University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton and veterinarian Scott Poock used to repeat one word to students and workers at MU’s Foremost Dairy Research Center. “Intake. Intake. Intake” has given way to “Sanitize. Sanitize. Sanitize.”
“The best way to improve the bottom line of your dairy operation now is to protect your people,” Hamilton says. The close-knit links between dairy farmers and vendors make social distancing difficult but imperative.
Put social distancing into practice both on and off the farm. “Social distancing may be practiced at the farm level, but if not practiced away from the farm, it puts all farm people at risk,” Hamilton says. Practice basic hygiene at home and at work by frequent hand-washing with soap and water.
He and Poock give the following tips:
1. Use technology. Use Zoom videoconferencing to show employees what needs to be done with equipment, fields and cows. Use a phone or tablet to take pictures to share. Brush up on herd management software and apps such as the MU Grazing Wedge.
2. Create a contingency plan. A plan and protocol help producers react responsibly to emergencies. Have a plan in place listing who can assume critical duties if illness strikes employees or family members. Post the plan.
3. Communicate safety expectations to employees. Post signs and communicate to employees the importance of following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Educate employees about COVID-19 symptoms. Expect workers to wear clean uniforms and launder them daily.
4. Cross-train employees where possible. Ask employees if they know of family members, friends or students taking online courses who might be available to help in case of illness. Talk to other herd owners about sharing worker resources in the event of a shortage.
5. Limit traffic into and out of the farm with a single entry or exit point. Do not allow nonessential visitors to the farm. Stagger deliveries and ask delivery people to leave packages at areas away from dairy buildings. Keep a log of all off-farm visitors.
6. Limit the number of workers operating farm equipment. Make sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, paper towels, nitrile gloves and personal protective equipment available. Place in vehicles and shared areas such as bathrooms and the break room. Assign an employee to be responsible for disinfecting common areas. Disinfect doorknobs, lockers, telephones, light switches, time clocks and other surfaces that people may frequently touch. Make washing stations available if possible.
7. Discuss sick leave with employees prior to them becoming sick. Poock recommends that herd managers take and record the temperature of all farmworkers before and after work. If workers have elevated temperatures, send them home as a precautionary measure.
8. Assign work zones. “The parlor will be trickier in COVID-19 times,” says Hamilton. “If possible, do the milking with just one person.” If it is not possible, allow social distancing by designating zones in the parlor for each person. Assign duties that one person can accomplish. Assign zones when working cattle also. “Employees should be like two ships passing in the night,” says Poock.
9. Consider mealtime safety. Where will employees eat? If more than one generation of a family works at the dairy farm, where will they eat?
10. Remember that employees and vendors are under stress at home and at work. Keep in touch with friends, neighbors and community members through phone calls, videoconferencing and email.
The work may take longer, Hamilton and Poock say, but the health of farm people is critical.
Many county extension centers are closed, but MU Extension specialists are still available by telephone or email. MU Extension also posts regular updates and new resources related to COVID-19 at extension.missouri.edu(opens in new window).