Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The People Side of Calf Care

Most of us like to feel as though we are needed. Needed for something or to do something.

In two settings this past few days I have seen how this aspect of us, as people, can make managing a business difficult.

On a farm that Grandfather established the sons have assumed ownership and even brought a grandson into the business. Between 1954 and 2014 the dairy has grown 20 times in number of cattle and at least 4 times in acres farmed. Technology has gone space age. Field equipment has become over-sized.

Now, where does grandfather fit into the farm in 2014? Approaching 80 years old he is still physically active even though slower. The family would say that he is not comfortable with change although he welcomes the relief from backbreaking stoop labor of the 1950's. Even though not up on computers he enjoys having a "Smart" phone. He likes being "active" on the farm - currently feeding preweaned calves probably 29 out of 30 days a month. Working is being alive.

There are very few cow-related jobs he can do anymore - Dairycomp 305 is off limits, working in the milking parlor with automatic takeoffs and rapid exit gates is out, giving reproductive hormone injections - not going to happen and so on. Mixing TMR and running feed wagon is off limits as is running large tillage equipment, the new corn planter and this next-generation forage harvesting equipment. 

Even calf care with intensive feeding programs with step-up and step-down feeding leads to disagreements with the "boys." 

So here we are with Dad or Grandpa who has worked hard all his life, for whom "work" gives meaning to life in a setting where it is increasingly difficult to identify "safe" work that has real meaning and yet does not significantly detract from the business. 

In a restaurant that Grandmother established grandchildren-age partners have assumed much of the management responsibility. In the past decade the business has expanded so that the restaurant provides much less than one-half of the gross income. Most of the growing catering business has been the product of the younger partners.

Now, where does "Grandmother" fit into this food industry business in 2014? Approaching 80 years old she is still physically strong although with limited mobility and declining hearing sensitivity. The junior partners would say she has kept up to date in learning to use a word-processing program on the restaurant computer as well as e-mail. She spends many hours at the restaurant - "just to keep an eye on things." In the process of interacting with customers, hostess and wait and kitchen staff, however, her unacknowledged deafness has been leading to some tense interaction.

The restaurant accounts, menus, patron lists and related data are kept on a password-protected computer that she does not use. That stuff is now off limits for her. The kitchen is now the domain of a younger partner. So here we are with "Grandma" who has worked long, long hours all her life, for whom "work" gives meaning to life in a setting where it is increasingly difficult to identify work that has real meaning and yet does not significantly detract from the business. 

As a person pushing 80 myself I identify with Grandpa and Grandma. It is not easy to think about "non-work" activity as being as rewarding as "real work." Work has been at the center of my life since I was 14 years old, got working papers, a social security number, and a pay envelope. I face the same kind of side-ways movement out of my consulting work with younger generations of well-educated workers being hired to be "calf specialists" by feed companies, pharmaceutical companies, university-extension services and veterinary businesses.

As a dairy owner/operator these "old-folks" are a management challenge. Often we are family or at least seem like family. We want to be needed. We want to "do" something useful if not every day at least most days. Work has always given meaning to our lives. As managers you really don't want to take "work" away from us - but finding something that we can do that has value for the business can be difficult.

I had the idea the other day to teach a special series of seminars for us (folks 70 and over) who are considering working with calves as a new job on the farm.  

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