Thousands of decisions occur on your dairy every day,” says Tom Fuhrmann, a veterinarian and founder of the DairyWorks management system. The key to your dairy operating smoothly is developing a system for these jobs and decisions, so employees know what to do. “You want your employees to make the same cow-side decision that you would make.”

Several programs have sprung up to help you organize work on your farm, including Dairy OnTime, DairyWorks and Breakthrough Management (BTM). These programs break down job duties by employee or teams and allow the owner to set written protocols on how tasks should be done. The programs have different nuances, but all are based on Total Quality Management (TQM) principles.

Dairy producers who have adopted these programs testify that the systems approach provides measurable results, including higher milk production, lower somatic cell counts, lower calf mortality and fewer fresh cow problems.

Tackling a big job
Some producers shy away from adapting TQM principles on the dairy because it requires a great deal of time to develop operating procedures and train employees, plus write down the information, says John Young, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies, Madison, Wis., and designer of the Dairy OnTime management program.

While organizing your dairy is a big job, attending seminars and/or hiring a consultant who specializes in business organization can keep you from “reinventing the wheel.” Most programs offer examples that you can adapt to your dairy.

“When we first came back from the DairyWorks seminar, we were somewhat overwhelmed with what we needed to do,” says John Vosters, owner of Tidy View Dairy, an 1,800-cow herd in Freedom, Wis. “However, after working with our veterinarian and herd managers, we had the framework of the program in place within three months.”

However, after the framework is in place, producers must continually monitor progress and retrain employees, says John Day, veterinarian in Jerome, Idaho who works with the BTM program. “Having a set protocol doesn’t stop procedural drift,” Day says. Procedures must be monitored every week to ensure employees stay with the program.

Boosts cow performance
Many producers have a difficult time seeing how written protocols and flow charts can lead to improv-ed profitability.

That’s because most producers attend to cow performance issues almost intuitively. But, your employees may not. Written protocols allow your employees to access your experience and knowledge without having to ask you directly. In fact, giving your employees a framework for making good cow-side decisions can improve cow performance on your dairy.

For example, after setting procedures for newborn calf care, Vosters lowered calf mortality with the help of youngstock manager Juan Quezada. Calf mortality went from around 15 percent to less than 4 percent in the first month. A written protocol for colostrum management resulted in 95 percent of the calves having proper immunity levels after colostrum delivery, despite the fact that as many as six to eight people care for newborns.

Vosters and herd manager Scott Haen also improved the care of fresh cows. The dairy’s protocols require employees to chalk the cow’s calving difficulty score (1 through 5) on the cow’s rump, flag cows whose colostrum should not be saved, and note any health problems that require the herd manager or veterinarian’s attention.

“When a fresh cow leaves the maternity area, she’s like a walking billboard,” Vosters says, making it easier to give her the care she needs.

John Young recalls turning around the performance of cows that retained fetal membranes while managing a 900-cow dairy in Minnesota. He established a standard operating procedure for cow care after a retained placenta that included hormone therapy and aggressively enrolling the cows in a prostaglandin program. The result: a 5 percent increase in the conception rate for cows that retained membranes and a 7 percent drop in culling for sterility.

At United Meadows Dairy in Wrightstown, Wis., Jeff Meulemans had problems producing a consistent, quality feed for his 600-cow herd and wanted to improve his mixing and bunk management. After developing a standard operating procedure with Young, Meulemans saw an immediate response as dry matter intakes rose. The standard operating procedure reduced the variation in mixing time for the TMR between batches and employees, which resulted in a more ideal particle size and higher intakes.

Dairy producers have seen the biggest payoff from BTM in the parlor, says John Day. After implementing BTM in the parlor at a 1,500-cow operation in Idaho, the dairy was able to increase cow throughput, reduce the number of clinical mastitis cases, and drop the somatic cell count to less than 100,000. These changes earned them an additional $20,000 per month.

Improve employee morale
In addition to improved cow performance, organizing work improves employee morale. And, raising the esteem of employees can improve their cow-side job performance and allow the herd to reach production and management goals.

“Employees like having clear and precise instructions,” Young says. Organizing work eliminates the need for employees to continually ask, “What do I do next?” Instead, they know what is expected of them and can take pride in accomplishing their duties in a timely fashion. This also eliminates the excuse, “Nobody told me,” when things don’t get done correctly.

Finally, it encourages employee participation. As employees work to reach performance goals, they become intrinsically motivated, or motivated by a sense of pride in what they do. “People think that employee motivation is just pink, fluffy philosophical stuff,” Fuhrmann says. “But, it works. It makes a difference.”

Work organization 101

Several programs exist that help dairies organize work. Each program has its own special nuances, but most include the following principles:

1. Organize your business. Before you can launch a program with your employees, you must define the direction for your business.

2. Set performance goals. In addition to milk production, you can set goals for milk quality, reproduction, and young stock mortality.

3. Identify the jobs involved in reaching your goals.

4. Set standard operating procedures for each task. Write out the protocol or place it in a flow chart so employees can reference the information.

5. Train employees on the procedures.

6. Schedule the workload. Make sure that you have an adequate staff to get everything done.

7. Monitor progress. Determine how you will evaluate each work system on a regular basis.

Where to start

The following companies offer training or consulting on how to organize work on your dairy. Contact them for more information about their programs.

  • Breakthrough Management, developed by Jim Cullor, University of California’s Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center, Tulare, Calif. Call: (559) 688-1731.
  • Dairy On-Time, operated by Dairy Strategies, Madison, Wis. Contact John Young at (888) 249- 3244 or visit the Web site:
  • DairyWorks management system, operated by veterinarian Tom Fuhrmann, Tempe, Ariz. Call: (480) 831- 6358 or visit on the Internet.
  • Ask your extension agent or co-op if they have any resources or contacts to help get you started.