Labor Matters: Lead and Manage

March 1, 2011 10:21 PM

Bonus Content

Leadership Resources

By Tom Fuhrmann, DVM

Leadership and management are necessary skills that large dairy producers and their key workers must possess and grow in order to be successful.

Dairies that milk 1,000 to 2,000 cows will likely have 10 to 30 employees. Larger dairies have even more.

An organizational diagram is a must-have plan. It structures employees into teams comprising a supervisor and workers. The dairy producer and supervisors can then use their inherent leadership skills and learned principles to manage the work force.

Supervisors manage work and workers for results. The head milker, for example, understands the importance of every step of the milking routine. He teaches each milker to work according to the plan, implementing the steps of the routine correctly.

The supervisor and milkers gain confidence in their work when results—milk quality standards and cow throughput goals defined by the owner and supervisor—are accomplished. This is management in practice.

Leadership is influence. Supervisors use leadership skills to train, motivate and discipline the workers they manage. The supervisor influences milkers to do each step of the milking routine correctly by developing an interpersonal relationship with each milker.

Supervisors gain workers’ trust by the character and genuine concern for workers that they demonstrate. The next step for the supervisor is to use his or her experience and knowledge to judge worker performance. The supervisor must have performance standards and continuously judge whether workers meet those standards.

Some judgments are easy to make: "Are we starting on time or not?" Others are more difficult, such as "I know that Juan could work faster and clean teats better."

The supervisor then uses his or her communication skills to train milkers and give them feedback. Training is both explaining and demonstrating the work, so the appropriate communication is both verbal and nonverbal.

Positive feedback motivates milkers to continue to do their work correctly. An appropriate comment made by the supervisor to the milker can fuel the motivational fire that is within each person.

Retraining is the communication skill supervisors use to correct work that is done incorrectly. Discipline reestablishes the idea of "this is how we do it here" with workers who accept this kind of feedback because of their respect for their leader.

At both the upper and middle management levels, managers use leadership skills to implement management principles. It is a matter of blending art and science.

Basic management concepts are well defined; we need only modify them to make them apply to dairy management. Leadership is an art. Leaders are born with raw skills they recognize and develop. Good leaders have an attitude that stimulates them to continue to grow; to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Leaders grow through four steps:

  1. Act;
  2. Look for mistakes and evaluate;
  3. Search for a way to do it better;
  4. Go back to step 1.

Dairy owners must not only lead and manage; they must also identify "diamonds in the rough" and grow these key workers to become middle management supervisors. My next column will focus on developing Hispanic middle managers.

Tom Fuhrmann, DVM, of Glendale, Ariz., teaches and trains large dairy herd management. Contact him at

Editor’s note: Labor Matters will rotate with our other management columns, Profit in the Details and Milking Center Management.

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