Who is going to milk cows on Christmas day?

Dairying is a 365 day-a-year job. Every day, Christmas and New Year’s included, cattle need to be fed, milked and the barns scraped. But who is going to do it on those special days?

The question is not whether the cows will have to be milked on Christmas or any other holiday. The only questions are who will do those chores on Christmas morning when kids are waking up to check their stockings, and how will farm owners make those days special in some ways, for themselves and for their employees? Each farm is different and the approach that works on one farm may not apply to another, but there are some principles that apply across farms. 

Plan ahead to avoid extra chores. Inventory needs well in advance so that supplies of bedding, bagged minerals, towels or anything else will not run out during the holidays. Schedule routine work, such as vet checks and hoof trimming, away from the holidays as much as possible, and work ahead on what can be done ahead. 

Treat all employees with fairness. In general, people are willing to sacrifice if they feel that everyone shares equally in sacrifices. Also, ask employees about their time-off needs. Some employees may prefer to have off Christmas Eve, whereas others may prefer to have off New Year’s Day. Find out their preferences in advance and work with that as possible. Employees also need to know that their boss shares in the sacrifice as well. 

Make employees who work feel appreciated and noticed. Employees will bear with much if they feel that they are truly appreciated and noticed. On Christmas, farm owners may have three shifts of employees working. Greeting all employees on this day is important, especially the night crew. Each person who comes to work that day has a need to be recognized for being there on Christmas. 

Help employees embrace the greater goal. Why are they there on Christmas? They are there to make sure that when moms go to the grocery store the next day, that milk is in the dairy case and yogurt cups are on the shelves. They are there to ensure that hospitals and schools have milk for patients and children. They are there to provide continuous care of cows and keep them healthy. Give employees a vision to hold onto when things are not going well, and when they miss the opportunity to be home. 

Make the day special in some ways. Don’t ignore the fact that it is Christmas (or some other special day), or pretend that it is just like any other day. Celebrate it even in the workplace. Maybe it is by tying bows to pipes in the parlor, having a card for each employee at their locker, or by writing “Merry Christmas” on the whiteboard. Find some way to recognize each special day when employees work, even if it is a holiday with which you are unfamiliar. 

Create a festive atmosphere. Take the opportunity to celebrate together. Maybe it is breakfast for the morning shift, lunch for the afternoon shift and cookies and eggnog for the night shift. 

Consider rewarding employees for their sacrifice. Some employers offer bonus wages for working special days. That may not be your first choice of action since employees don’t make the business more money on that day than any other. However, it may be necessary to pay bonus wages to get work done on special days. 

As educators with Michigan State University Extension have learned, the work of farming takes a team. A team works together through tough times and good because they need each other. Managing employees is about building your team of people, committed to the purpose and success of the farm.

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