I recently reviewed my staff’s educational needs and developed a plan that would increase the employees’ knowledge base and responsibility level.

Off-farm educational programs are my preferred choice for training. When an employee completes a sequential program and is awarded a certificate of completion, the level of enthusiasm is generally very high — especially among Hispanic employees. 

Training in Spanish
We are fortunate here in the Southeast to have a series of herdsman educational programs offered in Spanish. They are conducted by the University of Florida and sponsored by many of the allied dairy industries. These programs are designed to improve diagnostic and animal-health skills in employees that are responsible for herd-health management. 

In the past, most seminars were designed for herd owners or managers. Very few programs were dedicated to mid- to lower-level herd-health employees -— unless the programs were specifically developed for the dairy by veterinarians or industry consultants. However, in today’s dairy environment, most daily animal care procedures are becoming the responsibility of on-farm employees. That makes training — preferably in Spanish — a must.

The benefits
One of the benefits of off-farm educational opportunities is the friendship my employees establish with employees from other farms. These off-farm programs also allow for a better teaching environment since there are no distractions from the daily operation of the farm. 

I want my employees to be focused and learn as much as they can from an educational seminar. When they return, I meet with them to discuss what they have learned and how we can implement some of those new ideas. I also have the employee share his or her comments on the seminar with other employees within that person’s arena of responsibility. Cross training internally is very important to daily operations. 

I continue to pay the weekly salary for employees attending extended seminars. They may not be on the farm, but they are still working for you while in attendance. 

In addition, paying their salary while away helps them understand the value you place on this educational opportunity, as well as the value to the dairy operation. Make sure they are prepared for the course material and let them know you look forward to hearing what they learned upon their return. 

Several years ago, I attended a business management course designed for veterinarians. The one item I still remember today from the speaker is this: “If you do not implement new ideas you receive from a seminar within seven days, there is a 90-percent probability you will never implement them ever.” 

That is why it is so important to select educational programs that fit well with your goals for the dairy. It provides the framework needed to evaluate and implement new procedures or ideas.

If you do not plan to implement new management strategies, don’t send your employees to the seminar. There is nothing more demoralizing to an employee than for you to not consider their suggestions concerning what they have learned. 

Your role
Dairy farms are only as good as their employees. Can you really put a value on employee skills and morale? As a dairy owner, I would encourage all of you to elevate your level of employee participation in educational seminars. 

Industry, universities, and veterinarians take notice: It is the mid- to lower-level employees who are rapidly assuming the responsibility for herd-health management. As the dairy industry consolidates, it becomes your responsibility to help ensure dairy owners have access to educational programs that will elevate their employees so that they can use and implement your products and services properly.

Remember, we can’t blame the producer for poor herd performance if we don’t provide the necessary forums for their employees to acquire the skills needed to implement new and more efficient management protocols.

Paul Johnson is a veterinarian and dairy producer in Climax, Ga.