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The right person for the right job

Chuck Schwartau

2006 MN Dairy Days

A 2003 Vermont study found approximately 50% of farms have at least one non-family employee. A Wisconsin study of farm characteristics found that 63% of Wisconsin dairy farms utilize only family labor. Regardless of which survey you'd like to use, it means non-family labor is a significant and important factor in dairy farming today. The misconception is that only those with employees need to manage their labor resource.

Even if the farm owner/manager is the only full-time employee, they need to make sure they are making the best use of their time and expertise for the good of the farm business. If important tasks to the success of the farm are being left undone, or inadequately done because too much time is taken on less demanding tasks, hired labor may be a good investment.

Potential economic benefits of hiring labor

Non-economic benefits of hiring labor

(Source: Employment Skills for Today, 1998, University of Minnesota Extension)

Bernard Erven, Ohio State University, says, “Hiring only non-family members would likely make labor management on your farm a lot easier than working with family members.” What he is effectively saying is “you really can't fire family!” You may not want to fire family members working on the farm, but effectively managing them can be more difficult than employees who feel a different level of authority from the manager than does a family member.

Ask yourself some basic questions about the work and labor needs on your farm:

  1. What type of help is needed?
  2. Is there sufficient cash flow?
  3. Will the job keep the interest of a highly motivated employee?
  4. What will be the payback to the business?
  5. Can the owner/manager manage people?
  6. What type of employee is best suited for the job?

Staff planning guide

Who is capable of performing various tasks?

Determining levels of responsibility

Who is responsible and who may assist?

Labor needs estimate

  1. Task and frequency
  2. Hours per day and how many days = total hours needed per year
  3. Who performs the task?

Employee scheduling analysis

  1. Who is working, how many hours per day?
  2. Amount of overtime available to employer, or is farm willing to pay?


  1. Shrink the business to fit the available labor
  2. Employ technology to make labor more efficient
  3. Employ more labor to fit the business and perhaps grow the business to fit the labor

Job descriptions

  1. Outline necessary skills
  2. Help screen out applicants who don't meet qualifications
  3. Help employees understand what is expected
  4. Serve as a guide for employee evaluation
  5. Involve current employees in developing job descriptions when possible
  6. Prepare job descriptions for owners/managers
    • It helps define roles of managers and makes sure primary and important functions of management are performed intentionally, not by chance.

If you go through these exercises and find you are comfortable with the match of available labor and tasks on the farm, as well as a lifestyle with which you are satisfied, congratulations. Just don't let yourself get stuck in a rut that finds you dissatisfied 5 years from now because you did absolutely nothing. If you aren't satisfied with what you find, now is the time to start planning for an appropriate change to meet the goals and needs of your family and your business.

Doing nothing is probably not a viable option for the future.

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