Idaho Dairy Is Raising The Bar With Workforce Development

One of the many calves at Moo Riah Dairy in Melba, Idaho. ( Betsy Jibben )

A new farm program isn't just setting standards for animal care, but also for how you should treat employees on the farm. From safety to training, Betsy Jibben shows us how the National Milk Producers Federation is raising the bar nationwide.

It is early morning in Melba, Idaho at Moo Riah Dairy. Three generations from grandpa and grandma down to the grandkids bundle up to bottle feed calves. It’s a complete family affair that’s far reaching. The foundation of the dairy starts with family. They actually built it and started milking in 1999.

“All of these pipes, my brothers welded them,” said Siska Reece, Owner and Manager of Moo Riah Dairy. “All the tile work and construction in the office and the barn, my brothers and I did together.”

Owners Siska Recce and her husband Justin know the core of the dairy lies both with family and work family as well. “They are part of the team,” said Owner and Manager, Justin Reece.

“We are not just their boss but they work alongside us, not behind us or in front of us.” “We care about our animals,” said Siska. “We care about our profit but we also care about our people. You can’t just look at the milk and expect this to be a successful business.”

This group believes people are a priority. Other dairies throughout the country are developing the same mentality. The National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Incorporated launched a workforce development pillar under the FARM program in October. They are suggestions for dairies to follow when it comes to human relations and safety issues. The initiative provides dairies with guidance and best management practices and worker health and safety. The goal is to increase worker engagement, reduce employee turnover and manage liabilities.

“What we’ve done is divide our activities into human resources and safety,” said Nicole Ayache, Director of Environmental Stewardship and Workforce Development for the FARM program. “In both areas, we are coming up with resources and guidance materials to help farms elevate their workforce.”

The workforce development pillar helps farms realize and follow federal regulations. There’s even information on rules and regulations for 35 states. The federation has a goal to provide information for every state by early 2019.

“A business must comply with both state and federal laws, depending on their size and where they are located,” said Ayache. “Navigating what your requirements are can be complicated.”

To help, a specialist comes in as a resource to train employees on safety and animal handling.

“For some farms, employee training is standard whether that’s weekly or monthly,” said Ryan DeWit, Dairy Worker and Training Safety Director with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. “Some farms only get together once a year. If I can help facilitate that to happen more than once a year or more than a couple of years; I’m there to help with that.”

He offers information to employees in a test format. There’s no pass or fail, but a goal of continued improvement for all the employees.

“It’s good for [my other co-workers] to learn and good for me to learn as well,” said Lupe Salgado, calf manager at Moo Riah Dairy. “Somethings I didn’t know either like how to manage, the things the videos tell you and show you.”

Companies like Glanbia Nutritionals are noticing results and getting involved. “In the dairy business, we have to take care of three things,” said Mike Machado, Dairy Sustainability Specialist with Glanbia Nutritionals. “[Those things are] the environment, the cows and our people. I’m really happy to see this rolling together with the FARM program.”

Dairy specialists who helped develop the program says there’s always been a need.

“We want to get the best from those employees. We have to make sure they really understand why they are doing what they are doing and not just that they have a job to do,” said Robert Hagevoort, Dairy Extension Specialist of New Mexico State University. “We want them to be the best job for that owner.”

“I’ve just recently learned that a lot of our employees are not motivated by monetary things,” said Siska. “They’re motivated by a pat on the bank or saying, ‘Hey, I’m really proud of you. You did a good job’ [when it comes to tasks on the farm].”

“When they treat you that way and make you feel good, they make you feel like you’re needed here,” said Salgado. “It makes me want to go out and do my best with everything I can.” For this family-orientated dairy, relationships are everything.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time,” said Siska. “It doesn’t take a lot of money. It just takes a little bit of commitment and dedication to invest in your employees and your farm as a whole.”

Now, just mix in a little love and respect. Owners like Reece know their employee family will be there for them be it early morning or late at night.