The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.
When Duane and I first got married, we had one employee to help take care of the cows and the fieldwork. Between our family and the extra person, we easily got the work done. Even though teamwork was important on that smaller scale, the importance was magnified when we grew our dairy.
Expanding our business meant we needed more people to accommodate the workload. Managing people along with overseeing the cows was certainly one of the biggest management changes Duane and I made.
We did not necessarily have this on our radar. However, when we moved into the freestall barn, added cows, and increased the amount of chores, we added personnel issues along with the animal responsibilities. Now there were employee expectations and culture dynamics to consider.
I often hear dairy farmers joke about preferring to work with cows more than with people. I chuckle every time I see this, not because it is funny, but because there is a depth of truth in this statement.
Obviously, dairy farmers have a bias toward cows. Most farmers would admit that there are days that the stresses that come from our animals are easier to deal with than the issues we face with people. I am not saying that we don’t like people. It is just easier to smooth out the bumps with cows.
When I graduated from high school, I made the decision to work for a year before I went to college. I had just been named Chester County Dairy Princess, and I was not sure what college I wanted to attend or what I wanted to study.
I got a job working at a restaurant, but it did not take long before I realized that it was easier to feed calves, unload hay wagons, and milk cows than it was to make sure people have the right food and drink. I eventually found my way back to the barn and worked for my father on the dairy farm until I went to a one-year Bible college in Montana.
My dad and I made a good team, and he taught me a lot about dairy farming. He also taught me how to be a good team player. If there are two or more people on the farm, there will surely be differing opinions, and we need to have the skill and mindset that includes trust, respect, and appreciation of each other.
Every dairy farmer has a dream. Although there are many factors that help make the farm successful, one of the bigger factors is the teamwork it takes to reach the dream in the day-to-day workings of the farm.
It takes respect and communication to keep a team of any size running smoothly. When someone is out of sync, it can throw the entire day and workplace into a tailspin. Managing the farm team is as important as managing the animals. Our dairy has goals and outcomes that uniquely make up the culture of our farm.
Culture is a buzzword right now, and companies of all kinds and sizes are looking inward to determine the make up, value, and strength of the team. Dairy farm teams are not exempt from that evaluation. If we do not take time for our people, we will not have a solid team in the future.
There are many different team members on our dairy farm. Whether they are feeding calves, milking cows, or fixing equipment, we need teamwork to run smoothly. There are times when the milking crew needs a mechanic, the calf manager needs an extra hand with a runaway calf, and there are times when the mechanic is asked to haul dry cows. Although our farm has precise job descriptions, our members need to be flexible in the work place. Flexibility is definitely part of our team’s culture, and if we are going to make the dream work, we have to work together as a team.
We watched Kacie play a lot of basketball games over the years, and it could not be more obvious when someone on the team considered her goals to be more valuable than the other players. When this happened, the team didn’t gel and we witnessed the play, score, and game fall apart. There is a reason that there is not a letter “I” in the word “team.” Teamwork has more to do with the players and collectively working toward a common goal.
We need communication between team members, a willingness to put aside egos, and respect of each other’s opinions — even when we don’t agree. There is another quote that speaks to this: “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”