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1708 PD: How to develop a great herdsmen

Tom Fuhrmann Published on 26 November 2008

High-performance dairies have great herdsmen that are not usually hired into that position. Rather, great herdsmen are grown by owners or managers who recognize core leadership skills within individuals. Great herdsmen know cows and lead workers. Their duties might include breeding, treating cows, milking, calving or moving animals; they must do these technical things well. But great herdsmen also lead and influence their fellow workers.

Leaders are expected to produce results. Results are goals owners or managers identify; they are performance numbers. How do great herdsmen and their team members attain these results? In one word, the answer is: standards.



Standards are the “pride level” within each leader, within each individual. Let me explain how high standards propel great herdsmen and their fellow workers to achieve the goals you establish.

If you ask your head milker or parlor supervisor to count the number of dirty teats on the first 10 cows in your parlor on the side where machines have just detached, how many dirty teats out of 40 are acceptable to him or her? 10? 5? 2? 1? 0? If he or she accepts nothing less than “0,” there is a great chance milkers will reach the somatic cell count (SCC) goal of less than 200,000. But if he or she accepts “5” or “10” because he or she accepts lower standards, success in achieving that SCC goal of less than 200,000 is very poor. Goals are the result owners or managers want; standards are the performance levels at which great herdsmen work to achieve a goal.

Standards are performance levels within each potential leader:

• Each aspiring leader has standards. They are different from person to person.

• The higher the standards, the more goals will be achieved.


• The higher the standards, the more personal satisfaction will be gained.

• The higher the standards, the more respect will be earned from fellow workers. The individual may then become the recognized leader. Owners and managers can identify potential leaders by getting to know their workers and looking for “leadership signs.” One of these key signals is recognizing the standards by which a worker holds him or herself accountable. These standards are found in all kinds of situations: Is he or she punctual in coming to work? When asked to perform, is the work done well? Can you identify a worker upon whom the others depend upon, to whom they go for answers or for solutions to problems? Can any of your workers excel doing several tasks at one time? Is he or she honest and competent? And can he or she speak well enough to communicate to key managers and other farm contacts?

If you have such an employee, you have an opportunity to grow this potential leader into a great herdsman by training him, sharing with him or her your people and management philosophies. Then, give him or her the training and tools to learn cowside herdsman skills. Finally, demonstrate to the rest of your workers that you will depend on this new leader as the go-to person for them on your dairy. For example, route all communication between your milkers through this person.

Herdsmen today are not for hire; they simply are not available. Great ones are identified, grown and developed by astute owners. Through this process, they become the people leader and cow technician that high-performance dairies need. PD

Tom Fuhrmann
President Dairy Works