Editor's note: This article first appeared in the August 2008 edition of Dairy Herd Management

Over the years, I have observed nine characteristics or values in dairy farm families that develop strong positive working relationships. This also applies to dairy farm employees.

The overall success of any dairy business is largely due to the ability of family members to work together as a unit with a sense of purpose and pride to accomplish their operation’s mission statement. Successful dairy family operations have avoided (or may have overcome) the conflicts that cause other dairy businesses to end in a miserable family failure with continued feuding even after the farm was sold.

Successful farm families share these characteristics:

1. Team approach

Successful operations value family time together. Family events and celebrations are important and a priority. All members feel that they are stakeholders in the dairy business and that their contributions are recognized and important to everyone.   

2. Effective communication

Family members communicate with each other. More importantly, they take time to listen to each other and understand others’ concerns. The feelings of others are important to them.     

3. Family commitment

There is a sense of commitment to each other as a family, a strong bond of family loyalty. Everyone has a feeling of pride for the dairy farming operation and what the family accomplishes together as a work force.    

4. Family religious faith

Spiritual life is a part of family life. The common belief that they share gives the family the inner strength to get through any type of a difficult situation while holding the family together as a unit.

5. Crisis-coping skills

These families have learned how to deal with a crisis within the family and/or the dairy business. Family members support and encourage each other during difficult times. The strength to overcome adversity comes from within the family itself. 

6. Positive outlook

Strong families are positive families. They focus on the positive aspects of any situation and never become trapped by a negative outlook or attitude.

7. Appreciate each other

Family members share their appreciation for each other. They are quick to share their personal feelings. These families are caring families who recognize the efforts and contributions by others.

8. Family fun

There is a sense of humor in relationships among successful families. Personal kidding is taken in stride. Family members are quick to share a smile and want to get along with others. Family functions are fun times. 

9. Strengthened ties and values

Strong families take the time to strengthen values and to reaffirm hopes and dreams as family members working together in the farm work force. These values are passed on from one generation to the next. 

It takes effort and commitment to express and share personal feelings with each other, especially in building stronger relationships with family members and employees. Sharing a few simple words of appreciation can make a dramatic difference in any farm work force.

This has a very positive impact on the farm’s employees who now know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. It builds employee commitment to the dairy business and enhances motivation to continue their efforts in a productive and dependable manner.

Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the  University of Nebraska.