June 12 2024 09:08 AM

    We take a lot of steps to help our employees feel like they belong at our farm, so they want to come to work every day.

    Finding and keeping good employees can be hard on a farm. We can’t always offer the same level of pay and benefits other union or larger company jobs can. Still, there are small ways to help keep people around.

    The job is hard, the hours can be long, and the pay often isn’t enough. I know that working on a dairy farm isn’t exactly glamorous. And I know, from personal experience, that there are definitely fun jobs and “unfun” jobs on the farm. Unfortunately, they all have to be done. For example, everyone wants to help make or haul hay, but literally no one wants to clean calf stalls. Yet, both are equally necessary and important jobs. Learning to be a leader/boss by trial and error hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a few things along the way that can help.

    For example, I rarely ask someone to do a job I haven’t done before. On the days we know may be tough, we try to do something fun, like maybe we order pizza for lunch or buy everyone ice cream. Especially when it’s warm, we try to keep the fridge stocked with Gatorade and water. We’ve always provided lunch for everyone who works all day (a good, home-cooked, and warm lunch). That’s also the time of day we all come together and discuss what happened that morning and what needs to be done that afternoon. It’s like a daily farm meeting.

    Honestly, we treat our team like family. They sit at the table with our family, and we celebrate birthdays with an ice cream cake of their choice (complete with singing and candles). We share inside jokes, throw little parties for things like the solar eclipse, and take an interest in their lives. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve figured out that there’s more to it. You can make your employees feel like they’re more a part of the farm simply by discussing the farm with them. Let them know what you hope to accomplish for the week or ask their opinions on a cow you’re worried about or piece of equipment you can’t figure out. Apologize when you jump to conclusions or make a mistake — that’s a big one. Sometimes, I think we just assume others know when we vent our frustrations on them even though we’re ultimately frustrated by something else. But they don’t. Swallow your pride and acknowledge it.

    If you really want to go the extra mile, you could always steal their car and fill it with balloons and streamers when they graduate high school. No? Is that just an “us thing”? I will say that day had everyone smiling.

    Everyone just wants to feel like they belong. And if your employees feel like they belong, they’ll work harder to do things right and maybe work for a little less pay at a job they love with people they like.

    Jessica Peters

    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.