Success or Failure Starts with Your Dairy’s Culture
Oct 16, 2014
A strong case for why your dairy’s culture leads your employees to do right or wrong, especially in the wake of ugly cow-abuse videos.
By Travis Thayer, DVM, Diamond V
In July, I wrote an article about the basic components of animal welfare programs on the dairy. At that point, there had been several recent videos published on the web showing egregious animal abuse in the dairy industry.
One of the most recent videos at that time was filmed in Canada on a prominent dairy farm. Viewing the video would make anyone who cares about cows sick and angry. While there are several videos out there that are quite disturbing, the video taken at this farm was one of the worst that I have seen. It makes you wonder how the employees got this way and how this was allowed to continue. It was shocking and sad, and really stuck with me. While I was reading a news article about the video and its repercussions, I was struck by a quote from a person described as “a veteran of the local dairy industry”-- “A culture of neglect has developed on some farms and bad behavior is overlooked.”
As I attended the American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting in Albuquerque last month, I was disappointed to once again see yet another black eye for the dairy industry when another animal abuse video surfaced on a local dairy farm. Action was swift by the company that purchases the milk, and the dairy was cut off from its milk market. Within a couple of days, all the cows were gone and the dairy is no longer milking cows.
The video is similar to others that are out there (with the root cause being lack of employee training on how to handle cows properly), and I remembered the quote from June about the Canadian dairy video. A “culture of neglect” is the root cause of these videos, resulting in a lack of training, lack of oversight, and a lack of equipment to move down cows properly.
This week I participated in a roundtable discussion in Texas with managers from several dairies who are concerned about the damage these videos have caused the dairy industry with respect to consumer opinion. They wanted to make sure they had all of their animal welfare protocols and training in place, and wanted to compare notes on best practices. In reviewing their programs, they already have most of the elements in place, and with a couple of refinements, their systems are sound.
The technical details of the animal welfare programs were actually quite simple and did not take up too much of our time. What did take time was a discussion of culture on the dairy. The question was posed: “How do I engage employees so that they feel vested in the dairy and the animals and naturally do the right thing for the right reasons?”
Several of the managers gave some very valuable thoughts on how to engage employees, and one word surfaced again and again – culture. We had a great discussion on what culture needs to be to set employees up for success, and for owners and managers to have confidence that their employees will do the right thing when the tough down-cow situation happens, because they have the training, tools, plan, and culture that ensures their success.
From day one, when employees walk in the door, they are learning about the culture on your farm. Usually employees start work on the dairy as milking technicians. Did they get a “big picture” overview of the mission and philosophy of the dairy, along with some basic training of milk harvesting and proper animal handling before they started in the parlor, or was it, “Here you go, pal, put on some gloves and do what they do”?
As immigration pressure increases, and we see yet another election cycle with absolutely no immigration reform in sight, employee retention is more important than ever. Are your employees starting out with a culture of success, or a culture of neglect? Are you setting employees up to succeed, or are they doomed to fail? It all starts with culture.
Travis Thayer is a dairy technical trainer with Diamond V. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit diamondv.com.
[TT1]Is it possible to have this word hyperlink to the article I wrote in July?