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Lifelong learning: Goal-setting starts with strong foundation

Katie Roth for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 March 2021
Roth family

The arrival of spring is always welcome here in Wisconsin. Along with warmer temperatures and the promise of a new growing season, it’s also a great time to reflect on the goals we’ve set for our farm and get ready for the busy season ahead.

While there is never really a slow time on the dairy farm, we do find a little extra time over the winter to review the successes and challenges of the previous year and set goals for the year ahead for each of us individually and the farm as a whole. With a multiple-family, multigenerational farm like Banner Ridge Farms LLC, it takes extra effort to maintain communications and keep everyone’s perspective in mind as we set priorities for the operation. Our farm provides income for six families, including my husband, TJ, and I; John and LuAnn Shea; Jill and Louie Wiederholt; Steve and Tessa Shea; and two employee families.

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Setting clear goals that meet the SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – framework is only possible with a good foundation of data, whether it is in crop production, animal health, milking parlor or financials.

The Financial Literacy for Dairy program from Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW) was an important resource to not only dig deeper into the tools and reports that are critical for managing a dairy farm but, more importantly, it provided our team with the framework to talk about topics which might be awkward or uncomfortable and address issues that could cause stress in the future. The homework assignments that are part of the course drove important conversations and helped us prioritize and document the goals most important to all of us.

When the numbers behind every aspect of the operation are documented, we can focus on breakevens and profit opportunities and take the emotion out of the decision-making process. It also allows us to make more effective decisions on new opportunities such as crossbreeding and finishing crossbred beef calves.

The world isn’t stagnant. Technology is always changing and dairy farming, like everything else, is always evolving. If we aren’t trying to learn new things, adopt new technologies or put new ideas to work, we can quickly fall behind. Having a strong foundation of data means we can quickly analyze and act on new opportunities.

Identifying goals is just the first step, though. Taking time to write them down, whether on a sticky note in a meeting, a printed copy to post in the break room or a vision board in your office, keeps them visible and more likely to be achieved.

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Setting goals starts at management level and is key to building a positive work environment for every member of our employee team. We’ve been able to maintain a strong team with low turnover for a number of years by setting a good example as we work alongside employees, include their input in decisions we make and provide continuing education opportunities.

“Faith, family, farm” are the words that guide our farm, and having clear, focused goals allows us to stay true to that vision. We are able to use facts and numbers to make decisions that are consistent with our goals, then rely on faith to carry us through. end mark

PHOTO: Katie Roth and her husband, TJ Roth, are partners in Banner Ridge Farms LLC along with the Shea and Wiederholt families. She was raised on a 300-cow dairy farm near Darlington, Wisconsin, and earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science at UW – Platteville and a master’s degree in agriculture from Colorado State University. At Banner Ridge Farms, she manages cow health and well-being and also works part time at UW – Platteville College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture. She and TJ have a daughter, Stella (3), and are expecting a baby in May.

This column is contributed by Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW), which is the nation’s largest dairy producer-led organization of its kind. PDPW focuses on producer professionalism, stakeholder engagement and unified outreach to share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed. 

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