by FELIX SORIANO
Consistency is a key driver of profitability in any dairy operation. From feeding, to milking routine, to calf care procedures, we always preach about the importance of day–to-day consistency in every process. “That’s what the cows like and need!” we tell our employees. But what do you do as a manager or supervisor to reduce variability at the dairy? Do you have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for every process at the dairy? If you do, when was the last time you reviewed those SOPs to try to improve efficiency or find ways to reduce cost in a process?
SOPs are critical to reduce variability between working shifts and within employees from a same shift. These SOPs will be also helpful during the training process of a new employee or when refreshing protocols with old employees.
A good SOP specifies, in writing, what should be done, how, when, where, and by whom. Here are a few tips that will help you write your own SOPs or evaluate the protocols that you already have in place:
• Be very concise, clear, and use simple words when writing an SOP. Wordy and long sentences will be confusing to the operator/employee.
• Use steps and sub-steps to simplify the procedure. Also, using pictures and a brief, but detailed description of each step of the procedure can be very useful (especially for employees who may have difficulty reading).
• Consider using a flow-chart format to simplify the process when writing procedures of tasks that require a lot of decision making. A good example of this would be a calf diarrhea treatment or a mastitis treatment protocol.
• Spend time observing employees perform the task before writing an SOP. Describe each step, how long it takes and what tools they need to perform the job effectively.
• Get input from the people responsible for doing the job before finalizing a process. They may have good ideas on how to improve a process and make it more efficient. Giving them the opportunity to share their ideas will make them feel more engaged in the job and they will be more supportive when adopting a new protocol.
• When necessary, use an outside consultant to help develop or review your SOPs. They may bring new ideas to make processes more efficient and cost effective.
• Test new SOPS before implementing the change. A good example would be modifying part of the milking routine. Try the routine with your best shift for a month and monitor parlor performance. Then, show the improved parameters to the rest of the employees and officially implement the new SOP with all shifts.
• Spend time training employees when developing a new routine/SOP. This is a critical part of the success of any new procedure. Even the smallest change in an SOP requires some training.
• Modify SOPs depending on the time of the year. Weather conditions may affect the way jobs need to be done. An example of this could be stall maintenance, or manure handling.
• Post simple step-by-step SOPs where the information is needed for quick reference: put the milking routine SOP in the parlor; or washing and disinfecting instructions in the calf barn.
Remember, most profitable dairies focus on ways to improve process consistency by developing and periodically reviewing SOPs. Finally, SOPs will also ensure employee safety and good cow practices at all times.
To view examples of SOPs, visit www.apndairy.com/Services_Protocols.html.