If my cows are my employees, do I have to negotiate benefits?
I enjoyed listening to acclaimed grazing consultant, researcher and author, Jim Gerrish, when he stopped in O’Neill recently, courtesy of University of Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition. One of the most interesting points made by Gerrish was that our cows should be viewed as employees. So, we should think of a job description for them and understand in detail what we want our cows to do on our farm.
Gerrish came up with a list of duties for the cows, like “rustle their own grub,” produce a live calf every year, thrive where they live, and stay productive in the herd for 10 years or more.
His point was well made. Gerrish, who lives in Idaho, speaks about reaching the goal of year around grazing for his herds, so he’s looking at consistent winter grazing of forages without a lot of supplementation or even baled hay.
We’re the boss, he says. Our responsibilities as producers include marketing and providing the best possible environment for the cows to excel at their jobs.
We can’t be afraid to cut some of our employees loose when they aren’t doing their job or being productive. If a cow doesn’t produce a live calf, if she needs lots of supplement to thrive, if she becomes too reliant on the veterinarian or even if she is disagreeable with the boss, she needs to go.
With the volatility of the financial side of the cattle business, keeping non-productive cows around costs too much money. The job description of the cows at my farm might be slightly different than the description for cows at your place, but coming up with our expectations for the cows is a good idea, because it gives us a measuring tool for performance that goes beyond the usual data we might collect.
My only question for Gerrish would be, “Do we have to negotiate benefits and vacation days?” Without anything in writing, my cows occasionally take unapproved vacation days by crawling through the fence and leaving other employees to babysit their calves.
Watch for more interesting stuff from Gerrish’s Nebraska tour in an upcoming issue of Nebraska Farmer.