28 Feb Career Spotlight: Dairy Production Manager
According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the national weighted average price for a gallon of milk at writing is $2.31. An eight-ounce block of cheese goes for $2.06, and a pack of butter costs $3.15. The amount of labor that goes into those few dollars is staggering, and it all begins at the dairy. And every dairy needs a dairy production manager.
A dairy production manager oversees the operations of a dairy, including things like feed procurement, budgeting, personnel issues, health and safety, and of course milking. It’s a job for people who don’t mind sticking their hands right into a fresh pile of cow manure, but it also calls for animal husbandry knowledge, financial savvy, and people skills.
OUR FEED SYSTEM WAS A BUCKET
Danny Cundiff has seen some major changes to the dairy industry in his thirty-seven years in the business. At the age of fifteen, he began milking for a local two-hundred-head dairy in a flat barn. It was a lot of bending at the waist, and he jokes that the feed system back then was just a bucket. The first time he milked, he garnered a laugh from another employee due to putting the milking machine on backwards. Now, after learning all the various sides of running a dairy operation, Cundiff is the general manager at G2 Producers East in Dalhart, Texas.
Cundiff is responsible for making sure that thousands of Jersey cows get milked twice a day (the milk is used to make Hilmar cheese), which includes managing about forty employees across multiple shifts. With an operation that size, cows are essentially being milked around the clock.
Being a dairy production manager requires an ability to oversee multiple tasks throughout any given day. Not only does Cundiff confirm that the cows are moved through the milking parlor on schedule in a safe and humane manner, he also ensures that the herd’s health is being cared for. He is also the person responsible for all the feed that gets delivered to the dairy, including dry matter tests on a regular basis.
“I’ve done every single job on this dairy. . .It’s not just sitting at a desk all the time. You’ve got to walk the pens and check manure. You’ve got to look at the cows,” Cundiff says. That willingness and ability to perform any task allows him to build trust with his employees. It has also afforded him the opportunity to work at dairies all over the country, evaluating and correcting procedures and increasing production.
THE DAIRY BUSINESS IS A PEOPLE BUSINESS
Cundiff attributes his rise through the ranks to a willingness to ask questions and take on new responsibilities. “I’ve always listened. When I was talking to vets and nutritionists and other dairymen, I was always kind of a shy person. But I always came out and I said, ‘I’ve got a stupid question’…But there is no stupid question. If you’re learning, there’s not a stupid question,” he says.
In a position of greater responsibility as a dairy production manager, Cundiff has had ample time to reflect and be thankful for others who taught him the ropes, and why they did it. He recalls asking a vet why he took the time to train on herd health procedures. The vet’s clinic was forty miles away from the dairy, and he knew if he trained someone correctly, he might not have to come out in icy weather on New Year’s Eve.
Like most in the dairy industry, Cundiff’s time in production has etched in him a passion for cattle and a desire to raise happy, healthy cows. Employees at G2 must sign a form before they begin work agreeing never to mistreat the animals. Dairy production managers take care of the cows that take care of them.
Being responsible for a well-maintained and satisfied herd is what Cundiff lists as the best part of his job, saying “I guess that’s my biggest reward, just seeing how much milk those cows are giving and how healthy they are and how comfortable they are. And that’s the way it’s always measured in the tank. The more milk they give, you know the cows are doing good.”
COME READY TO WORK
The dairy industry enjoys a reputation of employing some of the hardest working people in the country, and for good reason. Dairy production is not a nine to five by any stretch of the imagination. Cundiff reminds those interested in working on a dairy that problems can arise that might require working overtime or receiving calls in the middle of the night.
When asked what he looks for in an employee, Cundiff responds, “They need to have a strong work ethic . . . I think the biggest thing is just dedication.” He is talking about dedication to caring for animals and a love for agriculture, quipping, “I’ve told everybody, ‘I guess I’ve got milk or cow manure running through my veins,’ I don’t know which.”
Now back to what goes into a $2.31 gallon of milk. For those passionate about the dairy industry but may have interests beyond the milking parlor, it takes a suite of people to make a dairy function smoothly. G2 Producers grows thousands of acres of crops, producing feed for the dairy. Calves must be raised, feedlots run, equipment purchased and maintained, feed sourced, medication administered, and finances managed. Even entomologists play a role at dairies, which will be covered in an upcoming career profile.
For those interested in learning more about the dairy industry, check out these links:
National Milk Producers Federation
International Dairy Foods Association
Purebred Dairy Cattle Association
If you are interested in careers in dairy production, we’d like to hear from you. Have you worked on a dairy? What was the best part of the job? What were the biggest challenges? What advice do you have for other young professionals interested in a career in the dairy industry? Upload your resume, and as always if you have questions about this or any other career profile we have done, please email Logan West at firstname.lastname@example.org.