 AM

Pete Wiersma


Pete Wiersma
Buhl, Idaho

In addition to helping manage 1,500 cows on his family’s two dairies in Idaho’s Magic Valley, Wiersma serves on the boards of United Dairymen of Idaho and Independent Milk Producers.


In addition to helping manage 1,500 cows on his family’s two dairies in Idaho’s Magic Valley, Wiersma serves on the boards of United Dairymen of Idaho and Independent Milk Producers.

The single most important issue when it comes to employees, whether potential, new or long term, is to remember that they are people and to treat them accordingly.
It might be hard to believe, but they have lives and families and interests outside the boundaries of our operation. For me to show a real interest in those areas goes a long way toward motivating them and building loyalty.

Practically speaking, when we have a job opening, we will first go to our good, long-term employees and ask whether they know of anyone who may want to apply. We do that for a couple of reasons.

The first is that our long-term employees are long term because they like the job and are hesitant to recommend someone who they believe may "mess up" the work environment either through poor work habits or a bad attitude. The second is that, when they do recommend someone, we’ve found that they have a tendency to take ownership in that person’s success on the job.

On our operation, it’s our responsibility as employers to maintain a positive work environment. We do that by being present and attentive to our employees’ concerns--both job-related and otherwise. I am in and out of the parlor often throughout the day so there is plenty of opportunity for me to check in with them or for them to flag me down with something that needs my attention.

I’ve found that just being present and responsive to their needs does wonders for morale. Of course, there are times when I’m not feeling quite so positive, but then it’s literally a matter of "putting on a happy face" and faking it.

There are also the more "practical" aspects of the job itself that can make or break a good employee. Things like the length of the work day and rate of pay are two of the most obvious. We milk three times a day so three eight-hour shifts work well for each of our milking crews.

Since we have a little down-time between shifts, they really work closer to seven or seven-and-a-half hours per day. This leaves them plenty of time for their lives off the job, and I think they really appreciate that. I don’t think I’ve ever had an employee quit to take a higher paying job with more hours. And, of course we pay them fairly for the work they do; otherwise I wouldn’t have anyone here.

The condition of the equipment and facilities is another factor that can influence employee attitude and longevity. Keeping things in good repair just shows that you care about what they have to work with and how they get the job done. If the perception is that you don’t care, believe me, they won’t care either.

If I had to sum it up I’d say guide, instruct, correct and value your employees. After all, you couldn’t do it without them.

Wiersma’s recent prices

$21.56 (3.46 bf, 3.16 prt)

Cull cows

Springing heifers

Alfalfa hay


Ground corn

Corn DDGs


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Spell Check

Lisa Gallegos
Glendale, AZ
10/15/2014 12:34 AM

  I would like to know how Pete handles employee abuse to the cows. Dragging sick animals with chains and tractors, beating them in the face, making them walk to be milked with broken legs dangling. Are there any practices put in place to stop this behavior that other dairies could adopt? Does the UDA try to hide this kind of abuse or do they actively seek to stop it? Are there any vets brought in to check the health of the animals instead of just inseminating the cows? Can we be sure that the public is not getting any of the unhealthy milk from the sick and unhealthy cows that we get milk from that may live in deplorable conditions and suffer from hoof rot and other painful untreated conditions? Since milk production is up for 2015 does Pete think the dairy cows will be over crowded and treated more abusive as more cows are brought in to the dairy farms? How will the dairies accommodate all those cows? How many babies are born a day on a dairy farm? How many live? How many have ever drank the mother's milk? Thank you for the information.


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