Improving Human Resource Management on Your Dairy

Libby Eiholzer, Cornell Cooperative Extension - Northwest NY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Team

Libby Eiholzer

Human Resource Management is a strategic approach to managing people, and it’s becoming more and more of a hot topic.  A lot of us are working on improving HR on the farm, not only because of increased regulatory compliance requirements, but because it’s the right thing to do.  As labor becomes tighter, focusing on HR is a great way to create a workplace where employees will stay and thrive, thus decreasing the need for new employees.

Yet improving HR on the farm can be a tall order.  Where do you even start?  Check out the Human Resource Management Self-Assessment, a tool developed to help you prioritize areas for improvement.  It looks at nineteen different HR practices asks you to answer three questions:

  • How effective is your farm at this practice currently?
  • How important is this to the business?
  • How easy/fast will it be to implement?

Through a simple scoring system, you’ll end up with a prioritized list of HR practices to work on improving or implementing.



Listed below, in no particular order, are five human resource management tools that I think every farm should have in place.

  1. A System for Onboarding Employees– How do you get a new employee up to speed? Often we throw the new employee in the milking parlor and have whoever is working train them.  A better approach is to have a plan!  Onboarding includes not only job training, but also completing employment paperwork, familiarizing the employee with the farm’s mission, organization, and facilities, discussing pay & benefits, safety considerations, and more.  The goal of onboarding is not just to train a new employee to do a task, but to set the employee up to succeed in the long run.  Investing time early on shows the employee that you care and goes a long ways towards preventing misunderstandings.  Preparing a checklist for yourself will help you make sure you get everything done.
  2. A System for Keeping in Touch
    – After spending a considerable amount of time getting a new employee trained and up to speed, it can be easy for a manager to direct their attention elsewhere. However, it’s important to stay in touch, encourage the employee to ask questions, and provide them with feedback on their job performance.  If this is something you have a hard time remembering to do regularly, set a reminder on your phone, or set aside 10 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to chat with employees.
  3. Job Descriptions- A job description details an employee’s major responsibilities and explains the work schedule, work relationships, pay and benefits, and required experience for all the positions on your farm. These documents can be particularly helpful when hiring new employees, but are also great to help avoid disputes between employees about who is responsible for what.
  4. Standard Operating Procedures– While the job description outlines all the tasks an employee is responsible for, the standard operating procedure (SOP) breaks one task down into steps. While some can be stored in a notebook for reference, others should be laminated and posted in the work area so that they can be referred to regularly.  They’re helpful for training new employees and preventing protocol drift.  Include pictures where appropriate.
  5. Employee Handbook– This one can be a bear! If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge at a full employee handbook, consider at minimum a “Code of Conduct” or “How we do things around here” document.  This is a place for you to explain what you expect of your employees- from showing up on time, to using the time clock, to dressing appropriately for work.  It’s much easier to enforce workplace behaviors when all the managers have taken the time to agree on what is acceptable and put it down on paper.



For more resources to help you get started on these and other HR practices, visit

Thank you to the New York Farm Viability Institute for funding the Human Resource Management Project, which was used to develop these resources.

This article first appeared in the September e-newsletter of the Northeast Dairy Producers Association (NEDPA) and is used here with permission. More information is available at

Libby Eiholzer grew up on a dairy farm in Central NY.  After graduating from Cornell University with a major in Animal Science and a minor in Spanish, she spent two years in Guatemala on an assignment with the Peace Corps.  She now works for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Northwest NY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team as a dairy specialist.  Some of her responsibilities include providing Spanish-language job training to farm employees, facilitating on-farm meetings, and organizing workshops for the dairy community.  Libby’s experience working with both farm owners and employees across WNY give her a unique perspective to represent the needs of both.

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