• ZISK

Hit the Reset Button to Attract and Retain Employees

Karen Bohnert


October 27, 2021



Everywhere you go, help wanted signs are out. Dairy farmers can relate because they too are dealing with labor shortages. Knowing labor is one of the most important resources on the farm, producers are trying to find the answer to how to keep their valuable employees from quitting while also attracting new employees to their farm.


According to Jorge Delgado, an On-Farm specialist with Alltech, the solution begins with producers changing their mindsets about human resources and start dedicating time and effort to this area. “This does not require a big investment, but it does require time and securing the right information about how to reduce challenges around labor and the workforce,” he states.


Originally from Ecuador, Delgado moved to the U.S. nearly two decades ago. He has worked for multiple dairies as a herd manager and now resides in Minneapolis, focusing on empowering dairy workers.


“To create a positive culture on a dairy, the organizational basics must be in place,” Delgado states. “And there should also be a reset in the way employees are managed.”


The following points help empower a good work environment and create a good company culture, according to Delgado.

  • Rules and Regulations

The employee handbook is the first and most important part of any hiring process, according to Delgado. “Don’t think of this as just another piece of paper for new employees to read and sign,” he says. Instead, he encourages producers to include the history of the farm and its culture and expectations in this book. “It shows new employees how the dairy cares for the individuals who are part of making an operation successful,” he adds. “It also shows that the owner and employees share a common bond—the desire to work and support a family.”

  • Educate and Inform

Taking the step to train an employee correctly is crucial, especially ensuring they understand the farm’s protocols and procedures. “The best way to train new employees is by explaining the why’s and how’s behind any procedure,” Delgado states. “Employees value information.”


Also, utilizing proper communication channels when it comes to training with educational videos, posters, internal meetings, and hands-on demonstrations, resonates more with employees.

  • Social and Culture

Establishing and maintaining a level of respect, open communication, safety, faith, and security, among other traits should be important to each dairy to attract and retain employees, says Delgado.

  • Economic Incentives

While incentives need to be visible, accessible, and achievable, don’t just give a bonus out. Instead, Delgado encourages producers to explain the reason behind the bonus and make sure employees understand the goals to achieve them. “Economic incentives should be tailored based on clear goals and the reality of the economy of each dairy operation.”

  • Tools Provided

Doing the job well is important to every employee and providing the right tools can help them achieve success. For example, a milking unit not working properly or lack of bedding to bed stalls with, make employees feel like they are set up for failure.


Understanding Employee’s Values

In Darlington, Wis., Paramount Calves raises 15,000 heifers annually for high performance dairy farms across the Midwest. Their team consists of 35 full-time employees that work in one of seven different work teams: logistics, health, hutch feeding, bedding, transport, maintenance/manure, or the other site: Platinum.


Sarah Daugherty is the workforce development manager for Paramount, and her job is threefold—organizing and educating their workforce, oversight of the nutrition program, and tracking and providing data on calf performance and employee efficiency. “We have been working to better understand what our employees truly find valuable and provide benefits and leadership that meets those metrics,” she says.


New hires at Paramount are asked to rank four items (work/life balance, recognition, interesting work, and money) in order of what’s most important to them to get the first glimpse of their value systems.


Paramount Calves shares that working with Delgado has helped them focus on their most important employee metric—determining what’s truly valuable to those that work there. “We have found that the more our team understands how they’re relevant to the business and the health/performance of the calf, the more ownership and pride they have in their job,” Daugherty states.


One way Paramount has worked to better understand their employees is by working with Delgado’s reset program. The calf ranch held their first ‘Conferencia de Lideres’ which was a two-day, offsite meeting for their manager, held almost exclusively in Spanish to help their team work on their leadership skills.


“We also created a video, ‘The Journey of the Calf,’ to help our team understand the portion of the time they care for the calf impacts the entire process of raising a dairy heifer,” Daugherty adds. “The videos show how the different work teams impact calf well-being, which created a real understanding for our team on how their work is important.”


Daugherty advises setting a clear culture for the farm and outline how you expect employees to treat one another, how you expect them to care for and treat cattle, and the importance of respecting both. “Every farm is different, but if your team doesn’t know what you expect, they can never know if they are doing the right things,” she adds.


Paramount Calves host an annual open house for the owners of the calves that they raise, and they ask their employees to speak directly to the owners about what their roles are in raising a healthy calf. “It’s awesome to see the connections it has made,” she notes.


The farm has had virtually no turnover in their leadership positions and Daugherty credits it to the education, communication, and recognition that they have emphasized as a result of Delgado’s guidance.


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