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Milk production dip due to relief feeder

Published on 06 February 2014

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Every second Wednesday, we recognized a pound or two dip in milk production. We’ve traced back the variance to when the relief feeder is mixing the ration.

His feeding records verify mixing inaccuracies. We’ve told him of the errors and watched to make sure he knows how to properly mix the rations.



We’ve taught him about the importance of precisely mixing the ration he receives and how mistakes impact milk production. When he’s watched, he does it perfectly. However, if no one is watching, he cuts corners, even though he knows we’re tracking his performance. What should we do?

felix soriano

Felix Soriano
APN Consulting, LLC

From my experience, consistency is the key driver of profitability at the dairy. Your problem with your relief feeder is a good example of what happens when that consistency is broken.

There are three main reasons why an employee may not perform to your expectations.


1. Lack of ability – This happens usually when the natural strengths of your employees don’t match with the abilities that are required to perform their current job. Based on your comment that when watched he does a “perfect job,” I would discard this as the source of problem.

2. Lack of skills – This happens when the person has the ability to perform the job to your expectations but may lack the proper training, techniques or tools to perform the job right. However, you mentioned that he’s been trained on how to do the job right and taught about the importance of his role in the dairy, so I would discard this reason as well.

3. Lack of will to perform / lack of motivation – Finally, and most likely, it could be that this person is not motivated to perform to your expectations. Maybe he has been doing the same job for many years and needs a change. Maybe he is having issues at home, or maybe you are not doing enough to help spark his own internal motivation.

Have you asked him why this is happening? Could it be that he feels accuracy isn’t his responsibility since he’s only doing it twice a month? How does he do at all the other jobs he’s responsible for on your dairy?

Discussing ration mixing errors with a relief feeder

Have an open discussion with this person to get to the bottom of the problem. Let him know that he’s not performing to your expectations and find out what’s making him so inconsistent (a verbal warning).


Determine if there’s something you could do as a manager to prevent it in the future. Perhaps there are problems between employees working that same day that’s causing the problem. Maybe a person bringing in the silage is being too slow.

Finally, establish a clear disciplinary process for underperformers with rules and consequences and communicate this to your employee. A disciplinary process can be structured into three or four steps:

First offense – A verbal warning. Have an informal discussion with your relief feeder, review goals and expectations with him, and document the incident. Remind him that the next time he doesn’t perform to your expectations, he will receive a written warning he will have to sign.

Second offense – A written warning. In this warning, you detail what went wrong, review again the goals and expectations, and have him sign and date the warning. The employee must be warned what the consequence will be if there is a future offense.

Written warning plus suspension – Same as step two except with this warning, the employee must sign and date to indicate he has been suspended for a determined time (manager or owner must define the amount of days that the employee should be suspended). The employee must be warned what the consequence will be if he continues to underperform.

Termination – The employee was offered reasonable opportunity within a reasonable timeframe to make improvements, and these did not happen. When the disciplinary process is followed correctly, then this will come as no surprise to the employee.

jorge estrada

Jorge Estrada
Leadership Coaching International

This is an example of procedural drift, which causes a negative impact on production and profits. Are employees made aware of the economic impact of their behavior? I have always felt they need to know. How long has this been going on? Have there been any consequences for his behavior thus far?

We must ask ourselves as leaders if it is the system or culture we have created that produces or allows these behaviors to persist. These problems start as performance management issues, which are your responsibility as a manager, and can turn into disciplinary issues, in which employees disobey specific job directions.

Sure, you can give him a verbal or written warning, which is the easy way to solve it. (I don’t know if you have such a disciplinary system already.) Or you can treat it as a performance issue, which takes more time and effort, but the rewards are greater. I will explain.

First, you have provided critical feedback already, and you have watched him and trained him. This problem on any dairy could be due to one of two things: a lack of competence (can do it) or commitment (attitude or want to do it). Either way, it needs correction to change the culture of your workplace.

When you have watched him, he does the job perfectly (can do it); when you don’t, he cuts corners (attitude). So, to me, it seems he doesn’t want the job. He needs to be given critical feedback on his attitude, from you directly, followed with a clear action plan for correcting this and clear consequences for not correcting it.

Since he is the relief person and not mixing daily, I would give him, at the most, one month to change. Meanwhile, recruit and select another person who wants the job and train him or her to do the relief feeding. At the end of the one-month performance plan (or even before that), you make the call on whether the relief feeder continues or is removed from his position.

Then you take this example about how you will manage performance in the future, and in other areas of the dairy, and communicate it to the rest of the crew. This starts you on the path to changing the culture of your workplace. PD

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Illustration by Kristin Phillips.