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Center for Dairy Excellence: No. 1 Priority


Without support of the people you depend on every day, accomplishing your other priorities presents even greater challenges.  


By Christopher Barton, DVM


This past year, I’ve had the good fortune to be a member of a transition team working with a well-managed, successful dairy farm. The team is working together to help this farm plan for sustainable, managed progress into the future. The aim is not to address immediate concerns, but rather, future goals. 


Establish priorities

At the outset, family owners representing two generations were asked to prioritize their top three areas of focus for successfully continuing the life they love – dairy farming. 


What did they identify as their first priority, and why? They chose their employees. For my part, I gave them a standing ovation! 

Why? Put simply, their well-reasoned thinking concluded that without the invested support of the people they depend upon every day, accomplishing their other priorities would present greater challenges. 


While the owner/employee relations on this farm are very good, the owners’ desire was to make that relationship even better, especially as they considered significant change in the coming years. They wished to maintain a stable, educated and valued employee team, gladly arriving to work each day, because they enjoy their responsibilities and feel valued as team members contributing to a common goal. 


Having worked closely with everyone concerned for many years, I accepted the responsibility for evaluating the good, the less desirable and the possible areas of change for the better. 


To assure objectivity, the owners and I developed a rubric designed to assess employee feeling, thoughts, and suggestions.


Dairy Employee Assessment Rubric

1) Motivation for working

2) Need for recognition

3) Team approach in working environment

4) Quality and frequency of training

5) Safety of working environment

6) Workplace scheduling

7) Most appealing aspects of employment

8) Opportunities for improvement


Individual meetings

Prior to my meeting with them individually, each person was provided a copy of the rubric and reassured as to the intent of our meeting. I then averaged about one hour with each of 10 employees to more fully understand their feelings and input. After meeting with everyone, I summarized the results for each area, and then added my observations and suggestions before sharing the results with the owners. 


Essential to all of this was strong reassurance and strict adherence to complete confidentiality. As the owners said at the outset, “Being told what you are doing correctly is great, but what we really need to hear are those things we are not doing that perhaps we should be doing, and those things we are doing poorly.”


Valuable experience for all

This experience has been invaluable for all of us. The employees appreciated being asked and being heard, and the owners gained insight into other perspectives. The owners received essential feedback and positive suggestions for change; some of which has already been implemented. And I learned from everyone involved. It reaffirmed this universal truth: “If we are open to it, each and every person we meet has something to teach us.” 



• Dr. Christopher Barton, DVM, is one of two Dairy Decisions Consultants for Employees (DDCe) with the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence. For more information, phone: 717-346-0849 or visit www.centerfordairyexcellence.org.