Chris and Mary Kraft own and operate Badger Creek Farm and Quail Ridge Dairies near Fort Morgan, Colo. With the help of 75 full-time employees, this dynamic husband and wife team milks 5,400 Holsteins, shipping a rolling herd average of 27,677 pounds per cow to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). They also farm 850 acres of irrigated corn silage for use on the dairy, purchasing the balance of their feed needs.
Chris serves as a corporate director of DFA and on the organization’s Global Trade Committee. He’s also the DFA Mountain Council Political Action Chair. Mary is the president-elect of the Colorado Livestock Association and sits on the board of Western Dairy Association, the region’s checkoff arm.
Mary Kraft told Dairy Exec that she and her husband face several challenges on their farms — some over which they have limited control. So they choose to put the bulk of their efforts into the ones they can fix.
One of the big challenges is water. Kraft explains that Colorado has a “first-in-time, first-in-right” water rights system — tantamount to going for a bag of coffee at the grocery store and, because you’re there first, buying it and not being expected to share some of that coffee with the next buyer simply because he’d also like some — even if it’s the last coffee in the store.
And since Colorado is one of only two states where all the water flows out of its borders — the other being the islands of Hawaii — this law puts a premium on certain pieces of real estate and drives how water gets used on the dairy.
At the end of the day, they can't make more water. Still, the Krafts do what they can.
“We use automated scrapers rather than flush, for example, since water is a scarce commodity,” she says.
Another challenge is immigration, Kraft says.
“Tha lack of an abundant, willing workforce is a real roadblock to expansion, or merely covering existing operations,” she says. “We have been very involved politically to draft legislation and help policy makers understand the importance (of labor) to our primary product production — if we don't make the milk here, all of the rest of the economic engine milk production provides seizes up.”
But, she sighs, “we can't force Congress into a solution.”
In addition, capital for larger operations is hard to find, she notes.
“Some of the larger banks are on-again, off-again about dairies,” Kraft says. “Smaller ones can't manage our lines. We scare many of them due to the size of the project, and volatility of both inputs and milk price.”
Again, she notes, “we can't help banks with their policies or short-sightedness. So we focus on what we can do, and the most promising for us is workforce development. With a limited pool of people willing and able to work on dairies, our focus has turned to developing people who never thought of themselves as leaders, into leaders.”
The Krafts are focusing on using positive reinforcement and explaining the ever-important “why” of an activity (like explaining that the farm vaccinates cows so that they don't get sick and clog the farm’s hospital area). They work intensely with their employees, using a weekly 15-minute training activity and a 15-minute issues meeting with the main workforce; 1-hour weekly meetings with managers as a group; and 3-hour weekly meetings with top management.
“The training repeats quarterly, and new hires — which are our next pool of leaders — are placed in intensive weekly training for a month to get them up to speed with the rest of the crew,” she adds.
The Krafts also have a mentoring program to help teach leadership skills “since that is not taught in school,” Kraft says.
“Many of us in the industry grew up with parents who worked with us to develop character — like ‘Don't quit until the job is done!’, compassion and a very special set of skills,” she adds. “We are working to help our workforce think of the dairy as a career choice, rather than simply a job or step to something greater. We are grooming them to do the ‘great’ thing on our operations. We are helping our workforce choose attainable goals, keep them in mind and work toward them. Ultimately, these are our goals, too! We have translators involved everywhere we are trying to get greater comprehension.”
They also work with groups like the Colorado Livestock Association and Colorado State University to put on several trainings a year, ranging from calf care to maternity hospital and milking parlor operations — all in Spanish, and often on their dairy, making them even more accessible to their workforce.
Because that they can control.