The COVID-19 pandemic put quite a strain on labor across the country as employees contracted the disease or were forced to quarantine due to exposure to the virus.

“How did you alter employee management during COVID-19?” was a question posed on the August 5 episode of Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream. Listeners soon revealed a wide variation in management techniques.

  • 34% provided personal protective equipment
  • 30% said they enacted on and off farm travel restrictions
  • 20% indicated that they barely changed their employee management approach at all
  • 16% implemented significant shifts in PPE and labor assignments

John Mueller and Gordie Jones gave us a dairy producer’s perspective of how their employee management changed in the thick of the pandemic. “We put a big emphasis on taking care of our people here at Willow Bend, and that commitment didn’t waver when COVID-19 came into play,” Mueller remarked.

On Willow Bend Dairies in Clifton Springs, N.Y., Mueller and his team set up a quarantine house for any employees who were exposed, positive, or displayed symptoms. “Luckily, we haven’t had to use it yet, but it’s good to have it because so many of our employees live together,” explained the esteemed owner.

They also implemented social distancing in break rooms and other spaces where employees tend to gather. For team meetings and training, they used Zoom and met virtually whenever possible. An intensive emphasis on personal hygiene was also established to encourage regular handwashing and sanitization. Recently, Mueller also began conducting interviews with employees to determine if they had been exposed to COVID-19.

Gordie Jones of Central Sands Dairy took a more aggressive approach. “Our feeder was the first person we isolated,” he explained of limiting exposure of staff on the job site. His isolation was a preventative measure. “He got his cow numbers, his rations updates, everything, over the phone. I did not want him sick or even exposed, because then he would be out of work for 14 days,” acknowledged the Wisconsin dairyman.

As for PPE and other restrictions, however, Jones said it was fairly easy to maintain 6 feet of distance between employees when they were doing herd work, and that masks weren’t necessary because of that effect.

Jones and Mueller shared the challenge of employees living together, and while Mueller created a quarantine house, Jones took a different approach. “We shifted the work shifts so that everyone who was living together was also working during the same shift. That way if someone on the day shift got COVID, the only people potentially exposed were the people they lived with,” he noted. This practice kept the employee households isolated from each other to reduce potential spread.

An ongoing series of events

DairyLivestream will air twice each month for the remainder of this year. The next broadcast will be on Wednesday, August 19 at 11 a.m. CST. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2020
August 17, 2020
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