Have you ever really looked at a successful family dairy operation in your area?  If so, you probably have noticed something that I call the “alternate-generation phenomena.”  The first generation takes some risk, is innovative, and builds a successful business capable of supporting family members who want to return to the farm. The second generation maintains what dad and mom built, but the business stagnates. If the business survives to allow the third generation to return, they revitalize and push the business forward.

Why it happens

This phenomenon occurs because the first generation often fails to delegate responsibility and train the second generation. The second generation either muddles along or fails. But, if they succeed, they remember their crude training process and vow to do a better job of training the next generation, which then helps revitalize the business. 

Managers are not born; they must be trained. Training starts at birth, which explains why some individuals have better social skills and are more adept at working with people than others. Their family training began at home and they learned from their parents how to work with other individuals.

In addition, good managers must have what pilots call “stick time.”  The controls of an airplane are called a “stick,” and to gain experience you must actually fly an airplane. However, dad and mom often find it difficult to turn over the controls. Parents often fear the son or daughter will make a mistake that will negatively impact the operation. Or, it may be that as dad starts relinquishing some control, it makes him realize that he won’t be around forever, so he takes some of the control back.  The final excuse is that “it’s not time.” Problem is, family members pass away or become disabled before the business is ready. And, without adequate “stick time” before being handed the controls, the results can be catastrophic to the business.

What you should do

Step back and think about how a factory might handle a new employee. Often, the new employee is offered a checklist of how to operate the piece of equipment under his care.  A foreman walks the employee through the operation of the machine and carefully marks the progress of the new employee to make sure the employee can operate the machine efficiently and safely. You need that same type of step-by-step training to grow your next manager.

Create a checklist of all of the skills necessary to manage the family farm. In addition to the basics of animal husbandry and animal health, it should include marketing, purchasing, sire selection, sanitation, employee management, as well as the financial side of the business. Ask your veterinarian, nutritionist, your lender, and your financial consultant for their input to create this checklist of skills. 

Training should begin the moment your son or daughter returns to the farm. A specified period should be allocated to each “department” within the operation. Once the person can adequately perform the tasks associated with a particular department, move to the next department.

After an appropriate period of time (I’d suggest a two-year internship), start giving responsibility to manage a specific portion of the business. That doesn’t mean the son or daughter has carte blanche to make changes without consulting you first, but the transfer and the process of thinking like a manager begins.

In multiple-family operations, family members tend to naturally gravitate to the positions they feel most comfortable performing. However, each should be trained in all aspects of the business in case they need to step into another family member’s position due to death or disability. 

What about your operation? I suggest that you make a commitment to properly train the next generation of managers for your business. It’s one of the best ways to ensure future success.

Darrell L. Dunteman is an agricultural financial consultant and accountant with offices in Bushnell, Ill.  You can e-mail him at agexecutive@earthlink.net.

Additional Resources

For more information, check out the following articles at dairyherd.com.
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  • “Provide an opportunity to learn from mistakes.”
  • “5 steps to transfer management to the next generation.”
  • “Build a better dairy leader.”
  • “How to become a manager.”