How to plan a festive holiday party for your dairy farm employees
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – a time to recognize achievements and successes, a time to acknowledge the service and efforts of your employees, and a time to celebrate it all with a killer holiday party.
Hosting an end-of-the-year holiday party doesn’t just have to happen in an office or corporate business setting. Farms of all sizes can replicate this same idea and tailor food, games, music and gifts according to the circumstances of that particular farm. At Brey Cycle Farms LLC in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the Breys started their holiday party by just having it in their garage and taking care of the food themselves. They have since found other ways that have worked better for their operation, says Moriah Brey, owner of Brey Cycle Farms LLC.
Each year, they’ve made it a point to encourage the participation of their 12 employees and their families in the decoration and food process.
“My biggest advice to anyone doing this would be to involve your employees because they’re really proud of what they do and they’re proud of their families,” Brey says. “It’s really fun to get together, but they also want to be involved.”
During their holiday party, employees and their families spend the day decorating the party space, Brey says. The meal is made by an employee’s mother, who is a caterer. The piñata, which is often made by one of their employees, is a focal point for their party, Brey adds.
Brey also encourages having the party in a mutual space where employees will feel comfortable, which is often a testament to a farm’s culture, she says. Sometimes it may be intimidating for an employee to come to the farm owner’s home, but the nature of the day-to-day interactions on the farm can help ease the situation, she adds.
“Our culture on our farm is very family-oriented, so we do spend a lot of time together,” Brey says. “You have to foster those relationships for 365 days a year to make people feel comfortable coming.”
Similarly, having an activity where spouses and children can participate is one of the ways Trailside Holsteins has been able to put a fun twist on team building at their holiday party, says Michael Johnson, owner of Trailside Holsteins in Fountain, Minnesota.
Along with eating a meal together, in the past they’ve done bowling, an icebreaker matching game and, most recently, a Christmas stocking decorating contest with their 12 employees and their families, he says.
“We enjoy getting to know more about each other and enhancing the relationship and camaraderie between co-workers,” he says. “When getting outside of the work environment and doing something different, you really get to learn more about each other.”
Johnson says this time has also been a good opportunity to hand out employee gifts and service awards so those who have worked an outstanding number of years can be recognized.
“With that, we always try to take a picture of the employees, management and owners because those are fun to look back at,” Johnson says.
At Heglar Creek Feeders in Declo, Idaho, they have found keeping things small and simple is the best way to go about planning a company holiday party, says Lewis Anderson, manager of Heglar Creek Feeders.
Instead of doing a large party, they choose to keep the celebration just among the 17 employees of the calf-raising facility. In doing this, they are better able to focus on the purpose behind the event and the relationships built in the workplace, Anderson says. “[Inviting outside guests] takes on a whole different merit as far as the time that it will happen, the menu and the costs,” Anderson says. “We deal with just our employees during the Christmas event, and it’s just us eating and playing a couple games together,” he says.
Their holiday party is usually catered on-site, which adds a level of flexibility and convenience, he adds.
“We just clean up the bottle wagons really good, and that becomes our table,” Anderson says. “Little, simple things can actually go over better than a big feast.”
Because dairy farming is a 24-7 job, it can be difficult to involve everyone on the farm. Planning an evening between the afternoon and night shifts has best accommodated the staff at Banner Ridge Farms LLC in Platteville, Wisconsin, says Jill Wiederholt, partner at Banner Ridge Farms LLC.
At their company party, they try to emphasize showing their gratitude for their employees, says Katie Roth, partner at Banner Ridge Farms LLC. In the past, providing merchandise from local businesses, a custom Christmas farm ornament, and gloves and socks for the cold winters are ways they have expressed their appreciation, Roth adds. When it comes to planning the meal, the women involved in the farm take care of the cooking and try to accommodate to the native flavors of their Hispanic employees, Wiederholt says.
One of the Mexican desserts that has become a tradition at Banner Ridge Farms’ holiday party is a tres leches cake brought by one of their employees, Roth says.
“Even if we have a language barrier, we can still do something fun together,” Wiederholt says.
Roth says taking a moment to compliment each of their employees and pointing out individual strengths is something she has enjoyed doing at their company party. “I like to make up a couple of sentences for each person about why we value them working on the farm,” she says. “That goes a long way because it shows people that you care, and that’s really important.”
While each of these farms tackle their company holiday party differently, a similarity reigns true for each of them: The actions to show appreciation speak volumes in comparison to everything else. Of course, incorporating good food, games and gifts are added fun benefits, but the real token lies in the efforts of those putting it on.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of food you have or how much time it takes or if you do gifts,” Johnson says. “It’s more about the effort and showing you appreciate and care.”
PHOTO 1: Doing a piñata is one of the ways Heglar Creek Feeders is able to have fun and enjoy each other’s company at their holiday party. Photo by Lewis Anderson.
PHOTO 2: Brey Cycle Farms LLC in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, celebrates their annual company holiday party with their 12 employees and their families, who play an active part in the food and decorating process. Pictured from left are 2020 staff members Jacob, Jose, Yareth, Jessica, Tomas, Luis, Jesus, Tony, Rafael, Martha, Joslyn, Emilio, Pablo, Julio, Axel, Itzia, Evan, Carmen, Alexa, Izana, Maria, Dilan, Sandra and Valentina. Photo by Moriah Brey.
PHOTO 3: To show their appreciation, owners of Trailside Holsteins in Fountain, Minnesota, give their employees branded T-shirts and sweatshirts at their holiday party. Photo provided by Michael Johnson. Adriana Toste was a 2021 Progressive Dairy editorial intern.