Imagine an employee wearing gloves in a clean dry pen skillfully administering high-quality colostrum to a calf born just minutes ago. The calf’s navel has already been dipped, the calf dried, and all information recorded in the logs. Dream? No, just good employee management. You know that if every calf in your herd received treatment like that, your herd would consist of healthy, high-producing cows. So how do you make sure each calf starts their life just like that? You manage your calf-care employees.
Start with clear protocols and write them down. If you have employees who don’t have a good understanding of English, translate the directions into their language. Use your vendors as a resource and ask them to provide translated equipment instructions and user guides.
Your first draft may be very simple, but as you learn what works and where the weak links are, you’ll be able to adjust it as you go. Print the protocols out and post them in the right area. For example, a colostrum testing protocol should be where you milk fresh cows.
Keep your protocols as uniform as possible. A great example is the administration of colostrum to heifers and bulls. A good working protocol should include the same steps of testing, labeling, pasteurizing, storing, warming up and feeding for both calves. The only difference is that the heifer calves receive the high-quality colostrum while the bull calves receive the lower-quality colostrum. Other than that, the handling is the same.
An example of a protocol prone to having issues is saying that bull colostrum (lower-quality) will not be pasteurized. This example offers too many possibilities for mistakes. Employees can get confused about which colostrum should be pasteurized and pasteurize the bull-quality instead of the heifer-quality, the storage container may get mislabeled, the correctly unpasteurized bull-quality can be accidentally fed to a heifer, and if you have a streak of lower-quality colostrum, you will run out of pasteurized colostrum that could be used for heifers.
Your protocols should be built around the lowest denominator, limiting the number of steps that offer opportunity for a mistake. For instance, in the first example, where feeding lower-quality to a heifer will have limited impact because the colostrum has been treated properly up to that point.
To make employees pay more attention to your protocol posters, make them fun by adding pictures or drawings. Placing a photo of the person in charge of the area will make it more personal and serve two purposes. One, it will give the leader the recognition they deserve, and two, it will highlight their responsibility for keeping the area working smoothly.
Frequently training employees is a key to successful implementation. Know that teaching adults is different than teaching children. Adults need to understand why you are asking them to do things in order to remember.
Employee training should include these three components:
- Explain how to tell they are doing it the right way and the consequences of doing it the wrong way. Don’t be afraid of going into details and let your employees ask questions about why to do it and how to do it. For example, when tube feeding a calf, go slow; tip the nose below the ears; this helps the tube feeder trigger the swallowing reflex and allows the calf to swallow the tube feeder. The tube feeder is correctly placed if you can feel the tip through the esophagus in the neck. The calf bellering is a good sign.
- Observe the trainer perform the desired tasks. Show them what slow and fast means. Show them where to feel for the tip of the tube feeder and explain that if you can’t feel the tube feeder, it is most likely in the trachea, which leads directly into the lungs and would kill the calf.
- Allow each person time to practice while being observed by the trainer. This way they can each receive feedback in a safe learning environment. What’s too fast; what’s too slow? Ensure that every employee gets a chance to practice and each of them gets a chance to feel for the tip of the tube feeder in the throat.
Have an interpreter at a training given to non-English speakers, but keep in mind that often you are not only bridging a language gap but a cultural gap. Unlike the U.S., in other cultures asking clarifying questions may be viewed as a show of weakness and stupidity. With that in mind, make sure you ask your employees questions to verify they have a good understanding of the concepts and protocols presented.
Implementing a new protocol should be about encouragement, not enforcement. Make “coach and correct” your new mantra for employee management. Once you have completed your training, and your employees understand why and how to do things, spend some time observing them implement the new protocols. We all know it isn’t easy to do new things, so give them a chance to learn the new ways right. You’ll achieve better results by coaching when you see something wrong instead of being angry they didn’t get it right the first time. Be open to questions about why the protocols have changed and ready with an explanation for how it benefits the animals and the employee.
A critical part of support is access to tools. If you are adhering to industry standards and asking your employees to always feed colostrum at 105ºF and thaw it in water at or below 113ºF, make sure you have a thermometer available in the thawing location.
But even the best-meant protocols can fail because of our human nature and the lack of circumstance control; that’s when technology can make all the difference. An employee that starts warming up colostrum but is called away to help someone else may not be able to monitor the thawing process. Consequently, the colostrum may have to be warmed up several times – extending the time period when bacterial growth occurs. If the calf is born half-an-hour before the end of the shift, the employee is likely to warm the colostrum in very hot water in order to speed up the process, denaturing the immunity (immunoglobulins). In a case like this, getting a colostrum thaw unit that has built-in temperature sensors and a forced stirring of the colostrum prevents the spoilage of a critical part of the animal’s immune system and helps employees successfully implement protocols.
The number one employee complaint is lack of clarity in communication. Make sure your protocols are in line with your values and your training, all of which is supported by your coaching and by the tools the employees have access to.