Most dairies should have a document that defines the way the dairy operates, a comprehensive plan that explains how all jobs are done on the dairy. These are the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the dairy.

SOPs should cover all aspects of the dairy:

  1. General herd health management – vaccination schedules and treatments
  2. Reproduction management – timed A.I. protocols
  3. Milking management – procedures, cleaning sanitation, liner changes, etc.
  4. Replacement herd health – calves and heifers
  5. Emergency calls – (veterinary assistance)
  6. Feed crew – cows, dry cows, heifers and calves
  7. Agriculture crew – waste management monitoring, barn cleaning, etc.
  8. Maintenance crew
  9. Organizational chart – Who is in charge of what and who
  10. Maps – diagram or maps of where animals and facilities are located, barns, lots, pens, silos and pivots

SOPs should be dynamic

Everything is constantly changing in the dairy business: drugs change, new barns are built and more cows added to the dairy, nutritionists come and go, new commodities appear and waste management regulations change, etc. Revisions must be done to stay current. SOPs can be easily revised on the computer.

Who should develop and revise these documents?

Dairy management, veterinarians, waste management consultants, nutritionists and even technical reps from companies you deal with.

Who should have access to the SOPs?

All employees should have access to these documents and each division manager should discuss them with not only new employees but go over changes in protocols with existing employees. It should be explained to all employees that their specific job is important to the operation of the dairy as a whole. Their contribution to the dairy operation should be explained to each employee, written in their job description, and if they meet these goals their compensation will reflect this.


This SOP document should make it possible for whomever replaces an existing employee that they can perform the same tasks in the same ways as the one whom they replaced. This includes permanent replacements or relief personnel used in shift changes and days off, holidays, etc.

Training of employees

The SOPs should be the basics of job training for a specific job. Cross-training of many employees allows management to have enough help available to do many related activities. All employees on the dairy, from milkers to farm chores personnel, should have basic training in animal husbandry. Most dairy labor does not have any understanding of animal husbandry.

The calf feeder does not have the knowledge of how to carry out a timed A.I. protocol, but should know if he does his job correctly. He will provide the A.I. breeder something to breed in 13 months.

Cow treating versus herdspersons

Proper training in basic animal husbandry then allows employees to better care for the animals they work with. Basic knowledge on movement of animals not only protects the animals but also helps labor perform their tasks safely. There are many good multilingual videos out on proper care and handling of animals.

Dos and don’ts

SOPs should give directions on how and when to treat animals and when not to threat animals for varies reasons. Management should decide which animals that will be culled whenever their production reaches a certain level or other criteria. Cows that may have health issues or have undesirable udders or other deficiencies should go on a “do not breed” (DNB) list.

DNT list

There should always be a “do not treat” (DNT) list for animals that are unproductive or have health problems and are to go to market immediately when some problem appears. A rule of thumb is to cull mastitis cows after five episodes of clinical mastitis in a single lactation. This means if a cow has a sixth episode of clinical mastitis, the cow gets on the truck before any treatment is applied.

This can also be cows with feet, hip or leg problems. If locomotion problems occur, she goes immediately.


Have a plan that is detailed in your SOPs. Use your plan to train a stable work force. Be sure to update your SOPs when necessary. Use more husbandry practices. A dairy cow becomes a beef cow at the end. Handle the cow with care and compassion. PD

Excerpts from University of Florida Dairy Update, Vol. 9 No. 4

David R. Bray is with the dairy extension atUniversity of Florida. Email David R. Bray.