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.
As I got ready to write this column, I started thinking about all the protocols we have in place on the farm. We use so much technology today, such as Afimilk, PC Dart and TMR Tracker. However, at the end of the day, it is all about the people who implement those protocols.
Sure, all of the technology, protocols and programs are a big help, but without people, they are worthless. People are still the most important component in keeping our cows healthy and happy. Geert and I spend a big chunk of our time managing people.
One of the challenges is to get everybody committed to the way things need to be done. Some of our employees come from jobs where they were not respected, were not treated nicely and were never asked for their input. It is hard to change that mindset. It takes many conversations over an extended period of time to make someone feel like he or she is part of the team.
Another thing we have noticed is that most of our employees have little experience with farming. What is common sense to me is something completely new to them. In the past, we would assume our employees would have the same knowledge as we do or would think similarly about a way to fix a problem.
This would only lead to frustration on both ends. We would be frustrated about a job done incorrectly, and our employees would be frustrated their efforts never seemed good enough.
To help us with this, we started bringing in an outside person every month to give trainings to our milkers and calf-feeding crew. By implementing these monthly trainings, we have been able to explain the importance of the protocols more effectively to our employees. When we brought in an outsider, we saw a big improvement in getting expectations more out in the open.
That simple change had a big impact on the overall relationship and productivity of our team. By bringing in an outside expert, such as one of the local veterinarians, we also feel it gives the protocols more legitimacy; it shows they were developed for a reason. It is amazing to see how far a team can improve when everyone is moving in the same direction.
Even though I realize we still have a long way to go in becoming better employers and managers, I know we are heading in the right direction. The animals on our dairy will be healthy and happy as long as our team is healthy and happy.