Labor Management for Heifer Rearing



Good labor management is a key to the success of the modern dairy business. Labor management includes the delegation of tasks, the supervision of employees, and the completion of tasks in an orderly and timely manner. In addition, employees should be aware of the consequences when there are lapses in management and when tasks are done incorrectly.

When a manager delegates responsibilities to employees, it implies that the manager knows their skills and knows the standard operating procedures (SOP) for the particular job. SOPs are important to maintaining a safe working environment as well as optimizing animal performance. It is unrealistic to expect an employee who does not possess the necessary skills or is poorly trained to do a job correctly.

Performing a task properly can be defined by following the proper SOP for the job being conducted. SOPs are written procedures on how a particular job is to be completed. Having this information in writing minimizes miscommunications between the employer, manager, and employees.

There are four basic points to keep in mind when managing labor and ensuring that SOPs are being followed. The first step is to meet with the employees and discuss how current protocols are being implemented. This can help to determine if employees are following the SOPs, if they have been trained properly or if the SOPs need to be updated.

A second point for SOPs that deal with everyday tasks is to list events step by step. It is often the small details that are assumed to be known which create the major problems. A third recommendation is that SOPs be written in the most simplistic language so there are no misunderstandings on how, when, and where tasks should be preformed.

Lastly, all employees should be aware of the SOPs and they should be posted in highly visible areas. This helps new employees as well as part-time help to perform tasks correctly.

SOPs should allow tasks to be completed in a timely and consistant manner everyday. This can assist the manager in making efficient use of all resources available, not only labor.

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Chore Chart for a Labor Management System

To ensure that managers and employees alike understand their duties and responsibilities it is a good idea to develop a chore assignment or accountability system. A simple chore chart idea has been developed to use with each of the four logical dairy heifer-growing periods. This chart is designed as an example of one farm only. Its intention is to help employers and managers think of new and better ways to enhance the current labor management system. However, it should be noted that an attempt was made to model this after a typical Pennsylvania dairy farm that is raising replacement heifers.

In the spreadsheets, the frequency of the chores is specified. The other factors specified will vary and depend on the unique situation of each farm business. The outcomes and consequences are also given as examples and will vary across individual businesses.


Chores will be self-explanatory in most cases. The personnel and general management chore for the owner or manager is to set aside time for managing and training employees. It should also include an allowance for the owner or manager to undertake training or self-education workshops as well. Examples of continuing education include attending extension or industry workshops and farm visits. Time should be allotted for reading journals, newspapers, magazines, or conducting Internet searches for information to improve the overall efficiency of the dairy business.

Daily, weekly or monthly

This is the number of occasions per time period that a particular chore should be done.


The person who should do a particular job or is primarily responsible for the task. A well-trained employee is one who the owner or manager believes can do the task satisfactorily without direct supervision or very limited supervision.


An approximation of the time to do the task specified.

Labor cost

The cost of the time taken to do the task specified, based on the time taken and the cost of the labor of the person doing the task.

Responsibility factor (RF)

(1 lowest – 5 highest)

The responsibility factor is a measure of the importance of doing the task correctly and in a timely manner. A high responsibility factor implies that the consequences of not doing the task correctly can be extremely costly to the dairy farmer.


The result of completing the task correctly or at the right time.


The result of carrying out the job incorrectly or not at the right time.

Summary of Chore Charts

Calves from birth to weaning

Daily tasks related to feeding are the most frequently required tasks for this age group, however the tasks of feed preparation and equipment sanitation have the highest responsibility factor. They require a well-trained employee or the owner or manager handles these tasks. These items also have the highest potential consequence if they are done improperly. Health checks are also high priority tasks and have great conse-quences in both time and economic loss.

The other tasks are important, yet not as critical to the day-to-day health and well being of the calves. The other tasks must be done occasionally as noted in order to maintain a controlled calf raising operation.

The degree of record keeping and personnel or general management will vary greatly with the size of operation and individual goals of the farm owner. Therefore, the time related to these tasks are not given.

Heifers from weaning age to 6 months

In this age group, proper feed preparation, regular health checks, and personnel or general management are the most important factors to accomplish. Other than feeding and repairs (when necessary), the other factors related to this age of heifers are more flexible as to when they are accomplished. Thus these animals can serve as a time buffer for some of the rest of the farm operation. Record keeping however is of high relative importance and is critical to the success of the farm enterprise and animal well being.

Part of this record keeping is to monitor the growth of the animals. This should include weight (scale or heart girth tape) and height of the heifer (wither height or hip height). These monitors encompass a variety of items, but they are most directly related to feed quality, ration balance, and general health program.

Heifers from 6 months of age to breeding

Tasks, relative importance, followed by outcomes and consequences are similar to the previous age group. Some of the daily tasks are of slightly less relative importance as the immediate nature of the consequences is not as great. For example, if a ration is not accurately prepared on one day, the consequence is trivial. If not prepared correctly for a week, it could be important. Long term poor animal husbandry practices are of great consequence and management is still of top relative importance.

During this time period heat detection and breeding become factors of top importance. Time spent involved in these aspects can have a tremendous impact on overall heifer rearing costs relative to herd average age at calving.

Heifers from breeding age to prefreshening

Similar to the previous heifer group, as heifers get older and larger, the day-to-day relative importance is less critical to the outcome, however chronic weekly or monthly problems are important.

Management must have some degree of quality control to maintain proper and consistent growth rates in a cost-effective manner.

Making a custom chore chart

Some tasks and chores can be done in conjunction with each other, providing the person doing the chore has the training. An example of this is the person responsible for feeding calves can also check the health of these animals as the feeding is being done. The calf feeder may need some training to be able to identify animals that may be unwell or symptoms that indicate an animal is unwell and can report to the person responsible for health checks.

Chore Charts

Chore Charts (PDF)

This publication is available in alternative media on request.

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Peter Tozer
Trent Schriefer
Jud Heinrichs
The Pennsylvania State University
Department of Dairy and Animal Science