Managing cows to managing people -- the competitive edge

Dairies must plan, organize and train their employees so tasks are done consistently, and profitable milk of the highest quality can be produced Dairies are undergoing a multi-culturation process where Hispanics are becoming the majority of employees working at dairies. Dairies are shifting paradigms from managing cows to managing people. The dairy industry continues to change and evolve. Dairies are under increasing pressure to perform and be profitable. One area of rapid change is the people that manage and work on dairies


Regardless of your role in the industry, you realize the complexity of producing milk, and are aware of the dramatic changes in the way dairy businesses are managed. Dairies are facing the need to manage changes in information, systems, processes, technologies, quality control, environment, public relations, and the consumer, to name a few. These changes originate many times from consumers demanding higher quality and safety in their dairy products, which in turn demand that dairies run efficiently to cover costs of production and generate profits.

Most of the milk producers in the U.S. try every day to manage their dairies the best way possible, it is their livelihood after all. An additional change they need to manage is the people side of their businesses. As dairies grow in size and employ more and more people to perform duties at the farm, it is clear that today’s dairy producers can not do it all themselves. hey must rely on and accomplish their goals by delegating tasks to their employees. Good people, managed well, are the cornerstone of the dairy business.


The dairy producer’s main priority is to profitably produce more high quality milk every day. Producing more is a first natural impulse, and the impulse to produce better quality milk is created by quality bonuses for lower SCC. Both can bring results that make the dairy successful. How would you accomplish this?

To accomplish these priorities, a dairy producer would typically consider the main areas of focus to be: cows, facilities (parlor, pens, etc.), nutrition, health control, reproduction, waste management, and all the other areas, big or small, that a dairy operation requires. Notice employees have not been mentioned above as an area of focus, or are mentioned at times but left at the bottom of the list. In fact, if people were not part of the equation, nothing would get done and no goals would be accomplished.

If you want to increase your milk production and improve milk quality you need to be efficient, and all your people need to be efficient. The efficiency of your people is related to their attitude, their knowledge (training), their understanding of what is expected of them, their organization around how tasks get done, and their motivation. Consequently, a major focus of the dairy owner/manager today is to create a work environment where these things can be achieved.

Let’s now elaborate on the 3 main aspects of people management that we believe the industry is facing today.

The shift in paradigms from managing cows to managing people. The way dairy producers have managed their dairies in the past has been by working with the cows themselves, performing all tasks needed to produce milk and make a living. The way dairies need to conduct their business today is to manage like a real enterprise, like other businesses. It is a fact that as dairies grow in size and more employees are brought on board, dairy owners are making the shift from managing the cattle themselves, to leading, managing and directing people to perform the work.

The multi-culturation of the dairy industry. The multi-cultural nature of people management in the dairy business today stems from the dynamics of labor supply and demand. Case in point, the U.S. dairy industry, where Hispanics have grown to be the majority of the workforce, regardless of the area of the U.S. we are talking about. Similarly across the world, whether we are talking about Brazil, Mexico, Germany, New Zealand, there are dairy areas that have locals working on dairies, as well as people from other regions and cultures of the country and even from other countries.

But, what is multi-culturalism, and why it is important? Multi-culturalism is the process of recognizing, understanding, and appreciating our own culture as well as cultures other than our own; it is an appreciation and valuing of the differences in people. It is important because all of us bring a different culture to the table. We bring differences of opinion and view the world differently, regardless of where we come from. Your business today requires that you value and leverage those differences to make the best of your businesses.

This adds another dimension to the complexity of managing dairies in this new era. You may have employees that speak a different language and have a totally different culture.

A first step you need to take is to know and accept this reality. Then you are on your way to getting your priorities with people right. Start by putting the human element in the first place of your improvements and focus.

Dairies must plan, organize and train their employees so tasks are done consistently, and profitable milk of the highest quality can be produced. There is a monumental need for structuring, organizing, planning, developing, and training the dairy workforce to perform tasks that combine in a system to accomplish common goals and result in a profitable business. Some dairies are in the infancy of this process, while a few are ahead and really making this happen in the real world.

The milk production business needs to be managed like a team, where everybody, starting with the owner/manager, can simplify and organize things from the most technical aspect to the administrative functions, and on to every single worker. All team members need to be involved so that everybody can perform, know and develop in their jobs.


  • Start by building a human resources plan for your dairy. Try not to conquer this whole thing all at once, look for support and consultation and take it step by step.
  • Meet with your employees regularly, to address questions, train them, communicate with them, and them with you.
  • Take time to understand the culture of your people, and accept everyone for who they are and leverage what they bring to you.


Managing people and accomplishing the goals of the dairy through people is one of the most important aspects of dairying successfully today.

Dairy producers are running their businesses on tighter margins. Managing people efficiently allows for labor costs that are spent more wisely throughout the organization. People management is emerging as the key ingredient that gives owners and managers a competitive edge in the changing dairy industry.

The intent of this article and the following ones on people management is to bring you:

  1. Practical and applicable concepts and tools to implement in your enterprises.
  2. Increase your effectiveness and efficiency as leaders and managers.
  3. Improve retention and satisfaction of your workforce.

We would like to leave you with some questions for you to ponder over:

  1. Do you know if your employees know what is expected of them in their jobs?
  2. Are your people correctly training for the work that you want them do?
  3. What is your style of people management and how are you doing as people manager?
  4. Where are your strengths and your development areas?


Leadership Coaching International

Leadership Coaching International