Writing and practicing good farm protocols

Good protocols have two essential components: They are followed by employees, and they lead to successful outcomes.

Good farm protocols are an essential tool to help managers move performance measures toward the farm’s goals through better communication with employees. Farm protocols do this by laying out the details of a particular task in order to help employees perform the task in a way that is consistent, and meets the manager’s expectations. 

Good protocols have two essential components: They are followed by employees, and they lead to successful outcomes. 

Protocols are more likely to be followed if they are clearly written and understood by employees. Key employees should be involved in writing protocols to ensure that they are practical. These employees can also help provide feedback on how protocols are being followed and recommend adjustments. Protocols may include photos where appropriate to help clarify instructions and also to help address potential issues with literacy. 

Training around protocols should also help employees understand the “why” involved in following protocols. Employees that understand why their actions are important in meeting the farms goals, will be more likely to follow protocols. If employees just see protocols as rules, they may look for an easier way to get the job done. Employees involved in the development of protocols will come to you with suggested changes rather than changing them on their own. 

Protocols are more likely to lead to successful outcomes if they are built on solid research, adapted to your farm. Farm owners and managers should strive to involve key employees in educational programs that are offered by Michigan State University Extension educators and industry representatives. If employees are sent to programs, owners and managers should sit down with employees upon their return in order to talk about what was learned and how it could be incorporated on their farm. 

Take time annually to sit down with key employees and review the performance measures that were driving the operation this past year and the protocols that were to help achieve those. Ask whether the protocols were consistently followed and did they help employees to achieve the goals? Employees want to work for employers that they feel are striving to improve their operations. Employees want to be part of a winning, progressive team. Employees that see a progressive attitude by employers are more likely to buy into the farm’s protocols. 

Consider the following sample protocol: 

Two visit milking protocol:

First visit: (10 - 20 seconds per cow)

  • Dry wipe bedding from teats
  • Apply teat dip
  • Massage dip into skin
  • Run thumb across teat end to clean
  • Forestrip the cow
  • Re-apply teat dip 

Repeat on three to five cows. 

Second visit: (10 - 15 seconds per cow)

  • Wipe teats dry
  • Wipe teat ends
  • Attach unit
  • Adjust unit 

The protocol is fairly detailed, but it could be improved with photos showing the process, and employees still need to be trained on the “why”. 

First the employees should know the goals for the protocol: 

  1. Good milking procedures will prevent bacteria entering the teat end.
  2. Good milking procedures will stimulate milk let down in cows, reducing time in the parlor and reducing stress on the teat. 

Finally employees need to know how what they do in following the procedures leads to meeting these goals.

For instance, wiping dirt off teats allows teat dip to contact the teat skin more thoroughly, and leaving that teat dip on the teat for 30 seconds kills bacteria on the teat. Also, having adequate time from the first contact with the cow’s udder to when the unit is attached is critical for milk let down. Cows need about approximately 60 - 90 seconds after initial stimulation for good milk let down. 

With that in mind, training should reinforce why protocols are important not just what the protocols are. Long-term employees should receive progressive training, so that they are learning more in-depth information with each training. To the protocol above we should add: 

Depending on parlor size and number of milkers in parlor, prep three to five cows and return. The second visit to the cows absolutely has to be in the same order as first visit, or else the time periods for milk letdown will be very different from first cow to the last. If prep per cow takes 20 seconds, and you prep three cows, then you will be returning to first cow approximately 60 seconds after initial stimulation and greater than 30 seconds after teat dip applied, thus meeting both time objectives. 

Note that this gives the employee some flexibility in how many cows they prep before attaching milkers. Although this should normally be very consistent, if something delays them in the parlor they can adjust the number in order to achieve the goals that they are now aware of. 

Farm protocols can help move your operation forward in meeting the farm’s goals. Having employees that know those goals, and how what they do impacts those goals, will lead to effective farm protocols.

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