When producers are asked to list their milk quality goals, it doesn't take long for them to come up with numbers for production and somatic cell count. But, when Hispanic milkers are asked the same question, they often respond with silence, or if they do give an answer, it is along the lines of "I don't understand the question" or "I don't know."
Many Hispanic employees admit to not knowing the quantitative and qualitative measures and goals for milk quality.
The language barrier between the English-speaking managers and Spanish-speaking workers makes explaining the company's milking procedures and goals rather difficult. For many first-time Hispanic milkers, milking is simply just getting milk from a cow to a tank. Even employees with milking experience in their home country usually aren't familiar with the equipment, medications, or procedures found on today's large dairies. For this reason, we must communicate milking objectives simply, clearly, and thoroughly to all milkers.
- Education is key. Giving employees the tools they need is imperative if they are to achieve their dairy's goals. In this case, the most important tools are education and explanations. Many chemical companies offer bilingual, on-site milk quality sessions. These sessions deal with the how's and why's of milking, giving employees a sense of purpose to each procedure. After one of these sessions, we've seen how Hispanic workers have improved their approach to milking. They've begun to understand the relationship between stimulation and let-down time, overall cleanliness, and mastitis control.
- Stay committed. Once your milkers understand how and why they must do their job, management needs to remain focused on these employees and their improvement. We've heard Hispanic milkers comment that they don't feel their bosses care about their work. Since most farm owners are preoccupied with countless important tasks during the day, many don't have as much time to spend in the parlor. Some Hispanic employees interpret this as indifference to their roles at the dairy and respond similarly. Therefore, it's very important to show them a commitment to their milking performance. Within the first week of the milk quality session, management should personally monitor the milking procedures. Also that week, create an easy-to-understand chart that tracks monthly somatic cell count and milk production so your workers can follow their own progress. After that first week, follow up with a brief meeting to get employee feedback and to share your personal findings. To ensure that your teaching and training remain effective, commit as much time as possible every day to each milker until you start seeing results. Then, periodically check up on the work being done.
- Share the benefits. By asking for this improved performance, you're likely to hear at least one employee ask, "What's in it for me?" Although the response should be "job security," this doesn't seem to motivate all workers. Many will realize their added value and want a piece of the reward. Hispanic workers are typically quite proud of their work and want to be compensated for it. Paying milking bonuses seems to be a controversial topic from one dairy to the next. Some believe it's good; others are convinced it's not.
Although there are many reasons NOT to pay performance-based incentives, let's admit one basic reason why they might be positive. If you're paying your milkers a bonus each month, that means you, too, are getting bigger checks each month. When we approach the topic in this way, bonuses may appear to make sense.
Deciding how to share the financial benefits of improved milk quality can be a complex decision. Choosing to make a commitment to the education and development of your Hispanic employees should not be. You know your dairy's milk quality goals...do your Hispanic milkers?
Tom Wall is co-owner of Language Links, a Wisconsin-based company that helps dairy owners work with Hispanic employees.