Dairy Tool Box Talks: An educational pilot project reaches dairy farm workers Back »

Written collaboratively by Maristela Rovai, Heidi Carroll, Tracey Erickson and Alvaro Garcia.

South Dakota State University was fortunate to receive a grant from HICAHS (High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health & Safety) sponsored by CDC/NIOSH FPT (Center for Desease Control and Prevention / National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; Farm Planning Tool) Colorado State University in 2015 to create an innovative training concept oriented to the Latino dairy farm force. A team from South Dakota State University and Colorado State University that included: Dr. Maristela Rovai (Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Dairy Specialist), Heidi Carroll (SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Associate), Tracey Erickson (SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist), Dr. Alvaro Garcia, PhD (SDSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Program Director), Rebecca Foos (CSU Grad Student) and Dr. John Rosecrance (HICAHS Project Director) were the organizers and instructors of this educational training.

Dairy Tool Box Talks Program

This innovative training course was developed following the same structure used by the engineering and construction industries. Initially, this pilot project called “Dairy Tool Box Talks” was conducted with Spanish-speaking dairy employees at three dairies in eastern South Dakota. The program provided farm workers a basic understanding of the modern operations of a dairy farm, including basic animal care and handling practices, cow comfort and personal safety practices needed for working on the farm. The educational topics also focused on preventing zoonotic diseases, awareness of the risks of animal activist organizations and important cultural differences.

The “Dairy Tool Box Talks” program was conducted in a 10-week period which included nine, 30 minute weekly sessions according to each farm’s various employee work shifts (Photo 1). A tenth session of 1 hour duration provided hands-on stockmanship training and proper cow handling with live cattle (Photo 4). Participants also received handouts in Spanish with detailed information on the week’s topic at each session. The training sessions were offered from June 22 through August 31, 2015 and over seventy five (75) people primarily representing milking parlor workers participated.

Most of the people involved completed the final evaluation and a flipchart was used to capture the ideas from a brainstorming ending session.

Photo 1. Classroom-style sessions for the Hispanic employees participating in the training.

Presentations & Activities

For each session a powerpoint presentation was prepared to provide more effective presentations and a better understanding of the topics presented. The use of interactive games, drama activities and invited speakers were used to improve the employees understanding of the different topics covered during the program sessions (Photo 2 and Photo 3).

At the end of the training period, a feedback session was also provided to the owners, managers and herdsman of the dairies involved. All participants received a certificate for the completion of the employee training along with a bonus card and an SDSU Extension cap (Photo 5).

Photo 2. Classroom-style sessions using interactive games and drama activities to improve the employees understanding of the different topics covered during the program sessions (Left: understanding milking routine; Right: understanding the meaning of somatic cell count and the defense mechanism of the udder against pathogens causing mastitis).

Photo 3. Classroom-style sessions using interactive learning activities to improve the employees understanding of ergonomics and its implications.

Program Feedback

In summary, the program feedback provided a general sense of employees being satisfied with the sessions, great learning achievement, and enthusiasm about the sessions which were described as informative and dynamic. The employees mentioned topics such as mastitis and milk quality, milking procedures, hygiene in general, animal welfare, zoonosis awareness, cultural differences, ergonomics, overall U.S. law and sanctions concerning several issues (e.g. alcohol and drug use, sexual harassment), and cow handling were important.

On the other hand, some comments from the owners, managers and herdsman feedback evaluations noted changes on employee behavior. Examples of such were: improved working relations, positive attitude at the work place and better working performance, and more awareness on hygiene issues. Having the talks in Spanish was one important key factor to the program success.

Photo 4. Hands-on session provided a stockmanship demonstration with live cattle.


The complete training structure and results were accepted for publication in a special edition of Frontiers in Public Health Journal, section Occupational Health and Safety under the research topic of “International Perspectives on Health and Safety among Dairy Workers: Challenges, Solutions and the Future” hosted by Dr(s) Martina Carola Jakob and John Rosecrance.

The article, titled Dairy Tool Box Talks: A Comprehensive Worker Training in Dairy Farming published in the renowned journal “Frontiers in Public Health” is accessible to readers worldwide at.

Opportunities are being explored to continue offering a shorter version of the “Dairy Tool Box” Program to other dairy operations in the future.

Photo 5.
Final assessment section (left) and group with certificate (right).

Special Thanks

We would like to thank all the dairy producers participating in this program and for supporting their work force to attend every session. We really appreciate the serious commitment of the time and

energy of each employee during the training period. We could not do it without you! Our sincere appreciation. Growing big and growing safe is our goal!

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