Last month, Tracey Erickson shared about employee turnover and calculating turnover rates for your operation. She also highlighted five ways that total turnover costs you money.

High employee turnover can lead to inconsistent animal production or potentially lower quality products, both meat and milk. How is this possible? Is it because cattle get accustomed to routines and the people who perform tasks in their home environment? Familiarity does minimize stress, which promotes good health and production. The animals become comfortable eating and gaining weight or in the parlor letting milk down. Keep in mind that cattle are able to identify individual handlers and remember positive and negative handling experiences that impact milk production and subsequent behavior during handling (Munksgaard et al., 1997; Boivin et al., 1997). Training new employees can cause inconsistence in job protocol performance, until tasks are mastered, which impacts the quality of the product produced.  For example, not following proper protocols for milking procedures will impact somatic cell counts, or not following proper injection protocols can lead to injection site lesions.

Dairy Production

In times of high employee turnover, dairy managers may potentially see a drop in milk production or quality as cows adjust to new individuals. This is why employee training should be of importance priority to be able to maintain consistent procedures for the cattle. Handlers have been considered the top factor to establish adequate cattle flow on dairies, above facilities, animals, and the environment (Sorge et al. 2014). In the same study cows of producers who had participated in stockmanship training produced around 810 kg (1782 lbs) more milk per lactation than cows of those who had not completed the training. Even though stockmanship training had a positive impact, the major barriers to employee training were time limitations and language. Managers should be proactive to implement thorough employee training during times of employee turnover to minimize losses.

Beef Production

In beef farms on the other hand, dropped production and increased illness or injuries from additional stress on cattle from new individuals handling them differently can also surface during employee turnover.  Training programs on best animal welfare practices and supervision of pre-slaughter management procedures lowered the percentage of carcasses downgraded due to severe bruising; however, a need to maintain constant follow-up of employee performance was apparent as suggested by a subsequent increase in downgraded carcasses six months following training (Paranhos da Costa et al. 2012). Similar decreases in carcass bruising were observed when best management practices were adopted during sorting and load out procedures such as improvements in handling, eliminating shouting and aggressive handling (hits and electric prodding).

Though employee turnover is sometimes inevitable, here are some suggestions for managers to strive toward consistent high quality products:

  • Establish an employee training program promoting animal well-being and low-stress handling methods. This could include quality assurance trainings (BQA or DACQA), stockmanship and handling demonstrations, or task-specific training (milking, feeding, or vaccination protocols).
  • Invest in employee performance reviews providing positive feedback on tasks done well and providing re-training on tasks that do not meet managerial expectations. These do not need to be formal, just take advantage of daily moments to give praise, reinforce or correct performance demonstrating desired techniques.
  • Utilize written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and make them readily accessible to employees so tasks are performed the same and can be easily referenced. Remember to provide SOPs in employees’ first language for clear understanding of directions.
  • Hold regular employee meetings with open communication about the goals for the farm and animal productivity. Connect each employee’s role into how they will help achieve these goals.
  • Celebrate achievement of goals with employees when they are met.

Establishing ways to maintain consistency on your operation during employee turnover will help promote high quality milk and meat products for our food supply.

For cattle managers working with Spanish-speaking employees, or those considering hiring Spanish-speaking employees, further discussion on cultural considerations can be found in Hiring and Managing Spanish-Speaking Employees. Another useful resource is the Human Resource Training modules. Module 1 focuses on Employing and Managing Hispanic Labor.