Sharing the load

September 20, 2009 07:00 PM

*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Mark Rodgers
West Glover, Vt.
With only two hired employees, we have not formalized an employee manual or specific training modules. One reason is the strengths, experience and education of the employees. Our most recent hire is a farm-raised, active 4-H'er and college graduate who did relief breeding for Genex. I know his family and knew that an opportunity he was hoping for did not materialize. I contacted him directly. I did not have to show or explain any computer application or report interpretation, but he had limited or no experience on equipment operation, maintenance or repair.

The former employee (who left to start farming on his own) had no computer skills, couldn't breed AI and was not interested in a college degree. But he has a fantastic work ethic, is a great farmer, cared for the animals, noticed details, was a quick study on any piece of equipment and is an accomplished mechanic.

As it turns out, it was my job description that changed dramatically as I had to shift gears to accommodate the lack of experience of the new employee and was able to relinquish some former responsibilities due to the knowledge and experience he had.

Both the current and former employees were interested in building equity in terms of animals, and a portion of their monthly wage is set aside to purchase animals or to pay board on animals already owned here at the farm. We encourage employees to have some ownership in the herd as we feel this promotes a richer sense of involvement. These employees are also provided farm housing, milk, meat, cheese and butter.

Our other employee has been with us a year. He's a year out of high school with no farm experience, although his grandfather farmed when he was very young. He responded to an ad in the local paper and came to us with no preconceived notions but with a great work ethic.

He was trained for the first month by shadowing or working with me or the experienced employee. It was also at the time we were moving into the new parlor, so he learned with the rest of us there. As his confidence and ours grew, he was assigned specific tasks, and he has become the afternoon milker and does anything else we ask him to do. He is raising some beef animals at home and works extra hours to pay for feed and buy bull calves. We start them here to make sure they are off to a good start for him.

I review employees after 30 days, at six months and annually after that. I try to speak to them about what needs to be done and the level of satisfaction with jobs completed. I ask for employee input and if they see concerns that need to be addressed.

I will not ask employees to do anything that I have not done myself unless they are skilled in an area that I am not. I will let individuals know immediately if performance is not as I expect, and I allow time for improvement. If the improvement is not to my satisfaction, I will terminate the employee. I feel that honesty is best, even though it may be momentarily uncomfortable, as it is my responsibility to ensure proper job performance for our business.

Rodger's July Prices  
Milk (43.85 bf, 3.11% prt): $12.52/cwt.
Cull cows: $80/cwt.
Springing heifers: $1,200/head
Alfalfa hay: not available
Whole cottonseed: $305/ton
Ground corn $305/ton

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