For example, just this year, we’ve had to completely rethink the way we hire people. We’ve been very lucky in the past to find employees who were willing to work the hours. They understood that just because we said you’d be done by 5 p.m., that didn’t mean you’d actually be done by 5 p.m. They’d stay until the work was done. Because of that luck, and us working 80-plus hours a week, we’ve been running this farm on a skeleton crew for most of my life. The real reason behind that is the fact that hiring new people on a farm is annoying. Training them is time consuming, and they inevitably break things. It’s not their fault — they’re new — but it’s still costly. We also often steered clear of teenagers because firstly, they have school. And secondly, well, they’re teenagers. That supposedly makes them less reliable and more foolhardy.
After our most recent full-time guy left in April, we had to re-evaluate our plan or quit sleeping. Fast forward a few months and a dozen new hires later, and we have a team we feel comfortable with. With that has come more scheduling, managing, and organizing than we’ve ever had to do. But for the first time in years, it feels like we’re getting things done and we’re not completely exhausted.
It was a wake-up call. We had to let go of our preconceived notions and try something completely new for us to get to somewhere better.
I think, as farmers, we also need to do that with our protocols. I don’t know about your cows, but I feel like the biology changes every few years. We can have the perfect protocol for our calves or mastitis that has worked religiously for years, then all of a sudden, it doesn’t. We spend weeks, maybe months, re-evaluating and researching new ones. As annoying as it is, it keeps us on our toes.
Even if things aren’t going wrong, every few months, I think of a weak area in our operation and do a little research on how to make it better. Half of the time I either come up with nothing or a fix that’s too expensive to try, but at least I tried!
I’m not saying there isn’t value in being comfortable. I’m just pointing out that in a world where the next iPhone is always around the corner, complacency is the enemy of progress.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.