Jan. 17 2024 09:23 AM

In my experience, the cows will tell you if you’ve hired a good employee or not.

We’ve milked three times per day for more than 20 years, and as such my family’s dairy is incredibly reliant on good employees to execute these milkings. We are especially particular about who we hire to work in the barn because our milking position is a single person in the parlor alone.

While that isn’t always a perfect system, it has worked well for us. It does, however, require employees that like cows as coworkers, who don’t mind working alone, and who can problem solve when needed. Specifically, we are particular about who does the milking that begins at 8 p.m. Most often, everyone else is gone from the farm by that time, and we have to trust that individual to do things right and treat the cows well.

While this seems like it might be difficult to do, I’ve always joked that we should just put the cows in charge of HR (human resources). It doesn’t take long training someone around our cattle to know if they will be a good fit or not.

A good milker must be calm, but also authoritative enough to move the cattle in a timely and safe manner. They must be quick to respond if an animal needs help but also have the patience to give cows the space to figure out what they need to be comfortable.

I know we’ve hired a good night milker when we get calls when they need help, but we don’t get calls every time they milk.

A good night milker doesn’t have a lot of cows slip or struggle getting in the barn. They also recognize when cows have a preference on one side of the barn or another. A good night milker is patient because sometimes cows test our nerves.

While I’m not in the barn with that person most nights, I can still tell the next morning when the cows have had a rough night. I think it’s an intrinsic trait of good cow people to recognize when the cows are uncomfortable and understand or find the cause.

It’s so interesting that critters that can’t speak can so easily read personalities and the abilities of the people that work with them. In this new year, let’s do a better job of listening to them!

Maggie Gilles

The author is a dairy farmer in Kansas and a former associate editor at Hoard’s Dairyman. Raised on a 150-cow dairy near Valley Center, Kansas, Maggie graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in agricultural communications and animal sciences.