‘Staff are your most valuable asset – training them will pay back tenfold’

07 May 2021

07 May 2021

Training is a continuous job, but staff will pay you back 10 times over with their motivation and new skills, says dairy farmer Mary Cook, at Smokey Farm, Somerset.

Her team of five farms 202 hectares (500 acres), milks 280 dairy cows for Arla and has 100 followers, plus another 100 dairy beef cattle, which are fattened for Tesco.

Staff have a wide mix of backgrounds and abilities and most people have been taught almost all of their skills on-farm through a combination of formal and on-the-job training.

They include a herdsman and a youngstock manager who both started working at Smokey Farm as teenagers; a tractor driver; Mary’s son who helps with milking; and a general farm worker who is a laid-off airline pilot and is helping inject his own leadership skills.

Mary says: “I am in my 70s and cannot be there all the time anyway, but by training people to take on more responsibility I feel confident to delegate more.

“I am very keen on training and I look out for anything which comes up from my vets and AHDB that my staff might be interested in.

If I spot a webinar on in the evening, I might see if they want to do it and pay them for their time.

It is also about understanding that as a manager I need training in how to train other people.” Staff have been on a variety of courses including for foot trimming, calving and telehandlers, and all are important investments.

Mary says: “Other than land, staff are your most valuable asset.

Staff retention is key, so you have to treat them the best you can.

All that money invested will be paid back tenfold over the years.” “Most training can be done on-farm and needn’t cost anything.

It is about spending 30 minutes showing people what to do and following this up, either to say ‘you have done a good job’ or to show them how to do it better.

I always encourage staff to get involved when the vet visits or someone comes to repair something, so they learn.” An important part of continuous learning is remaining approachable, says Mary, so staff can raise issues, present ideas and say if they do not understand something.

She says: “It is important to listen to ideas, even if we have to explain why we cannot do something, so they feel part of the team.” “This rounded approach has been vital for getting the team to where it is today; a motivated and happy group of people who work well together, help each other out and share ideas.”