Labor efficiency on dairies: how to get more done by the people you rely on

There is an old joke about inefficiency that goes something like this: How many employees does it take to screw in a lightbulb? MSU Extension plans to help dairy farmers understand how to measure and improve labor efficiency on their farms.

Cows in barn

Efficiency, for some, is a hated word. It brings to mind more belt-tightening, or the sentiment expressed in a saying attributed to Konstantin Jireček. “We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” But that is not the efficiency we are talking about. Efficiency can mean so much more!

Efficiency at its best is eliminating or reducing waste and getting higher productivity out of the same or added resources. That is the focus of the Michigan State University Extension dairy program in 2020 “Gaining Efficiency is a Work in Progress”; getting more out of the resources used on dairy farms by becoming more efficient. In the process, farms will become more profitable.

The 2020 winter dairy program is being offered by MSU Extension in four locations, beginning Feb. 25 in McBain, followed by Feb. 26 in Fillmore, Feb. 27 in St. Johns, and March 4 in Bad Axe.

One of the sessions, during these programs, is on labor efficiency. Labor is an important investment on farms and yet, in a paper by A. Chandler and D. Amaral-Phillips of the University of Kentucky, the authors say that on many farms, it is the “most inefficiently used resource.” How true is that for your farm? How is labor efficiency measured?

Improving labor efficiency is not about driving employees harder or pushing them continually to do more, rather, at its core, it is about empowering and coaching employees to be better partners with owners and managers in the work of the business.

Michigan State University Extension Educators are currently conducting a survey of dairy farms to obtain data that can be used to calculate several different measures of labor efficiency. Dairy farmers, whether in Michigan or elsewhere are invited to participate in this survey by contacting Phil Durst. The resulting database will be segmented by farm size (number of cows) and ranked by efficiency measures to help farmers understand what is achievable and to learn how to improve efficiency.

Improvements in labor efficiency have the potential to impact all areas of the business, from milking to feeding to maternity care. Helping farmers understand the issue will enable them to track this area of the business and improve upon it. We welcome all dairy farmers to join us at one of the MSU Extension winter dairy program locations. For more information, and to register for the program visit the ANR Events System.

Becoming more efficient will only be achieved when it is a goal, a goal for which specific steps are taken. Join MSU Extension in learning about the steps to achieve your goals in dairy business efficiency.

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