The job description is an often-overlooked tool on dairy farms. A job description may sound like just more paperwork to be done, but it can help organize the labor force to be sure tasks are performed by the best-qualified people available on the farm. It can also result in greater consistency of performance because it is clear who is responsible for each task, not just what tasks need to be done.

There are many sources of information about job descriptions in general, but Richard Stup, Penn State University, nicely outlines five reasons for job descriptions on dairy farms.

  1. Organization: A well-written job description helps individuals understand their responsibilities as well as how their work fits into the mission of the whole farm. Employees need to see the broad value of their work to what you want to accomplish on the dairy as a whole.
  2. Training: A job description not only outlines specific tasks but also the skills necessary to perform them. Even if the employee doesn't bring the skills to the job in the first place, he/she will clearly be able to see what skills need to be developed in order to be successful. A job description can also help the owner/manager plan the necessary training programs to enhance the skills of the employees.
  3. Recruitment: If you want to hire the right person for the job on your dairy, potential candidates need a clear picture of the expectations. If computer skills are necessary for an employee, having those skills listed in your job description will help sort out candidates who don't have the skills or a desire to acquire them. Similarly, if there are special skills you want in an employee such as trained for AI work, listing that in the job description helps attract people who already have that skill.
  4. Evaluation: A job description provides a road map for performance evaluation. If the employee knows the tasks expected and the skills necessary to be a high performer, and the supervisor tracks work against those listed tasks and skills, there is a common point around which they can discuss the work of the employee on the farm.
  5. Defense: This is a reason for having a job description that no farm manger hopes he or she ever has to use. Unfortunately, from time to time a farm manager does need to defend his or her reasons for a disciplinary action or release of an employee. A job description can provide the basis for the decision and helps clarify reasons for the action.

When working with dairymen, a common question we receive is "How do I write a job description?" It can be difficult to know where to start or what should be included. There are example job descriptions available from several sources, but one easy to use tool is theJob Description Editor available online from Penn State University's Dairy Alliance.

The template includes a checklist of typical tasks for several different positions on the farm. You simply put a check mark in the box by appropriate tasks listed to include them in the final document. There is also room to enter individualized tasks, or skill requirements for the farm. Once information is entered into the template, the generator prints out a job description. This document can then be used at the time of job postings, hiring or any other time you need to have a job description. The tool includes separate templates for production technicians (those out in the barn doing the job every day), middle managers who are responsible for supervising others in areas of the dairy operation (feed managers, calves and young stock, reproduction, parlor managers, etc.) and for senior managers (feed production, strategic planning, purchasing, land management, human resources, etc.). With the ease of data entry, it is an easy matter to tailor each job description to the individual job and person on the farm.

It should be pointed out that a job description is not an employee agreement that includes all the terms of employment. The job description includes many elements that may be in both documents, but the employment agreement will provide much more detail.Job descriptions are just one more of the tools that help a dairy farm become a smoother operation. When staff people understand their jobs and relationships on the farm, it is easier to work toward excellence because everyone knows who is responsible for what tasks.

Chuck Schwartau is an extension educator at the University of Minnesota’s Extension Regional Center in Rochester, Minn. He specializes in total systems management, agricultural labor and dairy risk management. He can be reached at cschwart@umn.edu or 507-536-6301.