Establishing and teaching protocols for crucial farm tasks form the foundation of training farm employees. Strictly speaking, protocol is defined as a set of rules or standards to guide conduct or format. Within the context of a farm, protocols are defined as a set of steps or procedures that guide or define how a larger task is accomplished, writes Rory Lewandowski, educator at The Ohio State University Extension.
Protocols are useful because they lay out the details of a specific task. Protocols allow farm employees to know what the farm manager/owner and/or their supervisor expects of them regarding the task. Protocols are useful to cross train farm employees and build some resiliency into the farm operation.
Whether the farm utilizes only family labor, family plus non-family labor or only non-family labor, protocols can be used to improve communication and expectations about how a specific task should be accomplished. Good protocols have two basic characteristics; they are followed by employees and produce a desired result. Unfortunately, just putting something down in writing does not guarantee employees will follow the instruction or if they do, that the results are positive. Sometimes, protocols are poorly written, too long or too complicated; or they may use terms, words, and expressions that are not understood. Sometimes, protocols do not account for the actual work environment and are not practical.
Use the following tips to write useful, effective protocols.
- Take a team approach
Team members can include industry professionals/consultants as well as farm employees and family members. As an example, for health-related tasks, such as a vaccination protocol or treatment protocol for an illness, work with the farm’s veterinarian. If the protocol involves equipment maintenance, work with the appropriate equipment dealer.
- To help increase the readability of a protocol, include photos, drawings, charts, or graphs
If English is a second language for some of your employees, can you have the protocol written in their native language? Common advice on writing farm protocols is that successful protocols are built upon solid research and adapted to your farm situation.
- Training around the written protocols is essential to ensure the protocols are used by farm employees
Training should include clear explanations of why the farm wants a specific task done in this way. Employees are more likely to follow a procedure if they understand the why behind the procedure. For example, why should a pre-dip be left on cow teats for 30 seconds before wiping it off? Why is 90 to 120 seconds needed between the time the udder is first touched until the milking unit is attached? If the employee only sees these timing requirements as a rule, the temptation is to speed the process up, cut corners and save time. Understanding why helps the farm employee take ownership of the protocol.
- Protocol training is not a one and done type of deal
Over time, it is natural to see employees drift from protocols. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, a step gets left out, or it is not followed completely. It is common to see protocols get modified over time by employees in the interest of saving time. For this reason, it is necessary to have regular and consistent refresher sessions. This is a good reminder for experienced employees and helps newer employees as well. In some cases, adherence to protocols can be tied into job performance expectations and/or bonuses.
- Use a farm team to review protocols annually
Does each protocol still make sense? Has there been a change in the farm or farm operation that requires the protocol to be changed or modified, such as a new piece of equipment or machinery or remodeling of facilities? Has anything changed regarding how a specific management practice is understood? Protocols can be updated, edited, added, or removed. Ask employees for feedback on protocols; ask them what can be improved.
As an example, a milking protocol might include the following steps:
- The milker should wear disposable gloves.
- Before attaching the milking unit, dry wipe any bedding material from the teats/udder.
- Forestrip three to four streams of milk from each teat.
- Pre-dip each teat, covering the lower three-fourths of the teat. Repeat on three to five cows.
- Return to first cow; wipe off teat dip and teat end.
- Attach milking unit at 90 to 120 seconds after the first contact with this cow’s udder.
- Adjust milking unit and proceed to the next three to five cows, maintaining the pre-milking unit attachment order.
Farm managers should embrace written protocols as a tool to train farm employees. The goal of protocols is to ensure consistency in performance among employees and give employees more confidence in doing their jobs.
Headline image courtesy of The Ohio State University
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