‘Career path’ helps buck employment problems

By Stephen Cooke

EMPLOYMENT IS a major problem in US dairy with no immediate solutions on the horizon but a fourth-generation dairy farm is bucking the trend.

Fiscalini Farms milks 1500 cows at Modesta in California’s Central Valley. It sells a variety of cheeses throughout northern America and London and has been awarded World’s Best Cheddar at the World Cheese Awards in London on three occasions.

General Manager Brian Fiscalini, the great-grandson of John who established the family dairy farm in 1914, hosted a group of New Zealand dairy farmers as part of the California dairy tour held in conjunction with the company’s One Conference.

Mr Fiscalini said he starts each of his 42 employees on a “career path”.

“When we first employ people, some say in two years they want a new career,” he said.

“One guy wanted to be a truck driver. All employees receive two days off each week so we sent him to truck school to drive a truck.

“He went, looked at how many hours he would work and what he would make, and realised he would be better off here and stayed.”

Mr Fiscalini said when employees decide to leave he knows the end date and with two months remaining begin to recruit.

Every employee is from Mexico and two long-standing staff members were first employed by Mr Fiscalini’s grandfather 30 years ago.

They have 42 employees in total and he sits down with each staff member individually every quarter. Their performance is reviewed and they are eligible for a pay rise or guided on how to improve facets of their performance.

They were the third farm in the country to adopt genomic testing when they started utilising the technology in 2009. Every heifer is tested when born at a cost of $44/head and 10–15 per cent of every cohort tested is culled.

Mr Fiscalini is looking to increase the average milk by 900 ml (2lb) every year “and we’re happy with one pound (0.45 litres)”.

The Fiscalini Farms herd comprises 95 per cent Holstein, 5 per cent Jersey and a handful of Brown Swiss (owned by a long-standing employee) and 1500 cows are milked three times a day.

Cheese is made from Jersey and Brown Swiss milk (based on butterfat component) with Holstein milk sold to Nestle. A variety of cheeses are now sold throughout northern America and London.

The herd average 42 litres (94lb) with 3.8 fat and about 3.2 protein. The Holsteins average 42 litres a day, the Jerseys 30 litres (67lb) and the Brown Swiss anywhere between 31 and 36l (70–80lb). Their highest six cows produce about 67 litres (150lb) a day.

There are four diets utilised for cow groups. The cheese cows receive a higher fat diet, and slightly more protein. The total mixed ration (TMR) comprises 20 different ingredients, including Integral A+ from Alltech.

Other than alfalfa hay, they grow all their forage, which is 70 per cent of all feed required.

“We triple crop, then there’s a short season of sudan grass, then winter wheat, which we chop."

• Alltech Lienert Australia funded Stephen Cooke’s attendance at the Alltech ONE Conference and tour to California.