GRAY SUMMIT, Mo. — Investing in employees is important for dairy operations, especially with increasing herd sizes as the industry consolidates.
“Now more than ever it is important to invest in your employees because you do not want to be in a situation where you are short staffed,” said Laura Tavera Montañez, dairy nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition.
“A lot of times labor on farms is primarily Hispanic,” said Montañez during Media Day at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center. “Immigrant workers account for more than half the labor on farms that produce 80% of the U.S. milk supply.”
The No. 1 challenge for dairy operations with Hispanic employees is the language barrier, Montañez said.
“The language barrier plays into a bunch of other issues like employee retention, training, milk quality and mortality with calves,” she said.
Montañez is based in Ohio and she works with dairy operations as a nutritionist in western Ohio and eastern Indiana.
“My role is a hybrid. I spend 50% of my time doing nutritional consulting and the other half of my time consulting with employee management and training,” she said. “For the training program, I cover the Great Lakes region of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.”
Purina launched the Hispanic Employee Training Services program in October 2021.
“I was not hired to do this training, but we realized this was a huge opportunity because farmers needed it,” said Montañez, who speaks Spanish as her first language.
The program focuses on protocol training.
“But more importantly it focuses on why we do the things the way we do them,” Montañez said. “Once you show the employees what they do in the parlor or with the calves matters, you take the why and give them a purpose.”
Ultimately, she said, it makes it more difficult for the employees to cut corners.
“We are helping the employees feel valued and heard,” she said. “We can’t solve issues we’re not aware of and we can’t give them tools they need if we’re not aware they are even missing them.”
Working with both employers and employees for the training program has been a lot of fun for Montañez.
“Seeing results is incredibly rewarding,” Montañez said.
“One of the first farms we started working with saw prep times in the parlor drop from 120 seconds down to the average of 60 to 90 seconds, which is where we want to be,” she said. “And the somatic cell count was averaging 320,000 and they brought it down to less than 200,000.”
At a farm that Montañez started working with two months ago, the somatic cell count decreased by 13,000 units during a time where it typically trends upward.
“It’s worth investing in your employees,” she said.
During her farm visits, Montañez encourages employees to talk about problems.
“We can’t fix problems we’re not aware of so they need to tell me what they need to be content,” she said. “Sometimes it’s minor things like the other day when the employees simply wanted a towel belt.”
After training is completed, Montañez provides follow-up with monthly reports on protocol compliance.
“I know exactly how every employee is performing,” she said. “For parlor performance, I know how well they’re doing each step on a monthly basis and it shows the average prep time across the farm.”
Anyone can make a presentation, Montañez said.
“But you need to make sure the employees understand the information and changes are being implemented,” she said. “The beauty of these reports is we know what steps they are taking too long to do, too short to do or are not doing at all.”
Montañez shares the information with the employees so they can help the dairy operation reach its goals.
“If they’re not aware of how they can move the farm forward, don’t expect anything to change on the farm” she said. “It’s unfair to ask them to improve something they are not aware of.”
The trainer focuses on helping employees understand where there are opportunities for improvement.
“That’s the fun part of my job,” she said.
In her role as a dairy nutritionist, Montañez works with dairy herds ranging from 200 to 6,000 cows.
“I work with calves up to diets for lactating cows,” she said. “I also make recommendations for calf management, colostrum management and we have resources for facilities and ventilation systems.”
Although formulating rations is important, Montañez said, she provides additional value to the dairy operation.
“Anyone can put a diet together, but I need see animals to make sure they look healthy,” Montañez said.
“We’re on the farm every week or every other week and I need to look at cows to track changes over time,” she said. “So, if it’s something nutritional we can adjust accordingly, but if it’s something outside of nutrition, we can help address those issues, as well.”