The days are long, the tasks are endless, and the volatility is unnerving, but being a dairy farmer can also be a rewarding profession, according to Lisa McCrea, a bovine veterinarian with Agwest Veterinary Group, in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.
Channeling the principles of Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” and drawing on her personal experience of working with dairy farmers for decades, McCrea has developed her own “habits” list. In a presentation at the 2020 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, she suggested the following five habits of highly effective dairy farmers.
1. Be proactive.
Adapting and thriving requires SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analyses that take into account the changing business climate, and adjusting accordingly. McCrea says proactive farmers anticipate issues by looking ahead and working to prevent them. Control what you can, and don’t be influenced by what you can’t.
2. Realize a purpose for the business.
Successful farms have a clear idea of why they exist (mission), defined goals for the future (vision) and core values that allow everyone working on the farm to collaborate with a common sense of purpose. “A farm’s core values guide every decision and encompass the purpose of the business,” McCrea says. These values will constantly feed the farm’s mission.
3. Begin with the end in mind.
“Goal-oriented farms always have the end in mind, with a clear vision of where they are and how they are going to get there,” McCrea says. Written goals guide decision-making. They help farmers discern whether or not what they are doing, both day-to-day and when major decisions are necessary, will help them get the farm to where they want it to be in five, 10 or 15 years.
4. Prioritize and manage.
Having an end-goal in mind makes it easier to prioritize what needs to happen next to move in a straight line to a goal. McCrea suggests defining goals for each management area as well as the business as a whole. That means developing and following SOPs for sub-enterprises such as calf rearing and milking. “The most successful farms do the little things better in every area,” McCrea says.
5. Benchmark and analyze performance.
Farms only can measure their success if they record and monitor performance. Analyzing different areas of the farm against performance goals can highlight what to improve or stop doing. Benchmarking performance is also an important guide over time. “It’s not enough to know how you compare to the average farmer, but rather how you stack up to the top 25%,” McCrea says.