Agricultural Labor Management
"You can hire people to take care of the cows but how are you
going to run a large dairy when nobody will work for you?"
Bob Parsons, Assistant Professor Farm Business Management University of Vermont
As an agricultural producer, you will always be wearing more then one hat. Your job as the farm's human resource specialist is no exception.
Agricultural labor management is more than scheduling employees to milk, plant crops, or repair machinery. It also requires you to be a leader. And, you can't be a complacent leader. Your enthusiasm and ability to motivate employees is what will help you to reach your farm's goals.
So, management can be viewed as creating order and predictability (e.g., assigning, scheduling, reporting). Leadership is the more chaotic side, dealing with change (e.g., sharing, drawing out information, motivating).
Labor management decisions are too important to be left to chance. Farm employees deserve your time, attention, and care whether they are full or part-time, temporary or permanent, or family members.
This website is designed to provide a compilation of information about labor management for agricultural producers.
Inclusion of information from does not constitute an endorsement. Exclusion of information from individuals, educational institutions, or companies is not a negative implication.
Every effort has been made to offer accurate advice. The information included should not be construed as legal advice. When concerned, seek legal assistance.
Human Resource Issues: A Real World Example
University of Vermont
Human resource management is becoming a bigger issue as we see farms grow from single family unit to multiple family and employee dependent operations.
It's important that all employees and family members know the farm priorities and the reasons for decisions. Employees and family members must feel that they have a stake and responsibility in farm operation and success.
One farm I knew had constant problems with mastitis. They called their extension agent to help evaluate the situation. The farm had procedures for heat detection, milking, treatment, separating treated cows, and so forth, depending on who was doing the milking.
A tour of the barn showed a lot of manure in the free stalls and on the curbs.
Some questioning revealed that no one liked to scrape the barn. This was usually done quickly before evening milking by the person who was unable to find something else to do. Cleaning off the curbs and cleaning the stalls was usually put off to the next day; which was then again put off until the next day.
This farm did not have a mastitis problem - they had a labor management problem. No one in the family was in charge and responsible for regular farm operations. Jobs were done as needed, and the less popular tasks put off.
After an open and frank discussion, the farm family reluctantly decided they needed to assign responsibilities and procedures for each job. To make sure one person didn't get all the unpopular tasks, the jobs less desirable jobs, like scraping the barn, were rotated. Responsibility and guidelines went with each job, so each person knew when, for example, they were responsible for cleaning the barn, the time and frequency it was to be done.
A follow-up visit in six weeks showed an amazing reversal. Stalls were clean and well bedded. Mastitis infections were down by two-thirds.
Overall, the farm operation was much smoother. They reported that while there was some grumbling at first, the entire family was working more smoothly because all knew who was doing what, what needed to be done, and the distribution was equalized across the family.
An adapted excerpt from "Risk Management On The Farm: Human Resource Issues" Bob Parsons, Assistant Professor of Farm Business Management, University of Vermont, in the October 17, 2002 issue of AGRIVIEW, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
Chalking the Field - Everyone Must Know the Rules of the GameRobert A. Milligan© aLearningEdge.com
Consider how you would feel and act in each of the following situations:
- You are watching a much anticipated game (basketball, football,
baseball, hockey, soccer, . . .) on television. As the game progresses
the play deteriorates; players and coaches divert their energies to
quarreling with the officials and each other. The reason is
- You have been asked to purchase a few items for a spouse or friend.
Once you get to the store you realize that you are not clear about
sizes and brands of the items. You do not have your cell phone or
your spouse or friend is not available.
- Your supervisor has given you a project with a tight deadline. As you get into the project, you realize you are unclear about what is expected. Your supervisor has gone to a three-day conference.
I expect that as you visualize yourself in each of these situations, you feel uncomfortable, anxious, frustrated and perhaps angry.
Each situation exhibits a failure in "chalking the field."
To begin our discussion of this topic, we return to sports.
Think about the players - professional, amateur, your children - about to begin to play your favorite -- basketball, football, baseball, hockey, soccer, . . . The players are familiar, hopefully very familiar, with the field of play - field, court, rink.
They have also been taught and are familiar with the rules of the game. The players have the skills and have learned the "playbook" from their coaches. There are even officials to interpret and enforce the rules. There is also a procedure to keep score and thus determine who is winning. All of this can be referred to as "chalking the field."
How does this chalking the field impact the athletes? It allows them to utilize their skills, energy, creativity and leadership to compete and excel!!! Think about Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or Mia Hamm or Brett Farve. The clarity of the "chalking of the field" enables them to succeed. In fact, recall our first situation. The televised game deteriorated because the "chalking of the field" was not working.
Now, think about the workplace. What do employees need to be able to utilize their skills, energy, creativity and leadership to personally succeed and contribute to the success of the business? The answer is the same as for the athletes. "CHALK THE FIELD!!!"
In sports we have the rulebook and the officials. Who "chalks the field" in the workplace? The answer is the leaders of the business and specifically the employee's supervisor!!! Businesses and supervisors who effectively "chalk the field" enable their employees to focus their skills, energy, creativity and leadership on contributing to business success. This clarity of "chalking the field" results in employees with high job satisfaction and superior employee productivity.
What happens when the field is not chalked for employees?
Recall your reaction to the introductory situations -- uncomfortable, anxious, frustrated, angry. Without a chalked field the employee's energy is drained by uncertainty, anxiety and frustrated. His or her skills, creativity and leadership are stifled.
What, specifically, does business leadership and the supervisor do to successfully chalk the field? The field of play, rulebook and scoring system for an employee include:
- The business vision, mission, core values and goals. These tell the
employee what is important, enable him or her to make decision that
will be in the best interest of the business and know when he or she is
- Policies, rules and consequences for failure to perform. The policies
and rules are analogous to the rule book in sports. As in sports,
clarity is necessary. The consequences are analogous to the penalties,
free throws, etc. administered by the officials. As in sports fairness
and consistency are critical.
- Processes, procedures and standard operating procedures. In sports
the coaching staff develops, often with input from the players, the
"plays" that the team will execute. These "plays," offensive schemes,
defensive alignment, special teams, etc., enable the players to excel.
Similarly the processes, procedures and SOPs developed by
management and supervisors, again with input from the employees,
enable the employees to excel.
- Performance expectations. With the policies, rules, processes, and
procedures in place, the employee can now utilize her or his skills,
energies, creativity and leadership to produce, perform and succeed.
One element, however, is still missing. A measure of winning!!!! In
sports the points show on the scoreboard. In business the scoreboard
must be created, hopefully, jointly by the supervisor and the
employee. The scoreboard is the performance expectations. These
performance expectations must be measurable and challenging but
attainable. There should be a timeframe for their attainment and the
resources available to the employee should be clearly specified.
- Rewards. With clear performance expectations, employees will
receive major rewards from their personal success just as athletes do
when there is a great play or a score. The supervisor must also
provide rewards. Certainly monetary rewards through bonuses and/or
incentives are always appreciated. More important, however, are the
informal rewards in the form of kudos or positive feedback. There
must also be redirection and negative feedback as necessary. The
feedback when performance is not satisfactory, although usually not
welcome, is an important component of the consequences noted
- Lead by example. The supervisor must ALWAYS lead by example. He or she must play be the rules; live the vision, mission and core values; and accept consequences when his or her performance is not satisfactory.
Reproduced with permission
J.E. Umphrey, D. R. Bray, and D. W. Webb
University of Florida
Management is defined as the use of people and other resources to accomplish objectives. Management by necessity involves the creation of an environment in which people can use other resources to reach stated goals of the organization.
Management involves the implementation of the functions of management-
Management is a pervasive aspect of the operation of all organizations.
Labor management can be specifically defined as the planning, organizing, and directing of the operative functions of personnel.
The purpose of the labor management program on a dairy farm, or in any business, is to get the job(s) done right and on time.
When most dairy farms were one-person or small, family operations, and for those that still are, labor management problems are usually minimal because management and labor responsibilities are performed by the same person or within the same family.
As herd size increases, more time is needed for management per se, and less time is available to milk, feed, haul manure, and perform other routine tasks. Increasing amounts of the daily work are performed by hired personnel, and the importance of a labor management program increases.
The continued success of the operation depends not only on the dairy managers ability to manage land, capital, cows, etc., but also on the ability to get the job done well through others.
Many dairy managers who, through hard work and good cowmanship, have developed successful family-size dairy operations, failed when they expanded to larger operations. For many, a major reason for failure was inability to get the job done as well through others as they could do themselves.
Labor management increases in importance as herd size, level of production, and degree of mechanization increases. More cows will mean an increased number of hired personnel. This creates more opportunity for disagreement or friction between employees.
Higher production will increase the susceptibility of cows to a variety of problems and requires more precise feeding, milking, etc., to avoid a high incidence of problems. Increased mechanization increases the number of cows per person and tends to decrease individual cow observation and care.
To be a successful manager of any dairy operation that is large enough to require labor in addition to his or her own, a dairy owner must learn how to get the job done right and on time through others--to manage people as well as cows, land, capital, etc.
This involves proper planning of labor needs, hiring the needed personnel, training them to do the job(s) correctly and efficiently. In addition, a good manager will concentrate on motivating employees, providing them with relatively safe and healthy working conditions, and maintaining good employer-employee relations.
Many of the principles involved in these functions of personnel management apply to family as well as non-family labor, and many dairy farmers would do well to heed them in regard to their children who help on the dairy farm.
Excerpt from Labor Management, document DS80,
University of Florida.
Original publication date September, 1992. Reviewed July, 2002.
Visit the EDIS Web Site
Last modified October 05 2005 01:04 PM