Within the dairy and livestock industry, we spend the majority of our time focused on animal comfort and care. We know this is extremely important; we also know that it is vital to the success of our operations and is highly valued by consumers. But let me ask you this: How much emphasis are we placing on our employees and their comfort and care? Do consumers care? Is it something we should place at a higher level on our management radar?

The answer to the three questions is yes. Within agriculture, a majority of the work is based around hiring blue-collar labor employees. Our competition is other employers who are also hiring blue-collar workers. This includes factory workers, maintenance workers, construction, the service industries, warehouses and so on. So how can we set ourselves apart? We need to understand what these employees value.

Secondly, we know consumers and employees are placing more value on employee treatment and fair practices in agriculture. Thomas Maloney, Cornell University, recently cited in his webinar, “How Consumers, Food Companies and Advocates are Influencing Farm Employment Practices,” that consumers are now taking an interest in farm worker welfare. Examples provided included the Migrant Justice campaign called “Milk with Dignity,” which organized the protest of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream out of the unfair treatment of migrant workers in Vermont’s dairy industry, and the 2017 settlement that was reached.

Within the Milk with Dignity agreement signed by Ben & Jerry’s, it promised to give dairy workers in their supply chain a full day off each week, pay Vermont’s minimum wage, have eight hours between shifts and guarantee that housing will include a real bed, electricity and clean running water, and pay premiums to producers. This worker-led movement is one of many happening across the country in agriculture. He continued to point out that as of 2017, four states had overtime pay provisions and 12 states had collective bargaining provisions for farm workers enacted into law.

Within agriculture, labor availability and retention still places high on the list of “issues to be resolved.” As dairy and livestock operations continue to evolve, the need for owners and managers to be skilled in the area of employee management has also increased. We know this is not typically a skillset at which agriculture employers rank highly; however, those who have placed a higher priority on improving this area, along with the daily task of managing the dairy or livestock operation, are more likely to be successful.


Outside of the typical benefits that we think of in the workplace (paid vacation, insurance, leave time, sick leave, bonuses, retirement, profit sharing, ag products and housing), there are other areas we should also focus on improving. These include communication, safety and shared values. How can we help implement these on a daily basis through our facilities? Many who work in agriculture know that being able to work outdoors is often perceived as a positive, even though weather conditions can take a toll on the body. However, having access to basic amenities (lunch room, restroom) within livestock and agriculture facilities can be perceived as either a positive or negative by employees, depending upon how well they are kept and accessibility.

In regard to your facility, what amenities should you consider for the well-being, safety and happiness of your employees? Take a look at the following:

women's and men's restrooms

  • Restrooms: Are they clean and fully stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, soap and water? This is important for hygiene for your employees but also helps minimize the spread of bacteria and disease. Additionally, having access to an employee restroom can be a plus for both owners and employees. It can also help keep family-employee relationships on the positive side by not having to access the bathroom in a personal home.

employee break room

  • Break rooms/meeting rooms: These areas can serve multiple purposes – both as a place for employees to sit down and take a break as they eat lunch, and as a place for training and meetings.

employee fridge

  • Refrigerators: It is not only law, but it is a recommended practice to have separate refrigerators for the storage of food and medicine. It helps minimize cross-contamination but also encourages safe food storage practices while minimizing the potential for consumption of spoiled food.

  • Sinks: Hand-washing stations equipped with soap, water and paper towels placed near eating areas is an important hygiene consideration to minimize the spread of human-to-animal and human-to-human diseases.


  • Microwaves: This is a simple amenity often taken for granted. Having just one is often considered adequate for the heating of food in break rooms. However, as an example, dairies should consider having more than one microwave, especially if access and time to eat is limited. Why? If there are more than three employees trying to access the same microwave in a 30-minute period, it does not allow for adequate time to heat and eat the food.

employee locker room

  • Locker rooms: A locker room provides a place for storage of personal items while employees are working, along with a place to keep work clothing. A locker room can also help ensure biosecurity within your operation by keeping work footwear at the operation instead of wearing them to other operations.

  • Boot wash areas: These should be directly outside of your offices, break rooms or locker room areas to help maintain clean amenities within these spaces.


  • Communication board or wall: This area can serve a multitude of purposes. Employees value communication and want to be a part of the operation. They appreciate feedback, both positive and constructive requests. Items that can be placed here include: employee recognition, employee notices, work schedules and emergency contact information, along with the goals and core values of the operation.

  • Time clock: This should also be placed near your communication board, as it is something employees will see and use on a daily basis.

  • First aid and fire extinguishers: Make sure these are located in a highly visible and open area, and are adequately stocked and working appropriately. A central location, such as next to the time clock and communication board where emergency contact information is located, is highly suggested. Additionally, make sure employees know how to operate fire extinguishers and how to make a 911 call if necessary.

Even though these suggestions may seem like common sense, they often get overlooked on many operations. We think of our homes as the “center hub of operations” on a farm, not realizing that employees are uncomfortable or even unable to access them. Thus, agricultural owners and managers who place a higher priority on enhancement of their employee management skills and offerings often have employees that are more satisfied and proficient at their work.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Tracey Erickson

PHOTO 1: Consider locating employee and public bathrooms for both men and women near the public entrance to the dairy and near offices and break rooms.

PHOTO 2: Dairies should supply a refrigerator that is not for storage of food or beverage, only medicines.

PHOTO 3: A dairy employee refrigerator located next to a sink and microwave with lunch pails in it.

PHOTO 4: Locate a microwave next to a refrigerator and sink in an employee break room on a dairy.

PHOTO 5: An employee locker room provides individual lockers for employees to hang and store their work clothing.

PHOTO 6: A white board is used to post employee notices. It’s located next to the locker room and bathrooms. Photos provided by Tracey Erickson.