Labor Matters: Diamond in the Rough

September 7, 2011 08:06 PM

TomFuhrmannMiddle managers are an important group of workers on large, expanding dairy farms. These supervisors are the people who form the communication bridge between the owner and the other workers.

Herdsmen, milkers, calf managers and feeders are often given supervisory roles because of their experience and the technical skills in which they excel. But when leading and managing fellow workers becomes part of their job description, many fail to meet expectations because they lack supervisory skills.

Looking for these skills in entry-level workers is like searching for "diamonds in the rough."

To identify potential supervisors who possess leadership skills, look for subtle signs in individual workers. To identify your next head milker, for example, evaluate all milkers for signs and traits that impress you about how they handle themselves around you and around their fellow workers.

Signs of trust and respect

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Around you: A milker might stand out because he is dependable, always works right, does what you ask and meets or exceeds your expectations. He gives you no reason to suspect his sincerity, honesty or fairness. You appreciate this milker; he separates himself somewhat from others by these characteristics.

Around other milkers: His fellow milkers seem to like him, depend upon him and seek him out when they need help or have concerns or problems. They rally around this person because he is genuine. You can see the respect they have for this milker by how they interact with him at work and in non-work situations.

Signs of experience and intelligence

Around you: This milker comes to you when something is wrong with the cows, equipment or workers. When asked, he gives you honest feedback about other workers and you feel he has your best interests in mind. He recognizes you as the boss and wants to do what you direct. He talks to his fellow workers about the right thing to do in various situations. He solves problems on his own when it is necessary.

Around other milkers: Other milkers look to this milker for guidance and direction. You can see that they ask for his opinion and do as he does. This milker takes the initiative to explain "what the owner wants" to others. Because he doesn’t complain and stays until the work is done, others do so as well.

Signs of organizational skills

Around you: You can see that this milker is focused on his work. When decisions need be made and you’re not there—for instance, when one milker is late—he is the one who starts milking and initiates the call to a relief milker or to you. You see him taking charge when a cow goes down in the parlor. He handles issues without becoming frustrated.

Around other milkers: Others depend upon this milker to make decisions and decide on a strategy, and they follow his direction.

Signs of communication skills

Around you: This milker listens to you and then shares the information with others; he is not embarrassed to ask questions if he doesn’t understand something. You see that he does what you ask or direct, verifying that he understands.

Around other milkers: This milker engages in kidding with other milkers but is serious when necessary. He listens to others to understand their concerns without making premature judgments. Others look to him for clarification; they trust him because he is sincere.

The search for diamonds in the rough requires awareness, effort and common sense. Identify your future supervisor and then support that person’s growth into the new position.


TOM FUHRMANN, DVM, Glendale, Ariz., teaches and trains large dairy herd management. Contact him at

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