July 23 2021 02:40 PM

With a small, four person staff strictly made up of family, formal business meetings are replaced by spontaneous planning sessions in passing, at the dinner table, or while working cattle on our dairy farm.

Our dairy is run by four full-time people — my dad, my mom, my brother, and me. Fortunately, my boyfriend (who works a full-time, off-farm job) is up for assisting with chores and field work on the weekends and as needed in the evenings.

With about 300 milk cows and nearly 1,000 head of cattle overall, our farm team stays busy each day and doesn’t have time for inefficiency or poor communication. In order for our limited workforce to handle all the field work, milking shifts in the parlor, robotic barn chores, livestock feedings, facility cleaning, and equipment maintenance, we rely on constant, flowing communication with each other about what needs to get done each day.

Our family doesn’t sit down for formal business meetings in a conference room (as I’m used to with previous, more traditional jobs); we simply look for opportunities throughout the day to touch base on small tasks or long-term plans.

My dad and brother often stop in the yard for 5-minute planning chats as they’re switching equipment or moving to another project. In the evening, we occasionally all find ourselves in the parlor or calf building at the same time, warranting a huddle about the next day’s agenda or things to keep in mind in the coming week. Phone calls while we’re spread between different farm locations usually begin with one piece of information relayed — whether it’s a need to order more fuel, a treatment plan for a steer, or picking a bull for artificially inseminating a heifer — and end in a schedule for the day or list of jobs that need to be completed.

Besides the ad-lib meetings I already mentioned, we often have our more formal planning sessions around the dining room table. Our noon meal is typically eaten together around my parents’ dinner table — many times with my niece and nephews in tow. This is usually when we talk about our off-farm obligations for the coming weeks, field work scheduling, large facility projects, tasks where we will need all hands on deck, big improvement ideas, construction projects, and more.

Regardless of where these important conversations take place, it’s critical for farming teams (or farming families, in a lot of cases) to communicate with one another. Farm work can be more efficient, deliberate, thought-out, and overall successful when we take just a few minutes here and there to talk through a plan with those involved. Plus, the dining room, milking parlor, barnyard, or field are all perfect backdrops for those conversations to take place.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.