A woman was walking along a long stretch of beach after high tide. It was littered with starfish and tiny sea creatures left stranded by the ebbing water. Every few feet the woman bent over, picked up one of the doomed starfish, admired its uniqueness, and then gave it a good fling back into the surging waters. A man approached and asked what she was doing.

The woman replied that she was throwing the starfish back into the ocean so they wouldn’t die after being stranded by the tide. The man looked at the miles of beach stretching before them, and the sand littered with starfish, and said to the woman that she could not possibly hope to make a difference with so many to save.

The woman picked up another starfish, contemplating what he said, then threw the starfish back into the ocean. “Yes,” she said, “but I sure made a difference to that one!”

This story has become part of my mantra — “You can’t save them all, but you can indeed make a difference to that one!”

The needs of the one

When you work with a large herd, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the many people and cows we deal with. That makes it easy to lose patience, perspective and persistence. But, if we concentrate on making a difference to each individual we come in contact with (kids, community members, employees, cows and others), then we can make a huge difference to the one.

Our philosophy has become that of the woman who made a difference to each starfish she encountered on the beach. This makes it easier to respond more kindly to questions, needs, and issues as they arise. A giant star hanging in my office helps keep me focused on making a difference to each individual.

Applying it on farm

All of our employees know the story of the woman and the starfish and have been trained to apply that philosophy. Following are a few of the things we do on our dairy to focus on making a difference to the one:

  • We find ALL of the cows on the list — because it does make a difference to that one if she doesn’t get bred and subsequently gets culled.
  • We put in double the number of linear feet of water tanks the experts said we needed. Even our timid cows have access to water whenever they want.
  • We built double alleys (24 foot wide, each side) so cows don’t get rushed or crushed when moving to and from the barn.
  • We keep up on hoof trimming and vaccinations because without them the cows are left on their own to fight the elements.
  • We keep the facilities in good working order to help limit injuries to both workers and cows.
  • We designed our facilities to provide a great working environment for our cows and our employees. Everything from the stall bedding, bunk space, light and airflow was developed with comfort and productivity of the individuals in mind.
  • We review each employee individually (no small task with a workforce of 70 people). This helps us ensure that we help each one succeed, whether they are milkers, herdsmen or managers. Each is valuable, and it matters to them that we take the time to see them.
  • We work with employees on life skills, not just work skills. Currently, we are working through the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey (We ordered a Spanish edition online at Amazon.com ). We use his outline for a 15-minute teaching segment at our weekly employee meetings which are mandatory.

While we can’t always save them all, we certainly do a lot to make a difference in each one’s life. We call it “starfishing.” And we know that our actions make a difference to that one!

Mary Kraft dairies with her husband, Chris, near Fort Morgan, Colo.