It’s no secret that recruiting and retaining high quality employees is getting harder.
One solution, solving several problems at once, is to train and develop your best employees for expanded roles, says Cody Heller, president of his family’s 1,200-cow dairy and a partner in Central Wisconsin Veterinary Services in Alma Center, Wis.
Finding qualified workers who can trim hooves, breed cows, ultrasound for pregnancy, fix displaced abomasums and work as junior herdsmen is difficult, at best. Most dairies rely on outside vendors, Heller says. Training existing employees to do these tasks gives them the opportunity for higher wages. Plus, it saves the dairy thousands of dollars annually in outside vendor fees. And perhaps most importantly, it creates a greater bond between the employee and the dairy. This is especially important with Hispanic workers.
“They feel more involved in the decision-making at the farm,” Heller says. “Plus, trust is developed with the
employee, and you treat them like new business partners.” That grows respect and long-term loyalty.
The cost and benefit of training for specific skills:
- Hoof trimming. The average cost of hoof trimming by an outside vendor is about $15 per head. The cost to have a trained employee trim hooves often times falls to less than $5 per head. Plus, the employee is always on-site, so he can take time to trim properly and handle emergencies. Training return on investment (ROI) for a 500-cow dairy is less than three years.
- Breeding. Arm service is generally $8 per cow. A trained employee can do it for $1.50 per cow. Training ROI is about two and a half months.
- Ultra-sounding pregnancies. A veterinarian might charge $175 per hour while an employee, once trained, might only cost $15 to $17 per hour. You will have to invest in an ultrasound machine, which generally run about $12,000. But you’ll get that paid back in 75 hours. Plus, since the employee is on-site, he can do ultrasounds when cows are available and not disrupt cow flow. The employee can also do re-checks and sexing. Training ROI can be as little as seven and a half months.
- Repairing displaced abomasums (DA). “A vet charges a minimum of $75 for a roll and tack, and $170 for a DA surgery,” Heller says.Note that a roll and tack will take two employees about 15 minutes. A surgery requires one employee, an hour of labor and a $25 surgery pack. Before trying this, estimate the number of DAs performed each year on your farm, and determine if training an employee is worth it. Training ROI is about six months.
- Junior herdsmen. A top individual can be cross-trained in all of these skills so that he can fill in when others are not available or on vacation. They also can serve as a back-up in case another employee leaves or is absent for an extended period of time. If this individual is multilingual, he can also serve as a consultant or trainer for other employees.