January 25, 2009

Cattle farm husbandry – pre-calving staff training

Cattle, farming, husbandry, calving, making preparations, planning, staff training

By Dr Clive Dalton

Training? Who needs training?

There have always been far too many farms where new staff arrived and it was assumed that they knew what to do – because they said they did at the interview. It’s often not till after a costly disaster that you find out they really didn't!

There are many aspects to this:
  • Farm Safety. The farm should have a “Safety Policy” to comply with the Occupational Safety & Health Act. The work involved in this is never very popular, but to save the manager, the farm owner and the staff member from prosecution (and a lot of media publicity if there is a farm accident), get it sorted out and make sure your system complies with the law. It’s not much good putting systems in place after the event.
  • Veterinary training. Vet clinics run seminars for new staff before calving showing things like how to give injections, treat mastitis, bloat and treat lame cows. It’s good value for money to send staff to these as they get a certificate for their CV and it’s very motivating for them. It shows you care about them.
  • Detergent rep. Detergent reps are always very happy to come and talk to staff pre-calving about the cleaning routine for your plant. This is a very wise move.
  • Farm consultant. Make sure all the staff are present when the consultant gives his/her summary of the current farm status and you talk about targets and goals for the season. It helps them take ownership of these.
  • ID and tagging. Go over the routine again so everyone knows how to ensure the correct pedigree of every calf. Check that they all know what to do with the data. Check the writing of new staff as you never know if some have some dyslexia or literacy and numeracy problems they don’t want to admit to. They’ll say they haven’t but just give them an exercise or two – make it fun.
  • Stress. Talk about stress and what your policy is to deal with it. Check if they know the signs – and if they do will they talk to the manager about what to do.
  • First aid. Ask the District Nurse to call in at morning tea to cover some key points for staff. Check that all staff can do CPR. Buy everyone a St John’s First Aid book and a small pocket-sized first aid kit to go in their overall's pocket.
  • Drugs. Drug use is part of modern culture so you'll to have to find a way of talking about this to staff and dealing with it through a drug policy. Stoned staff will cost you big money with errors, accidents and milk quality mistakes!
  • Employment issues. You will need to cover these before calving when the risks of things going wrong would be at their highest. Make sure they ALL have signed contracts and that they all know what they mean. Get help with his if needed.

Plan some surprises
Here’s what some top farm owners, sharemilkers and herd managers (ex Waikato Polytech students) have done in the past to motivate staff during calving. These folk never had to advertise for staff as they always had a waiting list of young folk wanting to work for them.
  • In the middle of calving, when everyone was totally exhausted, at 9.30am the boss would announce that at 11.30am they were all going to the local hot pools for a soak and lunch. Never were chores done so fast, and guess what they talked about while soaking in the hot pools – issues they wanted to achieve on the farm!
  • When the owner saw a staff member really going down hill with stress, he presented them with an envelope with the pay packet with two air tickets for a weekend in Surfers’ Paradise.
  • At the end of the season for achieving a range of targets (eg MS produced or a Grade Free Certificate) provide staff with a whole range of things like the above air tickets, weekends in top hotels, etc etc. Fishing trips were also popular.
  • There were also things like paying expenses for children to go to sports events that the parents couldn’t afford.
  • Sleepins. A student once pointed out to me that the greatest deficiency in the dairy industry in spring is “sleep”! Arranging for a weekend sleep in for a staff member who is not looking too good is much appreciated and will save you money in accident avoidance.
  • The least you can do is to go to town and buy everyone on the farm a complete set of high quality wet weather gear with their name on it.
Buy everyone a complete set of the very best wet weather gear you can find!

Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

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