Protocols: Turning the “Why Should We Do It?” to “Why We Do It”
A necessity in today’s dairy industry, protocols are used as a way to help achieve consistent compliance on the farm and to reduce performance variation between employee shifts. While the idea of writing protocols may sound simple, having them executed correctly can prove to be more of a challenge.
For Heidi Fisher, co-owner of Fisher-Clark dairy, located in Hatley, Wisc., writing straightforward protocols that can easily be carried out has become second nature. Managing a team of 18 employees at a 900-cow operation is no easy feat, but with the implementation of candid protocols, Fischer has noticed that her employees have gained a better understanding for the job at hand.
“Protocols for us have been a way to kind of get everybody on the same page,” Fischer says. “Efficiency is always a goal of ours. We want to make sure that we’re only doing what needs to be done and that we are doing it as efficiently as possible.”
PRACTICING WHAT THEY PREACH
Sitting down with her veterinarian and herdsperson, Fischer and her team devise a strategy to build easy to follow, step-by-step protocols that ensure the best care not only for the animals, but for the employees as well.
“When we build a treatment or a vaccination protocol, we work with our vet to make sure that it's all done properly,” Fischer says. “Then we sit down and we talk about at what point we would begin to implement this protocol and we write the steps from that point on.”
Working hand-in-hand with her employees, Fischer also takes the time to help conduct mandatory bi-monthly training sessions with her milking staff.
“We use [the training] as an opportunity to bring in our vet or even our dairy equipment person and go over the different steps in our milking protocols and explain to [our employees] about how we want them to do it and why it is important to do it in a specific way.”
With this implementation of training and well thought out protocols, Fischer has noticed improvements not only from her milking staff, but on all areas of the farm.
“I think our employees have more confidence and more ownership in doing their job,” Fisher says. “The know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. They want to succeed as much as we do.”
TIPS FOR PRODUCERS
With five years of protocol writing experience under her belt, Fischer offers up these tips for other producers looking to update their policies:
Audit - Each year, Fischer and her team sit down to review all of their protocols. If something no longer makes sense, the team will analyze the protocol to see if it needs updated, edited or removed. Fisher also asks for feedback from her employees to help make improvements to their protocols.
“They know the daily routine better than anybody, so they’ll know if something we want to implement is achievable,” Fischer says. “We definitely want to include them in on the conversation.”
Write clearly – Written in both English and Spanish, Fischer uses terms and phrases that her employees understand to help communicate what needs to be done.
“Not only does a protocol need to be clearly written and easy to understand, but it is also very critical that the timing to which you want a certain protocol to be completed is written out,” Fischer says. “If it doesn’t make sense or is cumbersome for the employee, then it will be difficult for them to want to complete it. The minute that it becomes hard is when it won’t get done.”
Help them understand the “why” – Instead of just telling an employee to do something, Fischer makes sure that the employee understands the “why” behind the task.
“I think it's been very valuable that we've been able to educate employees along the way on what we're doing and why we're doing it,” Fischer says. “Having them be a part of the process and helping me formulate these protocols makes both of our jobs easier.
“Protocols can help you move performance measures towards a farm's goal. Protocols that are clearly written and implemented with efficiency in mind can help add consistency and accuracy. It also helps employees meet a manager's expectations. That is one of the biggest reasons why I like them. Our employees know what we expect and why we expect it.”