The author is an associate editor for Hoard’s Dairyman

Dairy farmers hold many titles; they are accountants, managers, nutritionists, agronomists, and mechanics all in one, not to mention many more titles that we could add to the list. For many, keeping tabs on one farm may seem stressful enough, but how do people that manage multiple dairy operations keep things in order?

A breakout session at the recent Professional Dairy Producers (PDP) conference featured a panel of multi-site dairy directors. The panel included John Mueller of Willow Bend Farm LLC, in Clifton Springs, N.Y., and John Vosters of Milksource LLC in Kaukauna, Wis. These dairymen shared what they have learned as they navigate overseeing a multi-site dairy, along with rookie mistakes to avoid.

Willow Bend Farm LLC includes three locations: Willow Bend Farm, Spring Hope Dairy, and Bonna Terra Farm. In total, they have 5,600 milking cows and 90 team members.

Milksource consists of seven locations: Tidy View Dairy, Omro Dairy, Calf Source, Rosendale Dairy, New Chester Dairy, Heifer Source, and La Belle Dairy. Although these farms are located states apart, many common themes were heard across the board between the two dairymen.

Organized work means every job that needs to be done has someone to do it at a specific time and in a specific way. When asked the question, “How are you able to grow?” both farms had similar answers in that maintaining a good team of reliable people is necessary.

“We have specific protocols for all work, and someone responsible to see that they are performed to expectation,” Vosters cited. Unreliable employees will slow you down, and “weeding out the bad apples,” as Mueller stated, will save you a headache in the long run.

Enabling opportunities for learning, growth, and leadership development were also supported. Providing language learning courses if there is a language barrier proved to be extremely helpful, they shared. Transferring work culture to other sites is done so by implementing and enforcing the same core values across all sites to ensure each has the same expectations.

Multi-site dairies can present a certain set of challenges that many other dairies do not have to think about. Because people are working in different locations, this creates the need for more farm meetings to share data and performance updates between sites. Mueller stated, “With more sites, you have more meetings, and these meetings need to be productive and have an agenda or certain goal in mind.” Without an agenda, it can be easy to get off topic and fail to acknowledge key issues that must be addressed.

To efficiently manage a multi-site dairy, it is also crucial to record the measurable supplies that the dairy uses on a day-to-day basis. Vosters encouraged farmers to keep track of items like gloves, tail paint, and towels. Find areas where you can cut costs in on your dairy farm without making drastic changes. Small things quickly add up and can save a lot of money in the long run if you are able to record how much you are using, he stated.

Although efficiency was a main topic of discussion during this breakout session, it boiled down to one aspect that makes managing a dairy go smoothly. Whether you manage one dairy or multiple, it all comes down to the people. Finding the right people who are willing to learn, grow, and develop in their role will ultimately make the managing part a lot easier — resulting in success for your operation, noted both dairymen.