Employee Relations Key To Dairy Farm Success

There’s not a lot of standing still at LaBass Holsteins Ltd.

Owner Jan Bassa’s philosophy is that if you are standing still, then you are actually going backwards, says his wife, Tracy. Which means keeping an eye to the future is always foremost in the minds of this farming couple, who were recently named 2010 Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for Manitoba.

Jan came to Canada from the Netherlands in 1991, and a couple of years later he and his brother, Kees, took over the dairy farm, at La Broquerie in southeast Manitoba, from their parents. There followed several years of expansion, beginning in 1995 with construction of a new dairy barn for 150 cows and a 50-cow rotary milking parlour. Further additions in 2001 and 2009 now mean that they are milking 420 cows out of a total herd of 480.

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And, true to Jan’s thinking, they don’t intend to stop growing any time soon. He hopes to reach the full capacity of 600 milking cows within five years.

THE NEED FOR GOOD PEOPLE

Something that has grown together with the herd has been the need for staff, and the farm now has five full-time and four part-time employees. It hasn’t always been easy to compete with the demand for workers that comes from the thriving community of Steinbach a few miles away. It has meant that the Bassa family has to offer more than just a paycheque to their employees.

“Our people work with us, not for us,” says Jan.

Besides a full employee benefits package, the Bassas offer something more akin to a huge, extended family than a simple workplace. They believe that fostering a sense of ownership and team spirit is essential if they are to continue to grow together as a farming unit.

“It’s not a typical employer/ employee relationship,” agrees Tracy, who works part time as a nurse in Steinbach. “We interact with our employees, we have barbecues with them, and we babysit each other’s kids. I think that has helped us to expand, because if you can’t work with people you can’t keep getting bigger, because the bigger you get the more people you need to work with you.”

The commitment to moving forward as a farm business and building a dedicated team is what Jan believes has made the most difference to their farm over the past five years.

“My dad and mom always farmed by themselves with no farm labour helping them, so this is a big difference,” says Jan. “Every generation looks at farming differently. Our farm is now more business driven.”

HERDAN DENV IRONMENTAL HEALTH

When a business is about livestock the importance of herd health and quality is always a factor in the farm’s growth. The Bassas have always bred their own stock and part of their investment has included a highly efficient heifer barn where the calves are kept healthy thanks to a natural ventilation system. They have 50 separate calf pens and an area where they can isolate and treat sick animals.

Jan is also conscious of the farm’s environmental impact and has built a 3.8-million-gallon slurry store to comply with manure management and storage regulations. He is constantly trying to increase productivity on his 2,000 acres of corn and alfalfa, which he grows in rotation with minimal use of chemical fertilizers and more efficient manure usage.

“For myself it’s more about the self-management aspect of it,” says Jan. “As the farm has grown over these last few years we have tried to become more efficient, and my emphasis has been on the details — all the little things that make a big difference.”

Those details extend to every aspect of the Bassa farm, from the employees and their families to the condition of the equipment and appearance of the yard. So much so, that they were nominated as the Most Beautiful Dairy Farm in Manitoba this past summer, but will have to wait until December to hear the outcome of that competition. “We do take a lot of pride in everything we have and do and when you take pride and you work hard it filters down to everyone you work with too,” says Tracy.

Jan and Tracy have four more very good reasons for building a strong, viable farm; their children, Derrick, Nicholas, Joshua and Melissa, aged 12 to three.

“There’s always an eye to keep building in the future,” says Tracy. “The way our barns are set up now we can keep adding more barns for more cows and still have a well-functioning system. And hopefully have a well-run agribusiness to turn over to our kids if that is something that they choose.”

AngelaLovellisafreelancewriterbasedin Manitou,Manitoba

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Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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