As some of you may know for the last 12 months or so I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel around the globe as part of my Nuffield farming scholarship. These scholarships aim to bring positive change to agriculture by supporting scholars as they travel and visit different businesses to gather new ideas.

Whilst my topic of study focuses on people management on dairy farms, I’ve been fortunate enough to see many different enterprises. I’m now entering the dreaded “write up phase” and thought it might be nice to share some of the places I’ve seen. I’ve been granted a series slot in our newsletter for the next 3 months and so buckle up for my first trip…. Down under!

Back in November I headed out to West Victoria, with the aim of visiting high performing dairy units, that managed both their cows and people well. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Lucy Collins (Australian Nuffield scholar) and Matt Glennan (@dixieparkdairying).

Milking 690 Autumn calving cows across 480 hectares, these guys were doing an incredibly impressive job. They were focussed on attention to detail with pasture management being a key priority. Using as much homegrown feed as possible they were aiming to produce 100% of an animals liveweight in solids per lactation. (i.e., approx. 580kg solids from their 580kg cows). In actual fact these guys were hitting 102%!

There was a real focus on ensuring all the team were geared up for the busy calving season and knew what was expected of them from the off. Communication was key here (especially with really busy periods at peak) … be it protocols, team training or “toolbox talks”! “Toolbox talks” are an awesome way of gathering everybody together and sharing important information, with the key goal of keeping them short, snappy, and informative. Within 15 minutes once a week, feedback could be shared, for example on colostrum quality or cell count performance and any necessary training/ updates could also be communicated. I really liked the practical nature of these and because everyone knew they were important and effective they felt really positive, and action focussed.

A key motivator for the leaders at Dixie Park was to make themselves an employer of choice, with a herd and team that reflected their high standards. They utilised some of the Dairy Australia resources to create “Our Farm, Our Plan”. This was a structured and methodical way of utilising the plans we all keep in our heads and translating it onto paper to create a clear long term business plan and personal goals. By actually writing this down it became so much easier to share their vision with the wider team and yield better results! They scored themselves in various areas as either “nailing it”, “OK, but could do better”, “No and we need to something about it” or “Not relevant to me”. This enabled them to create a concise SWOT analysis of the business and the key focus areas to work on over the coming months!

So, what were my take homes? Dixie Park dairying were proactive and visionary. They spent time working on the business as well as within it to ensure they remained outcome focused and achieved their desired performance. What do I think could be applied on other units?

  1. Sit down and self-review your performance in key areas to identify where you need to focus your time and efforts.
  2. Involve the whole team to ensure everyone is aligned with your vision.
  3. Use short snappy meetings like “toolbox talks” to share information and keep the team engaged and aligned with your aims.