Recruiting new employees is one of the most daunting challenges facing pork producers, demanding the know-how to hire and retain the right workers. But recruitment and hiring are just the beginning of the story.

Orientation and training are also vital to making that new employee a successful member of your team over the long term. But first, where do you find your new employees?

According to Darra Johnson, director of human resources for Murphy-Brown western operations, employee referral is the No. 1 method for recruiting new workers. Murphy-Brown’s western operations unit employs approximately 2,200 workers on five farms.

“Our employees do a good job of describing the work involved to prospective new employees and will help them transition to become acclimated to the workplace if hired,” Johnson says. “The referring employee receives a referral bonus after six months, provided the new employee is still on the job.”

Training is a high priority for the company. Before starting work on their own, new Murphy-Brown employees receive thorough indoctrination and training in the company’s four-week on-boarding program which combines classroom instruction with hands-on work duties in a production setting.

The Murphy-Brown program consists of three sections:

  • Animal-care policies including animal-handling and well-being requirements
  • Environmental management
  • Injury prevention.

Dedicated technical trainers are selected as instructors for the on-boarding program. Individuals chosen for these key positions must be technically competent and have good training abilities and a commitment to getting employees off to a great start. Throughout the four-week program, training modules and tests are completed by the new employee and evaluated by trainers.

The Murphy-Brown new-employee indoctrination procedure has provided benefits over traditional training programs. Farm managers are more effective when provided with workers who are capable of performing job requirements and who are fully aware of company policies. “We also have a better retention rate for new employees than we had before introducing the on-boarding program,” Johnson adds.

New-hire Fundamentals

Farm managers spend a good deal of time recruiting and hiring qualified candidates. However, the time and expense can be wasted unless the fundamentals are in place to get that new employee off to a good start, according to Melissa O’Rourke, Iowa State University Extension farm and agribusiness management specialist.

O’Rourke recommends sending an email or letter to new hires to explain some basics, including:

  1. What will I do on my first day? Provide information on where they should report, anticipated hours, break policies and orientation and training programs.
  2. What should I wear? Provide guidelines on footwear, gloves or other appropriate attire. Inform them of attire and equipment provided by the farm as part of safety protocols or biosecurity requirements.
  3. Should I bring my own lunch or beverages? Provide details on expectations for the employees’ meal arrangements. If employees are discouraged from bringing food into barns, explain the policy and the reasons behind it.
  4. Where should I park? Direct the employee to the appropriate parking area. If the employee is expected to have a farm vehicle, make it clear in the pre-employment process.
  5. What documents should I bring ? The new employee will fill out a Form I-9 as well as other employment documents, depending on state and federal requirements.
  6. What should I not bring to work? Is the farm tobacco- or alcohol-free? Explain farm policies on devices such as music players or cell phones.

When employees arrive for the first day, they should be greeted and introduced to the other workers and family members on the farm, O’Rourke says. Show them where they will find break areas and bathrooms.

Introduce them to the jobs they will be performing and ask if there are questions. At the end of the day, ask the employees how their day went. Offer information about what they can expect over the next few days and make sure they know when to arrive for work the next day.

Surveys show that employees find job satisfaction when they feel they are being treated with respect, O’Rouke says. “Treat that new employee with respect from the beginning and the employment relationship will be off to a good start.”

Farm Employment by the Numbers

The number of workers hired on U.S. farms and ranches increased last summer and fall, as did wages, compared to the same periods a year ago, according to a USDA Farm Labor Report.

  • Workers hired by farm operators numbered 872,000 in 2012, up more than 5 percent over the previous year.
  • Livestock workers earned an average of $10.89 per hour. All farm workers, including supervisors and others, earned an average of $11.36 per hour, up 4 percent from 2011.

The full USDA Farm Labor Report is available online at