In dairy’s labor availability crisis, many farms have focused on doing a great job of training whether they are hiring someone with limited or extensive experience. That’s especially true for employees who are tasked with feeding the cows every day.
The question that often arises is how to best meet these training needs. At the recent Virginia Livestock Nutritional College, Felix Soriano, owner of APN Consulting, offered some tips for identifying good employees for the feeding team and helping them advance in their job.
“Feeders need to have four things: accuracy and precision, organization, consistency, and basic math and writing skills,” the labor consultant explained. These abilities should be outlined in the job description and identified even before individuals are hired.
Once the right individuals with the right abilities have been identified, the rest of the productivity equation can be achieved. That equation, Soriano explained, is productivity equals “can do” times “will do.” “Can do” is made up of an individual’s abilities (mentioned above) plus skills. The “will do” is a person’s motivation to make those things happen.
To encourage skills, Soriano outlined three important areas of training.
- Feed handling and storage. This entails silage face management, the impact of spoiled materials, proper forage sampling, and why it matters. It also encompasses teaching how to prepare to feed and how to monitor and manage shrink.
- Mixing and feeding process. This begins with understanding loading accuracy and why it is necessary. Soriano also emphasized the importance of proper loading sequence and all the factors that can affect the mixing process.
- Feedbunk management. This area of training begins with understanding why it matters to the cows. It incorporates feed push up schedules and understanding refusals.
In all these areas, training helps and provides the foundation for employee knowledge and engagement, but it can’t stop there.
“We have to take steps,” Soriano said. “We can’t unload all this information at once on a feeder. Once we do the training, we also have to give feedback – both positive reinforcement and redirection when needed.”
Part of maintaining motivation for employees is providing key performance indicators or KPIs for the personnel to track to monitor feeding success. Soriano recommended tracking three or four of the following: load accuracy, forecast versus actual dollars fed, feeding accuracy by pen, daily feeding time by pen, mixing time consistency, or percent refusals of by pen.
“One of the most important jobs of a manager is to make sure that feeders have every tool they need,” Soriano concluded. Both from an intellectual and equipment perspective, we can set our feeding teams up to do better.
The author is an associate editor. She covers feeding and nutrition, youth activities, and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. Maggie was raised on a 150-cow dairy near Valley Center, Kansas, and graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in agricultural communications and animal sciences.