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Livestock farm management

Quick Facts

Farm management includes skills such as: basic husbandry, nutrition, communication, preparation, adaptation, evaluation, attention to detail and establishing a farm culture.

  • Basic husbandry creates hydrated, clean, dry, low-stress animals.
  • Clear communication facilitates preparedness and adaptation.
  • Adapting when things don’t go as planned is dependent on your knowledge of the system.
  • Plan to measure outcomes to determine success.
  • Creating a positive environment with shared goals makes for an easier workday.

Management is a general term that can mean something different to everyone. Management often refers to the day-to-day operations of the farm and is pointed to as the most important predictor of success.

UMN Extension views the following as the components of sound livestock and farm management.

Livestock management

Basic animal husbandry

  • Water, shelter, cleanliness and low-stress handling are all components of basic husbandry.
  • Animals are healthier and more productive when they are hydrated, clean, dry, and handled with minimal stress.
  • Water is without question the most important nutrient and should be accessible for all animals at all times.
  • Shelter doesn’t always mean a roof overhead, a well maintained bedded pack and a windbreak can mean shelter as well. Animals need protection from the elements in some way.
  • Cleanliness prevents disease, promotes animal comfort, and instills a sense of pride in your operation.
  • Low-stress handling is a must for all operations. Basic stockmanship is an essential skill for all people on the farm.

Animal nutrition

In general, a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract equals a healthy animal.

  • The ration and how it is delivered impacts growth, productivity, immune status and reproduction.
  • A correct body condition score combined with a balanced mineral status creates healthy animals and healthy offspring.
  • Quality ingredients are a must for optimal health and productivity.
  • Water should also be included in this category as it is the most important nutrient and drives dry matter intake.

Important to note, the on-paper ration and the actual ration the animals eat rarely match. Correct ration formulation is crucial, but how, where and when it is delivered is an equally important aspect of nutrition.

Farm management

Communication

Communication with employees, partners, nutritionists, veterinarians, product and livestock haulers, and everyone that you work with is key to effective management.

  • Clear communication of expectations, protocols, responsibilities, and treatment of animals trickles down from the top. 
  • Employee training relies on clear communication and the operation’s success depends on well-trained employees.
  • Good visual materials and in-person teaching can have much better learning outcomes than expecting employees to read or learn on their own, particularly if you employ workers whose native language is not English.

Preparation

  • Prevention is better than treatment. Be proactive rather than reactive. Look ahead and be as prepared as possible for different possibilities.
  • Find and stop issues before they become more complicated to manage. 
  • Communication, basic husbandry and nutrition all play a part in being prepared.

Adaptation

  • When it comes to farming, things often don’t go as planned. The ability to adapt to change is crucial for livestock success.
  • Being prepared makes it easier to adapt, having great communication skills moves the new plan forward, being constantly vigilant with basic husbandry lessens the impact of changes to your plan.
  • Adapting requires knowledge of your farming system as a whole and understanding how all of the pieces of your operation fit together. The better you know the system, the easier it is to adapt when necessary.

Evaluation

  • You can't know if something is working unless you evaluate an outcome.
  • Before making a change to a practice, plan how you will measure outcomes to determine success before it is implemented.
  • Evaluating current practices and protocols creates efficiency by eliminating practices that are not beneficial and keeping those that show measured improvement for the operation.

Attention to detail

  • Often the success of a particular piece of the system relies on attention to details.
  • Cleanliness in particular is rooted in attention to detail.
  • You don't have to micromanage to instill the importance of attention to detail in your employees. It is tied directly to your farm’s culture and the pride you and your employees take in your roles on the farm.

Establish your farm culture

Your farm should have a distinct identity that gives you and your employees pride in working on the farm. While some of the ways we create farm culture may seem small, they have a huge impact on your success. Creating a positive environment with shared goals makes for an easier workday. 

Creating your farm’s culture

  • A culture is a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. The culture you set on your farm will influence how people prioritize work and do their jobs.
  • Spend some time thinking about what is most important to you as a business owner. Some examples are cleanliness, safety, animal care, and milking efficiency.
  • Consider the values and goals you have already outlined and how those fit into the culture you want.

Hiring and training

  • Hire employees who take your culture seriously, and throughout the entire hiring and training process emphasize how important it is to you.
  • Talk about the informal ways you see the farm being a work environment that encourages your identified values and goals.
  • Talk about parts of the current culture that you’re working on changing. You could say, “You may notice that a few people take shortcuts on certain jobs. We’re working on building a culture that encourages safety.  My expectation is that you will take all proper safety precautions regardless of what others may still do.”

Set an example

  • Farm culture isn’t about what you say, it’s about what you do. A leader’s influence is very strong.
  • Setting an example will show everyone on your farm what the expectation is, and prove that you are no exception to the rule.

Give and get feedback

  • Feedback plays a major role in any organization, and it allows you to know what works and what doesn’t as you develop your farm culture.
  • Feedback is a two-way street. You should not only give feedback on performance but listen to feedback from others on practices that are and aren’t working.
  • This is a great way for others on the farm to share their ideas and become invested in being a part of the farm culture.

Make it a group effort

  • Everyone is responsible for upholding farm culture, and one individual should not be blamed for a mistake.
  • Your farm culture should make everyone comfortable enough to correct mistakes or find solutions.
  • Work with everyone on your farm to understand that if mistakes happen, it’s due to a failure of the whole system, not one person.

Measure and reward success

  • Decide how you measure the effective practice of your farm’s culture. Determine as a team how you want to measure your success.
  • Decide how you reward effective performance: monetary bonuses, a pizza party, or even just verbal recognition.
  • Include everyone in deciding how rewards look; it is important to know what motivates people.

Authors: Joe Armstrong, DVM, Extension educator, cattle production systems and Emily Krekelberg, Extension educator, farm safety and health

Reviewed in 2021

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