Players on game-winning teams are often set up for success. Through adequate training, trusting relationships and a passion for the game, a true team to root for is one that is well-prepared and dedicated. With the guidance of a devoted coach, a strong team is well-equipped, united and proud to represent their cohort. The same applies to farm management.

Schmitt jessica
Integrated Communications Coordinator / Dairy West

Employees are one of the largest expenses on a farm – second only to feed costs. The most startling part of this statistic is that staff care is frequently low priority and high risk. Unlike other major expenses, such as feed, machinery and rent, payment simply isn’t enough to satisfy employees and expect longevity. Additional support from supervisors is necessary for employees to feel valued, respected and engrossed in their work.

Bryce Chambers, Dairy West’s director of industry relations, says, “Managers play a huge role in how engaged, or disengaged, employees are.” Chambers has expertise in farm management as he works with roughly 400 dairy farms across Idaho and Utah to improve on-farm practices, enhance leadership and strengthen relationships between staff and supervisors.

He says, “Engaged employees can transform a business and heavily influence the success of a company. Effective leadership can be measured by a leader’s ability to positively influence and coordinate their team’s efforts to achieve organizational goals.”

Chambers is a fourth-generation Utah farmer who is an expert in training supervisors which, in return, improves relationships and the farms’ finances and workflow. After living in Central America and immersing himself in Latin American culture, he is fluent in Spanish and carries deep respect for Latino people and traditions. These insights enhance Chambers’ knowledge of a large percentage of farm employees. He recommends that supervisors take time to gain understanding of their staff’s culture.


Coach with care

All teams need a solid leader to understand individual strengths, interests and needs. With immense responsibility to carry the team to a win, managers and supervisors need to prioritize their employees and make them feel valued.

Chambers encourages farm managers to work toward six essential steps when building strong relationships with staff:

  1. Build trust with employees.
  2. Provide the proper tools needed to complete the job.
  3. Listen to employees’ concerns and ideas.
  4. Thoroughly understand and appreciate the work asked of the employees.
  5. Have a willingness to step in and assist.
  6. Reward employees and continuously give recognition.

Simply greeting employees each morning at the start of a shift is a great first step toward building a solid relationship. Making an effort to regularly check on staff and initiate conversation builds trust and a space for open communication.

Chambers says, “Elite businesses are built with elite employees. Those elite employees are created by elite management.” Successful dairies are operated by leaders who properly care for their team and have a staff filled with dedicated individuals. Ultimately, outstanding staff management produces a positive domino effect. Supervisors care for employees who then care for their work, the animals and the equipment.

Join the team

What’s the most difficult task on the farm? Chambers encourages managers to consider this question, then aid in that task each day alongside the employees. By directly helping employees through difficult times and roles, supervisors show that they care and understand the employees and their work.

On dairy farms, the area with the highest amount of turnover is the parlor. Considerably one of the most taxing jobs, the parlor can be a high-stress environment with laborious hours – especially when it's time for the fresh pen to be milked.

During this time, Chambers recommends supervisors join the parlor crew to lighten the load and show support to employees in that position. Through this, employees feel valued and appreciated and turnover is reduced.

Chambers says, “Farm managers and leaders who show up and step in at the most challenging part of the day build respect and trust through exhibiting true leadership.” Employees care more for their work when they know that their supervisor understands and is willing to help them push through the challenging times.

Recognize the returners

As much as possible, try to prevent your staff from switching teams. To encourage employee longevity, recognition should be frequent and personal to staff and the culture of the operation. By communicating with and understanding employees, managers can get a sense of how their team likes to receive appreciation.

Some ideas of recognition include providing lunch to staff, hosting employees and their families for a barbecue and gifting farm apparel. Chambers said, “Sometimes, simply starting conversations and commenting on individual performance can be a motivator for employees to continue to excel.”

Certainly, financial recognition can be well received by employees; however, they require a careful approach before being granted. “Employee bonuses aren’t always a good idea,” said Chambers. “Employees become accustomed to receiving a bonus, and if they miss out on the bonus, they become resentful. Some operations make this work, but clear communication and careful consideration of all options is paramount.”

The cost of employee satisfaction outweighs those associated with turnover. “Training new milkers is costly for many reasons,” Chambers says. “Procedural drift, poor performance, increased need for supervision, potential for compromised milk quality and onboarding are all costs incurred by employee turnover."

A team roster filled with returners helps the herd, too. Cattle thrive on consistency. From climate to feed rations to milking times, the most productive dairy herds have steady routines. Employees play a major role in creating this environment, and cattle adapt to their handlers’ manners. New faces, voices and habits can be startling.

Employees are the backbone of an operation and can steer the farm toward a win if coached well. “A good manager is a real difference maker on a dairy,” Chambers says. “It’s not uncommon to see operations in Utah and Idaho who have excellent management styles ... consistently hit an average of 100 pounds of milk per cow a day and a somatic cell count below 100,000.”

Those farms are often comprised of long-term employees who exhibit pride in their work and care for the organization and the people they represent. Employees with this mindset are led by coaches who care for their teams’ well-being, are willing to assist and recognize the strengths before them.

For more information on dairy employee management and to sign up for the quarterly Dairy West Management and Leadership Training newsletter, reach out to Bryce Chambers.