Every year, DairyNZ’s Animal Care Team carries out a survey of husbandry practices on 500 farms. You might be surprised to learn that our data shows the number of cows per full time equivalent staff member (FTE) does not lower the level of animal care provided on-farm. So, if numbers of people on the ground doesn’t affect animal care, then what does?
Through the survey, we identified farmers achieving the highest standards of care. We interviewed these farmers and found they share a common belief that on-farm culture is the key to world-leading animal care. Below, we dive into how these farmers create a successful farm culture.
Talking the talk
Each farmer has their own vision of animal care, not one adopted from a milk company or auditor. They are clear that, although money is important in decision-making, the key driver is the best outcome for the cow.
These farmers ensure their expectations around cow care are known during staff recruitment.
They also place a high value on communicating well with staff. When putting new animal care procedures in place, they clearly explain the 'why' and make sure their team knows the system can be reviewed and adjusted. They encourage their team to suggest improvements.
Another common habit among these farmers is having regular animal care-centered conversations with staff. For example, when speaking to their team, these farmers refer to ‘your cows’, which creates a sense of responsibility and connection between the staff and animals.
Walking the walk
In New Zealand, many farm managers and owners don’t bring in or milk the cows. However, the top farmers we spoke to say that working directly with cows is a high-value task. These farmers are a strong influence on-farm, modelling how things are done. They walk the walk. Several also mentioned that tasks are not hierarchy-based; everyone in the team – including the newest members – learns how to do every job.
When people are stressed, it can affect their ability to deliver good care. But the farmers we interviewed care for their people by controlling their work hours and implementing rosters that provide time off to ensure rest and recovery. This keeps the team refreshed, sharp and compassionate for the animals they work with.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy March 2019