Focusing on people means putting safety first
Dairy Focus Consultant: Russ Saville
- Employees and visitors wear safety vests at all times while on Oakridge Dairy
- Goal is for every employee to return home to their families in the same way they showed up
- Producing 6.35 pounds of milk components at 11.22 percent efficiency
With a history dating back to 1890, Oakridge Dairy is no stranger to the industry. Yet as dairy economics presented more and more challenges, Seth Bahler knew that in order to continue his family farm’s legacy, the operation as they knew it would have to change.
When Seth became the fifth generation to join the family farm in 2013, it was time to do some strategic planning for the future. The previous disengaged and outdated farm culture had not helped the business grow, and they knew going forward they needed to make their people a priority and build a more unified team. After an internal restructure, Seth and the Oakridge team did their research to learn from successful dairies across the country. They followed in the footsteps of a Minnesota dairy to set a precedence of safety and implemented safety vests. Oakridge understood that keeping their people safe was the first step in making them a priority.
In efforts to avoid ever having to inform a family member of a life-changing accident, Oakridge didn’t just stop with vests. They increased communication by using two-way radios, having weekly meetings that included safety topics, and recording accidents so they could learn from their mistakes and do better in the future. Additionally, Oakridge equipped their employees with appropriate safety tools such as guards, harnesses, and shields and installed back up cameras, beepers, and lights on all their equipment.
Redefining a farm’s operating standards is not an easy or quick process. They faced resistance that resulted in some employee turnover. In spite of this, they stood firm in their belief. “Safety vests are mandatory, backed with a no tolerance policy,” explains Seth. “When we made the decision to wear vests, it was an indicator of who would be on our team in the future as we continued to change our culture and the way we operated, and who didn’t belong.”
Today they are stronger than ever. Oakridge has grown to become home for 3,000 Holsteins and staffed with 50 excellent employees that embody their core values and have a genuine desire to make the farm a safer place for themselves, as well as visitors. The team not only points out safety concerns, but actively comes up with solutions as well. “We have a lot to be proud of as we look back on the last few years, but our people are our greatest accomplishment,” Seth says proudly.
With 24 million people in a 100-mile radius, it is also important to Oakridge that their community understands and trusts their operation. They host regular tours to educate consumers on where their milk comes from and how safe the process is. It is vital that Oakridge’s safety practices extend to their guests. Every visitor is required to wear a safety vest that is a different color to easily differentiate between visitors and employees.
Oakridge spent years improving safety and building a team that represents the values they believe in, but that didn’t get in the way of production. In fact, it made for a more successful business. In the two short years of working with Cargill Dairy Focus Consultant, Russ Saville, Oakridge improved their pounds of milk by 53 percent and now consistently achieve over 6 pounds of components. What’s their secret? Their people and the culture. “Oakridge had established a strong foundation of trust well before I stepped foot on their farm, allowing me to easily implement changes for production improvement,” says Russ. “They are unified and committed to the growth and success of the herd. Our next focus is on improving component efficiency and I’m excited to work alongside this farm as they continue to climb to the next level.”
With advice going beyond nutrition, David Moser, Oakridge’s Dairy Manager explains how Russ is more than just their nutritionist, “Cargill has great resources that have helped us reach our success today, but the biggest benefit Cargill offers to us is Russ. He represents our values and is invested in our operation, our safety, and our people – he is truly a member of our team.”
A strong dissatisfaction with agriculture being labeled as one of the most dangerous industries is what drives Oakridge to continue to improve their farm safety into the future, and they encourage everyone to do their part to make our industry safer. “Our job as an industry is to feed the world and the generations to come, but we all need to safely be here in order to do that,” concludes David.
Build a better safety culture on your dairy with these helpful safety resources: