Dairy Debrief: R.E.S.E.T-ing the dairy industry to attract and retain employees

Dairy producers cannot control the effect of low milk prices on the dairy economy, but they can control how farm resources are utilized to make their dairies more efficient. Properly managing these resources can help reduce the struggle brought on by the current markets.

For all producers, one of the most important resources is farm labor. While it may not be easy to find people willing to work long hours — especially long hours of performing the physically demanding task of milking cows — we should make every effort to attract and retain people to work on our dairies. Although this is not an easy task, with the right conditions and the right tools, employees will see the dairy industry as a unique place that supports and cares about them.

First, dairy producers and industry supporters must change their mindset about human resources and start dedicating time and effort to this area, regardless of the size of their dairies. This does not require a big investment, but it does require time and securing the right information about how to reduce the challenges around labor and the workforce. Attracting and retaining employees is not a new problem, but the current circumstances are different than before, mainly driven by immigration challenges and competition for labor with other industries.

The ability to attract and retain employees is not complex, but to be successful, one must take into consideration and embrace the basics of working with people. The following formula is a concept that empowers a good work environment and creates good company culture:

  • = Recruit using a structured system
  • = Train to educate and motivate
  • R2 = Reinforce and review, investing in the future
  • = (Offer) benefits that are inclusive and beneficial for both parties

To create a positive culture on a dairy, the organizational basics must be in place, and there should also be a reset in the way employees are managed. R.E.S.E.T1 the business to create the right organizational structure for reducing turnover and minimizing employee management frustrations.


The EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK is the first and most important part of any hiring process. Don’t think of this as just another piece of paper for new employees to read and sign; instead, think of the handbook as an opportunity to share some of the most important information with a new employee, including the history of the farm and the farm culture and expectations. The handbook is also a way to show new employees how the dairy cares for the individuals who are part of making an operation successful. This is an opportunity for new employees and dairies to get to know one another — and also to realize that both the dairy owner and their employees share something in common: the desire to work to support a family.


Now that the individual has been hired and knows his or her expectations, take this opportunity to train him or her correctly, and make sure that he or she understands the protocols and procedures in place. The best way to train new employees is by explaining the “why’s” and “how’s” behind any procedure, because they value this information. Take the time to invest in training and utilize the proper communication channels, such as training videos, educational posters, internal meetings, hands-on demonstrations or external training resources from individuals with experience in teaching and motivation.


Individuals like being part of a society that provides a culture of inclusion, and they also enjoy feeling and knowing that they are integral to that society. A culture can be defined in so many ways, and every business should define their own. Creating and maintaining a culture of respect, communication, safety and security, among other traits, should be important to each dairy in order to attract and retain employees. By not providing a clean environment for employees to eat in, for instance, or bathrooms that represent a culture of caring, the dairy may send a discouraging message to individuals looking for a place where they intend to remain employed long-term. In the same way that dairies invest in animal comfort and environment, it is also important to provide a safe, clean, inclusive and respectful environment for employees.


Economic incentives are important, but they should be tailored based on clear goals and the reality of the economy of each dairy operation. Incentives, such as bonuses based on SCC, must be clear and clearly understood by employees, and every incentive should be given with meaningful intentions.

Don’t just give a bonus; rather, explain the reason behind the bonus and make sure employees understand those goals. Celebrate success with them. Incentives need to be visible, accessible and achievable.


Always provide the right tools to achieve the assigned jobs. A common example of this guideline not being met is when employees are asked to perform a consistent milking routine in the parlor, although some of the milking units are not properly working — and perhaps haven’t been for some time.

How can stalls be properly cleaned and groomed if barn technicians don’t have the right tools to perform this job? Always provide the necessary tools, not only for the purpose of getting the job done but also to earn respect from employees.

Finally, view your dairy as any other strategic business, for which human resources are highly important. Sell the dairy’s image to attract new employees and maintain a reliable workforce. Remember to INNOVATE, INCLUDE, INVEST and IMPLEMENT programs with employees in mind.