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Dairy Sales Specialist / Purina Animal Nutrition

In today's dynamic dairy farming landscape, the role of strategic resource management is a fundamental driver in a sustainable dairy operation. Among these assets, none are more vital than team members who care for the animals using the protocols and training with which they are equipped. Employee protocols and training fuel long-term growth and ensure employees are equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to grow on their career journey.

Tools for success

One of the often-overlooked aspects of a protocol program is its impact on employee job satisfaction and the bottom line of a dairy farming operation. Effective protocols and employee training go beyond creating ease in routine tasks; they are a safeguard against costly turnover that disrupts productivity and animal care. When employees are set up for success, it translates into improved employee retention, enhanced animal performance and health, and a workforce that excels at their jobs and thrives in their workplace.

The journey to employee retention begins with providing the necessary resources for success. In addition to robust initial onboarding and periodic refreshers, successful training programs deliver essential tools, knowledge and skills to employees that enhance their ability to understand and implement protocols. There are three key elements to consider when making an effective protocol training plan: accessibility, transparency and continuous improvement.

1. Accessible documentation and training

At its core, a protocol is a set of established procedures outlining how tasks should be performed on a dairy farm. However, the true power of a protocol lies in understanding not just how to perform a task but also the rationale behind the procedure. This distinction between “how” and “why” forms the foundation of effective protocol implementation. It's not just about following rules. It's about comprehending the underlying reasons, thus fostering a culture of informed decision-making. Clear documentation of protocols with a thorough explanation of the impact is key.


Language barriers can affect the ability to communicate protocols, convey values and build interpersonal connections. One way to overcome this hurdle is to partner with a bilingual resource to make protocols accessible in employees' primary language. This gives team members a resource that speaks their language to consult with and learn from while empowering dairy farmers to lead more effectively.

Another opportunity for ensuring effective bilingual communication is to incorporate visual and hands-on learning tools. Keeping illustrative visual aids on display can serve as a regular reminder and help with understanding when there is a language or other comprehension barrier.

For team members, the first step to understanding protocols is asking for help. It is crucial to indicate when a protocol doesn’t make sense, even if it means using tools, such as translators and visual aids, to ask questions. If it is not known that something doesn’t make sense, it is much harder to fix.

2. Intentional and transparent communication

Once accessible two-way communication is established, it is important to share business goals and values, working together as a team to pave the way for the farm’s future. It is important for dairy farm leaders to share their business goals and progress actively and openly with their employees, creating a sense of shared vision. When employees understand how their contributions align with the broader mission and see tangible progress, they can participate in the company's success.

I've observed farms employing various approaches to visual aids for goal tracking, but one notably successful and relatively easy method involves using a whiteboard to track progress. Set up the display in a location that is available to all, and use it to track somatic cell counts (SCC), goals and other important data points. This allows everyone to participate in tracking the farm's progress and recognize their individual contributions.

Another proactive opportunity to use transparent, two-way communication is to implement monthly evaluations. My team has seen success with this, especially in the parlor, where we track metrics on a monthly basis and share them with employees.

The metrics we use to evaluate team members are related to protocol adherence and timeliness of specific tasks. Employees are evaluated a few times during the month, and the data is compiled into a report, which is posted in a public space for employees to see. This allows employees to track their performance in relation to past performance, other team members and the farm’s goals. These reports have been a source of empowerment, and the feedback received about this report structure has been extremely positive.

To achieve operational success, all team members must know how they are doing and how the farm is performing compared to your goals. Ultimately, the people working with the animals 24/7 are going to have the greatest impact on achieving the farm’s goals.

3. Ongoing support and supervision with purpose

Employee development doesn't end with the completion of a well-documented and well-communicated protocol training program. It extends to providing ongoing support and empowerment to prevent protocol drift. Regular supervision, check-ins and two-way feedback hold both the employee and manager accountable for succeeding. This not only drives excellent performance but also creates an environment where learning and professional growth are actively encouraged.

It is important to note that supervision should not be used solely for surveillance or punitive purposes but as an opportunity for teaching, evaluation, providing access to resources and connecting on cultural values. It is important to work with a training program that builds personal relationships and connects with employees during weekly follow-ups, ensuring that protocol is not just taught but also understood. Ongoing support is what will make a difference in employee experiences.

Fostering accountability and achieving success

Overall, the commitment to accessibility, transparency and ongoing support in programs like these leads to better communication and engagement with employees, increased employee retention and improved overall milk quality.

For example, one dairy operation in the Midwest that began working with our Hispanic employee training services program was able to reduce the farm’s SCC range from 325,000-350,000 to less than 200,000 after nine months of working on protocols. These results were achieved by taking steps to increase the accessibility of the protocol program, ensuring transparency with employees and providing ongoing support. Through these measures, employees became more aware of the importance of their work and more connected to the operation.

The farm also saw a significant decrease in employee turnover since starting the program, with only one out of 20 employees leaving the farm in the last six months, compared to the initial rate of one to two employees per month.

The bottom line is employees who feel supported are more likely to ask questions, learn new processes and contribute their best to the operation. Investing in employees and an overall protocol program is inextricably linked to the long-term retention of employees, milk quality and the overall success of the operation.