Hiring Latino immigrants in the U.S. dairy industry started in the late 1990s, according to University of Wisconsin research. Since then, the U.S. has seen an unparalleled growth rate in the Latino population.

Ballarotti anibal
Consultant / ABS Global Inc.

Immigrants from Latin America have come into this country at an impressive proportion – motivated by the hope of a better life, many times coming from areas with double-digit unemployment and most of the local population living below the poverty level.

It has been estimated that more than half of U.S. dairy farms depend on foreign labor, according to the National Milk Producers Federation 2015 survey. Thomas Maloney, a senior extension professor at Cornell University, says dairy farm managers have a special admiration and respect for the work ethic and contributions Latino workers bring to the dairy industry. He also states they have added stability to the U.S. dairy workforce.

To attract and retain new employees, many producers have increased compensation and improved work conditions. In many areas, however, producers are still struggling to find employees. That leads to this question: What else do producers need to do to attract new employees and retain good ones?

We have cultural and language barriers playing important roles in this equation. Developing some new attitudes toward Latino employees may help to improve the work environment and create a steadier relationship that will motivate them to not only stay at their jobs but also increase their morale and, subsequently, their commitment and loyalty.


In practical terms, here are five things to help with hiring and retaining dairy workers.

1) Get to know your employees better to earn their trust

Show a genuine interest in their life outside of work. Here are questions to ask:

  • Where exactly are they from?
  • How long are they in the U.S.?
  • Do they have family here?
  • Are they well established in the community?
  • When dealing with medical issues, are they comfortable or do they need any assistance?
  • Can you help them integrate into the local community?
  • What do they like to do once the workday is done?
  • What are their opportunities for leisure when work is complete?
  • Can a soccer field be built to increase the bond between employees and managers?

Questions like these help managers to know their employees on a more personal level. That, in turn, promotes mutual understanding and forms a much stronger bond between workers and managers.

2) Provide English classes to reduce social isolation

Limited English proficiency, long work hours and lack of transportation limit workers’ interactions with locals and have a negative impact on personal well-being. The absence of a fulfilling social life combined with worker fatigue can lead to discontinuing employment on a farm. Dairy workers say they are more likely to make a commitment to a specific farm when they feel the employer values their work, gives learning opportunities and provides support for transportation and time to improve social life. These practices lead to improved quality of life among workers and increases their loyalty.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the employees interested in learning or improving their English?
  • If so, can a teacher come to the dairy or can I make flexible hours for workers to attend English classes in the community?
  • Can the dairy provide transportation to make it happen?

3) Improve communication

Choosing a worker with better English skills, but with no management responsibilities and no training to be a translator, can be harmful to the work environment due to the pressure and stress this task may bring. Moreover, it could create a negative interaction among workers and possibly lead to incorrect translation and miscommunication.

With the importance of accurate training, some farms have been using experienced third-party, bilingual technical services consultants to ensure workers understand what they are learning. These meetings with a skilled translator should include technical information, as well as allow time for feedback. Other simple tips include the farmer learning key commands and vocabulary in Spanish that can be used in the workplace.

In summary, we need to make sure workers understand why they are doing what they are doing. Offering feedback and training in their own language has proven to be an effective method to improve cow health and well-being. These practices may improve your operation, but they also will help boost your Latino employees’ morale and loyalty.

4) Ask for and provide feedback

This topic is especially challenging because meaning is frequently lost in translation. Latino workers understand a dialogue within their own cultural background. These complicating factors are often created by inadequate translation support. The most well-proposed efforts by farm owners to give approval, ask questions about employees’ needs and goals, or suggest improvements in their performance may be lost when delivered in an unfortunate mode or through inappropriate translation. With better communication in place, it’s easier to ask and give employees better feedback. Tell employees objectives for the dairy farm and be honest about news that affects the business. Let the workers know what your expectations are and explain the reasoning behind certain guidelines. Ask workers what motivates them and get their feedback on how to handle specific issues. Make them feel valued and linked to your purpose by giving them room to help in making decisions.

5) Provide and improve simple amenities for your employees

In today’s dairy industry, we have increasingly been talking more about cow comfort and animal welfare. Yes, they are fundamental to the operation’s success. But, how about the employees’ well-being?

  • Are we taking care of amenities to give them a better work environment, safety and happiness during their work hours?
  • Are the restrooms clean and fully stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, soap and water? By the way, if you still only provide portable toilets, isn’t it time to build real restrooms?
  • Are breakrooms well maintained and equipped with a clean refrigerator, which is only used to store food; a microwave (maybe more than one to optimize resting time); and a sink with soap, water and paper towels placed near eating areas with clean tables and comfortable seats?
  • Is the dairy providing locker rooms for personal item storage during work hours?
  • Is the dairy providing uniforms and personal protective equipment?

Even though these may seem like common amenities, they often get overlooked on many operations. Producers and managers who are genuinely concerned about enhancement of their employees’ environment often have more satisfied people who are committed and loyal at their workplace.

In summary, these tips to increase workers’ morale and retention are nothing more than being more humane and more kind. As Ian MacLaren said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”