Often, Hispanic employees arrive on a farm and are expected to hit the ground running. Sometimes they are trained by another Hispanic employee, who was trained by those who came before him. Rarely do they go through a training program where they learn background information regarding the rationale behind what they’re doing.
I am a practicing veterinarian who was raised in a Spanish speaking household. Speaking Spanish has turned out to be one of the most important components in achieving successful execution of my treatment or prevention protocols. I have observed that compliance and adherence to protocols increases significantly when employees understand not just what is required of them but why it is so important.
Recently, I participated in a parlor analysis for a 1250-cow dairy that milks on a 42-stall rotary. The analysis was multi-factorial; both parlor function and milking routine must integrate to achieve ideal milking technique. We observed slow milk letdown, a high proportion of teat ends with scores of 3-4 (on a 1-4 scale), and swollen teats. The farm uses primarily Hispanic employees to operate the parlor. Aside from making adjustments to the rotary, we observed that cows weren’t receiving two minutes for preparation because milkers kept pausing the parlor for various reasons. This resulted in poor milk letdown and premature unit detachment. Employees were reattaching units later on the rotary, causing teat edema. Often, cows would stay on the rotary for two rotations as a result. Following making the recommended vacuum pressure and velocity changes to the parlor, I convened with the milking team. The rotary has 3 posts – a prep station, an attach station, and a post-dip station. The change in velocity necessitated relocating one of the posts to achieve the ideal 2 minutes for milk letdown. Despite moving the mats that designated a station for the employees, they kept drifting back to their old spots and we weren’t seeing the improvements for which we had hoped.
After introducing myself to the milkers, I explained that we had adjusted the location of their posts to achieve a two minute travel between the prep and attach posts. More importantly, I explained why two minutes was ideal - the physiological letdown mechanism requires two minutes in the cow to stimulate optimal milk letdown and flow. I reassured the milkers that maintaining their spots would not yield an immediate change but by 2 weeks, when I stopped in to see how things were going, the farm was milking about 30 minutes ahead because cows were letting down faster and cows weren’t repeating trips on the rotary.
Employees who merely go through the motions of their jobs may struggle to excel without a thorough understanding of their role on the farm. A more simple example is colostrum feeding – employees often know that colostrum is very important but have not been taught that colostrum contains immunoglobulins and antibodies in higher concentrations than milk. Encouraging employees to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing often motivates employees to follow protocols more stringently. Much of this is a matter of perspective – managers want a job completed but wish employees would be more invested in their jobs; employees are expected to follow through on instructions rapidly and efficiently but lack understanding of the importance. Investing in employees and teaching them a little background information can greatly improve both quality of work and general attitude. In turn, this improves cow health and employee relations.
Dr. Susan Greenbaum completed the Advanced Dairy Management program in 2006. She graduated from the University of Vermont in 2008 and went on to complete a Masters in Public Health and veterinary medical degree at The Ohio State University. Currently, Dr. Susan is an associate veterinarian at Attica Veterinary Associates, a production medicine practice with an emphasis on dairy preventive medicine. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Susan works with clients to help educate their labor force and strengthen relationships between managers and employees