I frequently meet with dairy science students who plan to be dairy consultants or run a dairy someday. Many of them are already involved in the management of their family’s dairy operations. I always ask them to imagine I am a 9-year-old questioning what is it that they will do when they graduate. They think for a minute and invariably the answer relates to the cow, e.g., “Take care of cows, help cows be healthy and productive.” Often they will mention the production of wholesome quality products. Sometimes they even refer to the business, as in, “Make sure the dairy is profitable.” Very rarely will they bring up anything related to their people, the employees and the workforce. The cruel reality is that, once in practice, they will inevitably spend more time dealing with people issues than in direct contact with cows.

The cow should, of course, be the central figure in the dairy – the “star.” It is both vital and positive that consultants, managers and, particularly, future managers gain knowledge about providing care and husbandry. But a key fact to keep top of mind is that the results of that knowledge will only be accomplished through the efforts of the people who work with the cows.

Dairies, just like many other agricultural operations, have become more complex. There is evidence of consolidation in the dairy industry into fewer and larger operations, which increases the demand for hired labor.

However, the complexity of dairy farms is related not only to size, but also to the necessary use of technology and the imperative to function under increasingly reduced margins. As a consequence, managers seek to use resources efficiently. Unfortunately, oftentimes energy is directed exclusively to obvious material resources, overlooking the one that makes other systems work – the human resource.

Redefining the manager’s role
Managers are being forced to expand their role to become “managers of people” more than simply being managers of resources or cows. We can call this a paradigm shift, a change in how we see the dairy manager’s role – from managing animals to leading people. This is a wider, more comprehensive outlook that recognizes the need to define a goal and plan a path to get to it, a view that accepts the interdependence of people and business.


With this shift in mind, the manager’s role becomes redefined in five broad functions:
1. Planning: Developing the business’ purpose, philosophy, goals and strategies.

2. Organizing: Establishing a system of roles that allows achieving goals. It involves defining and dividing work.

3. Staffing: Attracting, developing and retaining people who are able and willing to perform the jobs.

4. Leading: Directly influencing people and facilitating their work.

5. Controlling: Assessing results against objectives and correcting where required.

In the end, managers need to make things happen through people. And this is precisely where a manager can develop into a leader. In this sense, perhaps the manager’s most important function is the ability to inspire people. Managers who become leaders have a clear understanding of where the business needs to go. They communicate this vision and make it compelling enough to inspire employees to follow it. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to editor@progressivedairy.com.

Miguel Morales