Labor Shortage Impacting Milk Quality
As the availability of labor, both immigrant and domestic, becomes shorter the ability to find skilled labor to milk cows dwindles as well. Opportunities available in construction, hospitality, manufacturing and other industries makes finding and keeping good workers difficult.
“The biggest issue I see on large dairies is finding labor to work in the parlor,” says Linda Tikofsky, DVM, professional services veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica. “Due to the improvement in the economy dairies aren’t seeing the applicants. Before they had lots, now the pool has dried up.”
Not having skilled labor to work in the parlor is an issue when it comes to milk quality. Protocols and standard operating procedures are in place to guide proper milk harvest, but compliance to these procedures becomes an issue when employee turnover is high and experience is low. “It’s difficult to maintain compliance when you don’t have a dedicated workforce that understands the importance of routine and the value of it,” Tikofsky says.
To keep employees trained and focused on following the right procedures, Tikofsky recommends an emphasis on training and retraining workers. “Management should develop good protocols, have good standard operating procedures, and then communicate those procedures effectively,” she says. “Then train, retrain and train again.”
Focusing on outcomes that relate to milk quality is one way to identify if proper procedures are being followed. Gary Neubauer, DVM, senior manager of dairy technical services with Zoetis, says understanding outcomes such as new infection rate, chronic infection rate, first test linear scores, dry cow cure rates and relapse rates indicate how well procedures are being followed in the parlor and in the barn. If any of these indicators are trending downward, he says it’s time to look at procedural drift.
“Dairies should have at a minimum quarterly training sessions to address protocol drift,” Neubauer says. “Milkers need to understand the how and why of milking routines so they understand the importance of their role in milk quality.”
As the grass becomes greener for employees off the farm, the importance of finding and keeping the right people becomes more important. Because those that stay may have less skill and experience milking cows, it’s important to maintain a consistent training protocol to ensure the right milking procedures are followed.