Build Your Calf Team Culture on Accountability – Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus

Posted on October 31, 2014 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf products coordinator
Successful operations have very specific metrics they use to define success.

They may be driven by the bank, partners in the operation or the owners themselves. In many cases, these metrics are clearly defined and recorded. But, on a day-to-day basis, how do you focus on those metrics with all employees?

The magic question:  How can we be better managers to create a more productive, positive environment for employees?

Employees will respond to and follow farm protocols if they are clearly defined and easily accessible.  That’s not to say you won’t experience “protocol drift” from time to time or have an occasional employee who simply wants to “buck the system.”  If regular training refreshers don’t work, it might be time to ask whether that individual is a valuable member of the team.

Protocols are designed to help develop a culture of accuracy and accountability. Well-written protocols or standard operating procedures (SOPs) provide direction, improve communication, reduce training time, and improve work consistency.

To start the process, first define what procedures on your farm happen on a daily basis and must be consistent.

Let’s take mixing milk replacer as an example. Calves will perform better when a consistent product is served at every meal. When a single person feeds the calves, mixing and feeding are generally pretty consistent.  However, when multiple people are involved, it gets much more difficult.  Writing a milk mixing protocol can help your team achieve more consistency from feeder to feeder.

That said, here are steps to use in writing protocols for your calf program:

  1. Define the process. Clearly list all of the steps involved.
  2. Discuss the steps with others involved.  Asking for feedback on your protocols will help give teammates ownership in the process. Plus, those individuals often have hands-on experience in what works best and most efficiently. In some cases, parts of the protocol may be non-negotiable, but the steps to get there may be altered.For example, a vaccination schedule is determined by the owner and attending veterinarian, but the specific time of day for vaccinations is good to discuss with those actually administering the treatments.
  3. Keep it simple. Protocols should be posted and easily available for everyone to follow.
  4. Use illustrations when possible. In some cases, a picture is much more effective than just a written description.
  5. Test the steps, make sure they work and edit accordingly.  Do the job step-by-step to make sure it is easy to follow.
  6. Have someone else who does not do the job regularly test the protocol.  Will it be easy for a new employee to read, understand and implement the protocols?
  7. Provide adequate training for your employees.  Posting a protocol does not take the place of good training. Walk through the steps to ensure everyone understands them.
  8. Post the protocol in an easy-to-find location.  Make sure it is in a language all employees understand. Laminate it for protection from all the environmental challenges.
  9. Check for accountability. This may be the hardest step in any good protocol. We start to see “protocol drift” when people get comfortable and forget the details. This may be due to the influence of outside factors, rushing through tasks or, in some cases, laziness.  Keep your team accountable for the protocols.
  10. Review protocols annually.  Things change fast on farms and the written steps are usually left in the dust.

The following is an example of a milk mixing protocol.  This same style can be applied to multiple tasks in your calf program.  As you will see, the steps are concise and easy to follow.

Calf milk mixing and feeding

  • Determine how many calves need milk replacer.
  • Look at the mixing chart to determine how much water and milk replacer powder is needed.
  • Add water to the mixer at 105 degrees F.
  • Add powder to the mixer.
  • Turn on the mixer for one minute.
  • When mixing is complete, transfer the milk into bottles.
  • Rinse out the mixer.
  • Take the bottles to all calves with bottle holders.
  • Check to make sure all calves are drinking, starting with the youngest calves.
  • Collect the bottles.
  • Start cleaning procedure.

Employees want to do a good job and be successful.  As a manager, it is your responsibility to give them the tools and training to do a good job. Remember, the more clarity, training and patience you can provide, the better equipped your team will be to raise healthy, high-performing calves.

Category: Starting Strong - Calf Care