In 1992 nearly half of all dairy farms had fewer than 100 cows. Today, about half of all dairies have at least 1,000 or more cows, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Larger herds require more workers and as David Douphrate discovered, there are many logistical barriers to training those workers.
“These are 365, 24/7 operations, so it’s very challenging to pull these workers off the job to deliver training,” he said.
An associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Douphrate began researching the dairy industry in 2003 as a Ph.D student at Colorado State University. He said dairy workers are exposed to all kinds of injury from working with machinery, manure pits and, of course, cows.
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 46 people died in “milk production” in 2016, and that number has stayed consistent over the past 15 years.
With the help of federal funding and professor Robert Hagevoort at New Mexico State University, Douphrate developed a video training program that is given to workers using tablets like iPads.
“We give each worker a set of earbuds and they go through these videos on an iPad, so it’s very individualized,” he said.
Many dairy workers do not speak English as their primary language, so the two-and-a-half-hour training is also available in Spanish. At least 40 workers can be trained at once and the program does not require an internet connection — a boon to farms located in remote rural areas.
Most importantly, Douphrate said, the training doesn't require a classroom or a fixed schedule.
“They can deliver this type of training anytime of the day. So, we can pull workers off, or (train them) before or after their work shift. It’s very flexible,” he said.
Douphrate said over 1,500 workers in several states — including Colorado, Kansas and Idaho — have received the training since the program began five years ago.