How do your farm's employees measure up

A survey of dairy nutritionists in Michigan gives insight into the importance of the feeder.

“Your employees make your business.” Kerry Nobis of Saint Johns, Mich. knows how important the role the farm’s employees play in reaching the goals set for the farm. Often times, managing the labor force on the farm is not given high priority, but is often the most challenging and highest impact area. The feeder on the dairy has a very important job that can have immediate results on cow health and milk production. If the feeder on your farm is not evaluated on a routine basis, the feeder may not know if they are doing a good job or what they could do to improve. Time spent training, evaluating and communicating with employees can make the management of the dairy flow smoothly.

The skills and requirements necessary for success can vary widely by farm needs, as indicated by a small survey of practicing dairy nutritionist in Michigan. The purpose of the survey was to find out the nutritionists’ point of view on the impact of the feeder on the dairy farm. The questions were asked in an open format to try to capture the full range of responses.

When asked what skills a feeder should have, many nutritionists responded that the feeder should be able to test for forage dry matters and measure and record feed intake. Nutritionists also thought that feeders should be able to handle and maintain equipment, have good English language skills and have good communication skills. They also thought feeders should be reliable, honest, timely and motivated.

Training feeders on feed bunk management and basic dairy nutrition is important. The survey indicated that the mistakes with the greatest impact on the feeding program are lack of consistency in making up and mixing a TMR batch and not testing forages for moisture when needed.

Nutritionists thought that computerized feed tracking systems could be very useful if used by the feeder, management and nutritionists on a regular basis. The benefits sited included knowing the daily feed intake for each group, being able to monitor variation by pen, better inventory management and being able to easily change ingredient amounts based on dry matter or varying cow numbers.

You can learn more about managing employees, including feeders, at the MSU conference Making Labor the Most Productive Enterprise on the Farm the week of Feb. 20, 2012, at three locations across Michigan (Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and Frankenmuth). Online registration is available. Dairy Nutrition Basics for farmers and employees will be taught in Ithaca, Mich. and Coopersville, Mich. during March 2012. For more information on either of these programs, you can contact Faith Cullens at 517-388-1078 or .

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