Organizing your workforce to let you out of work - at least once in a while!
2006 MN Dairy Days
Getting away from the dairy once in a while is a problem for many dairy producers, especially single operator units. Sometimes getting away is voluntary for a vacation, a family event, or just a day away to do something for yourself. Sometimes getting away is involuntary, such as illness, injury or family emergency. You probably don't take the voluntary one unless you are fully prepared with fill in help. At least then you have them prepared as well.
The question needs to be asked, though, "How well are you and your farm prepared for the involuntary absence?"
If you are on a larger farm with hired labor, or a multi-family farm, you have a better chance to take that time away from the farm and when you get back, it will be pretty much as you left it. The small, single operator has a greater challenge in that respect. Either farm can manage these situations if they have a plan for management of the labor supply.
One aspect of a program we are calling Operational Excellence is developing a plan for the work on the farm so it is done consistently day after day, regardless of whether the primary operator is there. Besides the labor aspect, there are other benefits to a plan for Operational Excellence.
Benefits of Operational Excellence
- Reducing costs such as veterinary, feed, supplies.
- Increasing labor efficiency.
- Increasing milk quality.
- Enhancing the appearance of the dairy facility.
- Reducing the risks of environmental mishaps.
- Preserving equity of the operation through optimum culling and replacements.
One tool for achieving Operational Excellence is the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). SOPs that are well-developed can serve as great training tools for labor, and can help achieve that consistency of performance for tasks on the farm.
- Animals thrive on consistency.
- People need consistency to achieve top performance.
- SOPs reduce system variation, which reduces efficiency and quality control.
- Well-written SOPs facilitate better training and cross training.
- Well-written SOPs facilitate cross training. A SOP can be an excellent reference document on how a task is done for employees filling in on jobs they do not perform on a regular basis.
- SOPs help conduct performance evaluations.
- Employees can coach each other.
- Promotes safety and provides protection.
- Can reduce biosecurity risks.
- Provides some degree of legal protection.
- Encourages regular evaluation of work and continuous improvement of how things are done.
Another option is simply a good set of work instructions.
Does your farm have a system that you can show or explain to anyone else? Or is your whole system in your head and you just go ahead to get the work done each day?
So What is Your System?
- Who knows anything about your system?
- Who can make decisions about your system in your absence?
- What are critical elements that must be done every day (or multiple times each day)?
- What are elements that should be done, but are not critical to the short term life of the operation?
Basic to formulating a plan should be a task analysis of what needs to be done, when, how often, and what skills are necessary to successfully carry out the task. That can go along with an activity flow. In combination, these tools can outline the plan of necessary daily work that needs to be performed in the absence of the owner/manager.
Another major element is orientation and training of people to carry out those tasks. On a farm with more labor units in place, it means making sure others on the farm know the processes to be carried out, where to find proper instructions or protocols, and working that in with their other tasks on the farm.
Instructions/protocols should be detailed enough so anyone with basic skills could pick them up and follow them if need be. That means including some pretty basic instructions for sometimes complex procedures. Some useful additions to the protocols would include:
- Copy of operator manual page showing locations of switches, valves, etc.
- Pictures of the panels showing switches, valves, etc.
- List of names and phone numbers in case of any type emergency or "I don't understand this" questions.
- Be sure to highlight any specific safety items that are important. Remember, the fill-in operator doesn't know about that low pipeline you duck under every day.
- Put your work instructions together in a three-ring binder, label it carefully and put it where everyone else on the farm knows where to find it and can get to it.
- It does no good buried on your desk in the house if you and your spouse are 300 miles away or sitting in the emergency room!
On a single operator farm, you need to also identify who may be available from outside to fill the labor gap. That is probably the largest stumbling block to getting time away from the farm. Look to neighbors and former dairy operators who may be willing to do the occasional fill-in or emergency set of chores. Don't forget other local labor forces where some individuals may be looking for a few extra dollars from the occasional part-time job. Advertise or spread the word in local industries and groups around town. Don't forget about some good students that may be around.
Finally, when you find someone, get them on the farm before you need them so they can become familiar with your operation, the equipment and the procedures. A little pay for their time to practice can be dollars well spent sometime later when you need them. Don't forget to practice yourself once in a while. Get away from the chores every now and then so you can spend some time with your family or on an activity so your part-time help can get a little practice under non-critical conditions.
A couple sources of assistance for developing plans include:
The Dexcel tools have been developed for use on New Zealand dairy farms. It is essentially a do-it-yourself program that may work for you if you are disciplined and can do a bit of adapting from their largely grass-based system to yours.
The Dairy OnTime program is a more intensive program that works to carefully develop a full management plan for a farm to achieve operational consistency.