Beyond the Barn: Motivate Your Calf Team – Peter Coyne, Vita Plus

Posted on October 25, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Peter Coyne, Vita Plus dairy field consultant and sales manager
If you are considering implementing an incentive program for your calf team employees as a motivation tool, I would ask you to think again.

The challenge with calf teams
Managing an effective incentive or bonus program for calves is complicated and should be carefully considered before implementation. For milking parlor employees, setting up an incentive program to improve somatic cell count (SCC) is fairly straight-forward.  The bulk tank SCC is measured and recorded automatically each load and the information is easily accessible.

In contrast, implementing a system for multiple employees involved in different early life systems and proper diagnosis of multiple calf diseases leaves much more to interpretation.  It also requires data entry that is consistent and current, and strictly follows protocols.

On most farms, the person in charge of the actual birthing process and those first few critical hours of life is not the same person who will care for that calf through weaning. The processes of birthing in a clean environment, dipping the navel properly, feeding colostrum, proper identification, processing, and movement to a hutch or calf pen are much different than the processes of feeding milk and grain, managing bedding, monitoring ventilation, vaccinating, and overall calf growth through weaning. We must also factor in the issues of relief feeders and maternity employees as well as things like feed ordering, bedding quality, and weather changes, which can all affect calves under two months of age.

What can we do to motivate employees?
Rather than setting up an incentive program, which will be hard to implement fairly, stressful to manage, and potentially lead to finger-pointing and dissention amongst teammates, consider your hiring practices and training programs.

Highly successful calf feeders are passionate, inquisitive, caring and nurturing personalities. They need to pay attention to the details in the areas of cleaning and recordkeeping. A well-designed training program based on up-to-date protocols and assumes your new hire has no experience will yield the most stress-free calf program.

If your current crew is not performing at the level you feel it should, work closely with your vet, calf nutritionist and calf team to establish or update protocols. Managers should communicate openly and assume employees are doing the best they can and are working to their knowledge level; this is the best way to improve outcomes. Deciding to reassign an employee to a different position is much easier if you are sure he or she was educated on expectations yet did not meet those expectations.

Hiring for a calf position offers opportunities to bring in very different people with different talents because the tasks are much different.   I am a big proponent of starting people out on a training pay plan, which allows new employees to know exactly what they need to do and the tasks they must master in order to increase their wages. As your people gain experience, they move up in pay. Good people should be paid very well.

Equally important, people want to know they are making a positive contribution to the team. They want to know they are making a difference and they are valued. They also need continued reinforcement to feel they are noticed and their boss has confidence in them. Employees must know what is expected of them and who will provide the direction they need.  Take time each day to meet individually with the people on your calf team, and do it where they work instead of bringing them to your office.  Openly communicating with them in this way will be much more personal and gratifying than chasing down information at the end of the month and adding something to someone’s check.

Another approach is to provide a pizza party or dinner at a local restaurant when your calf team achieves an important goal or milestone.  You could also ask them what tools they would like to improve how they do their jobs and invest in those tools as they accomplish team goals.  Although these strategies require more thoughtful action from managers, they can lead to better development of a highly skilled team of long-term employees.

Category: Employee management
Starting Strong - Calf Care