Wickstrom Dairies keeps cows happy and farmers in sync with Slack

How a family-owned farm uses Slack to keep communication lines open and employees up to speed

Author: Devon MaloneyOctober 29th, 2019

Wickstrom Dairies started as a two-calf operation in Hilmar, California, back in 1940. Nowadays the fourth-generation, family-owned farm takes care of 2,400 Jersey cows along with 1,000 acres of crop ground. And with those cows producing between 21,000 and 23,000 gallons of milk a day, Wickstrom Dairies needs to be in sync 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

That’s why Wickstrom Dairies decided to ditch the text messages, emails and even handwritten notes that workers relied on to stay connected and collaborate in Slack instead. Here’s how Wickstrom Dairies uses Slack to bridge language and generational gaps within its teams, eliminate costly communication breakdowns, and ensure that everyone is getting the care and support they need to perform at their best, both cows and humans.

Ensuring work-life balance for managers and farmworkers

Wickstrom Dairies has a small team of about 30 employees with a lot of work to be done around the clock. As a result, work-life balance is a major priority for the business: Employees need to feel empowered, supported and like they can leave work at work.

“Slack allows me to keep a pulse on our operation at all times. Whether I’m checking one of our other farms or I’m in a meeting onsite or offsite, I don’t have to micromanage.”

Aaron WickstromManaging partner, Wickstrom Dairies

With Slack as a central information hub for the entire dairy team, even workers clocking into a night shift are able to find out what happened on the farm while they were away, quickly catching up on announcements, key updates on production and team discussions.

Slack also makes it possible for decision-makers like managing partner Aaron Wickstrom to step away from hands-on operations and later go over what took place.

“Slack allows me to keep a pulse on our operation at all times,” says Wickstrom. “Whether I’m checking one of our other farms or I’m in a meeting onsite or offsite, I don’t have to micromanage. At the end of the day, I can see in real-time what has gotten done, and quickly interject when necessary without our employees having to have approval for every little thing they do.”

With Slack, fussy cows get fed on time

Believe it or not, the cows of Wickstrom Dairies are sticklers for punctuality. That means the business has to run on their schedule too. With team-specific Slack channels, each farm team is able to work faster to prevent any bovine slowdowns.

“If we’re late, the cows have already lost interest in eating,” says dairy manager Jesus Rojas. “They don’t eat, we lose milk production. Through Slack, if we notice something is not right, we can immediately communicate that in the feed channel. Together we can put our ideas to work and see what the problem is.”

Slack has also been essential in keeping track of the calves they raise. In a dedicated channel, the calf team shares details on:

  • New calves on the calf range
  • Supplies or health issues
  • Appointments scheduled with veterinarians for calf health checks and vaccinations
  • Any appropriate paperwork needed to move calves out of state

Using Slack to get key equipment fixed faster

In addition to more common Slack functions like employee scheduling and HR performance reviews, Wickstrom Dairies also uses Slack guest channels to keep in touch with external vendors, such as repair technicians who keep the farm equipment up and running.

Take a broken tractor, for example. Before Slack, when a machine would break down, the operator would call the farm’s maintenance manager, who would then call and leave a message for the repair company, which would then call them back to schedule an appointment. The maintenance manager would then have to call five separate team members whose duties might be affected by the delay—and often, not everyone who needed to know would get the call.

“Now I take a picture of the broken part. I send it to the repair and maintenance channel, so the person in charge is notified and can get the mechanic here,” Rojas says. “He knows exactly what to expect, and in a reasonable time we have the equipment running again. Then the maintenance manager will tell the channel that the equipment is ready to use again.”

Additionally, Wickstrom says, “What used to take 20, 30, 40 minutes, sometimes several hours, to get resolved, we can have that information to everybody and heading in the right direction in five minutes or less.”

“Looking back, we didn’t realize how much inefficient communication really slowed down our business. Without Slack, it would not be as enjoyable to run and manage our operation on a daily basis.”

Aaron WickstromManaging partner, Wickstrom Dairies

Keeping a multilingual team connected through Slack

As an agriculture business, Wickstrom Dairies has a diverse workforce. Its employees (and external vendors) are a multilingual bunch and misinterpretations or misunderstandings can lead to production bottlenecks. With a translation bot in Slack, workers and managers can be sure that their messages are coming across crystal clear to the entire team, no matter what their primary language might be.

“Looking back, we didn’t realize how much inefficient communication really slowed down our business,” Wickstrom says. “Without Slack, it would not be as enjoyable to run and manage our operation on a daily basis.”

The dairy’s team also ranges widely in age, with some employees having been with the company for as many as 30 years. But Slack has been an unexpected hit even for those workers who weren’t fans of Wickstrom’s previous communication solutions.

“Obviously the millennials picked up Slack within 10 seconds, but we also have people on our team who are in their 60s and very non-tech focused, to the point where flip phones were a hassle for them,” Wickstrom says. “But once we showed them how Slack made their job easier with a smartphone, they were actually some of the people that adopted it the quickest, and have been the heaviest Slack users, because it’s made their everyday work easier.”

Promoting farm safety through Slack

Being located in California’s Central Valley means it can get extremely hot at Wickstrom Dairies, with temperatures frequently reaching triple digits in the summertime. So in addition to a general announcements channel for companywide news and project updates, Wickstrom Dairies also has a separate safety channel to remind employees who often work outside all day to:

  • Bring their water coolers to work
  • Take breaks in shady areas and air-conditioned spaces
  • Remember and recognize the signs of heat illness

“Having Slack has helped us with our safety record overall,” Wickstrom says. “It also creates an atmosphere where, if someone notices a coworker hasn’t been drinking their cold water on a regular basis, they can help their fellow teammate to make sure they’re safe during those hot days.”

A new horizon for dairy farmers

With the help of solutions like Slack, Wickstrom Dairies is able to cut through the challenges of running a small agricultural business and keep up with a rapidly evolving industry.

“Today’s dairy industry needs to be more competitive,” Rojas says. “Slack has allowed the company to meet those goals, making things more efficient, going through things a lot faster, speeding up the entire process.”

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