Tuesday, 17 October 2017 17:47

Staff step up under new management structure

Written by  Stephen Cooke
Isaac and Michelle Johnstone Isaac and Michelle Johnstone

A restructured management approach that has put more onus on staff is paying dividends for farm managers Isaac and Michelle Johnstone.

The Johnstones, who were named Employer of the Year at the WestVic Dairy Great South West Dairy Awards this year, have seven-full time staff who now report directly to them.

When their former 2IC accepted a manager’s role on another farm 12 months ago, the Johnstones made the decision to remove that second layer of management.

Each staff member now has an area of responsibility. Management has been divided into: Pastures; young stock; farm maintenance (fencing); machinery; herd (animal husbandry); inventory.

These areas also overlap to a degree. For example, responsibilities for pasture will overlap with the area of managing young stock, and vice versa.

Since the removal of the 2IC role, the Johnstones have noticed a change in employee attitude, to the benefit of the farm.

“It gets them thinking more about the business and challenges them,” Isaac said.

“Our employees can now make decisions and apply them. Our milker said we could milk 5 cows an hour less but milking would be finished 25 minutes faster. He made that change without coming to us.

“Farming is a technical business and with farms and herds getting bigger, we want them to be right across it.”

Employees report to Isaac and Michelle directly, advocating suggested management changes, as well as providing an update at a regular farm meeting.

“If it’s a good idea and will improve the business, we’ll make the change,” Isaac said.

“Sometimes the idea isn’t made because it would have an influence on another area of the farm, but we discuss this and it helps provide a broader overview of the business.”

They plan to give each employee two years in each role before reassessing.

Judges at the South West Dairy Awards said the Johnstones had created an “efficient and well-oiled team”.

Not only have they “created a good system of communication, allowing input from the employees,” but they “have a strong emphasis on ensuring compliance and safety in their farm business”

The team milks 1000 cattle and runs 300 replacement heifers a year on the 600 hectare farm, which the Johnstones have managed for 12 years.

Isaac, originally from a beef farm, first managed a farm in Wangoon at the age of 21, managing four staff that were all older than him. Ann and the late Graeme Adams offered him the chance to manage the 750 cow farm.

“I’ve always been a good people person and communication is the key,” Isaac said. “If you keep communicating, you’ll get through life a lot better.”

The Johnstones emphasise to their employees that “there’s never a dumb question” and ensure ongoing education opportunities.

This includes courses through RIST (Rural Industries Skill Training) in Warrnambool and the Dairy Australia Target 10 programs. They also conduct on-farm training days, utilising the knowledge of a local vet or consultant.

Wages are based on the People in Dairy website with employees paid a set hourly rate, with four weeks annual paid leave, sick days and an incentive scheme. Each employee receives a share of $40 for every day of quality milk, which can add up to $3000 each for the year.

“We benchmark ourselves against industry and think we’ve got it right. We have the balance right and guys get time off when quiet.

“We have people ring all the time, wanting to work, and currently have two brothers, and their father working with us.”

The Johnstones say it is critical to be aware of industry changes in such a dynamic industry.

“We’re aware of employment changes, including tax changes, and it’s important to maintain a good rapport with service providers, particularly grain and hay suppliers. If there’s a grain hike coming, it has a big impact on the bottom line so it’s crucial to know.”

More like this

Mobile calf shed inspired by chooks

"I looked at my neighbour's farm and thought, I can do that," said Rohan Bingley.

'That' was replicating the caravans used to house chooks on the neighbouring free range egg farm. Mr Bingley was looking for a solution to raise his dairy calves.

Moving from Bega to Gippsland to pursue dream

A fierce desire to grow their equity, and the unpredictability of the Bega seasons, has seen Tom and Gemma Otton take up a share farming role with Peter and Jeanette Clark at Kongwak.

Are your milking practices "normal"?

Recent milking time visits to a number of different dairy sheds have reminded me that “normal” means different things to different people.

More from this category

National Foods closes cheese sites

National Foods will sell its cheese processing plants in South Australia and close its two Victorian plants within three years.  The moves were announced as part of a $132 million investment in Tasmania, aimed at rationalising the company’s cheese making business.

NZ payout drop delivers a 'sobering blow'

NEW ZEALAND dairy farmers will be forced to make more hard decisions in the season ahead, as the country’s processors slash their forecast farm gate milk prices to well below the cost of production.

Milk processors want you

International demand and expansion in local processing facilities has fuelled renewed competition between Australian processors for southern milk supply.

Scramble for precious water in WA

SOME 2200 megalitres of water might seem only a drop in the ocean for flood weary farmers in northern and eastern Australia but in the drought-stricken west every bit of a new allocation will be precious.

Progression plan a work in progress

Unfortunately, many families can't broach the topic of succession planning at the kitchen table, so it was refreshing to hear WA farmer Peter Evans discussing his family's approach in front of 200 people.

Floods bring New Year chaos to northern dairy industry

THE QUEENSLAND dairy industry is starting 2011 in chaos, swamped by New Year floods engulfing the State.The big wet which drenched Central Queensland in December moved to the southeast corner of the State with devastating impact in the second week of January.

PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard is deliberately misleading Australians by claiming she wants to keep the Murray-Darling reform process on time, according to Coalition Murray-Darling Basin spokesman Senator Simon Birmingham.


MURRAY GOULBURN has taken up all of its rights in takeover target Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Factory’s (WCBF) $48 million entitlement offer.


THE HEAD of one of the world’s largest dairy cooperative wants the industry to do more to promote the goodness of dairy.

MURRAY GOULBURN has increased its prices by 35c/kg for protein and 14c/kg for butterfat – or $5.25/kg for milksolids – backdated to July 1.

ALTHOUGH AREAS of northern Victoria may remain under water for months, the amount of damage wreaked by the state’s floods is slowly being assessed.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.\nBasic HTML code is allowed.

» Get social

When butter and chocolate collide

TWO New Zealand companies Lewis Road Creamery and Whittakers have teamed up to deliver what must be every dairy lover’s dream: chocolate butter.

» E-Newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required