The art of letting go

December 2012


Who: Chris & Stewart Brander, Raleigh Dairy Holdings
Where: Coffs Harbour, NSW
What: 550 cow split-calving dairy herd
  • Setting up farm so it runs smoothly in manager’s absence
  • Large Herd’s Business Retreat
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Handing over responsibility
  • Work life balance

A self-confessed micro-manager, Chris Brander is surprised at how easy it was to hand over more responsibility to his staff; and delighted with the benefits which were almost instant.

In November 2012 Chris attended a Large Herds Business Retreat, run by Dairy Australia.

“Before I left I spent a lot of time writing out lists of what needed to be done while I was away and instructions on how to do those tasks,” Chris said.

“When I got to the retreat the message that stood out to me was that the smooth operations of the farm should not rely on the presence of the manager. It got me thinking that we could do things differently on that front.”

Chris, his father Stewart, and two silent investors from New Zealand established Raleigh Dairy Holdings in 2009. It includes two farms in the Coffs Harbour, NSW area and they have plans for further expansion. Stewart manages a TBA cow-herd which is milked off 290 ha.

Chris manages a 210 ha property which includes an A1 milk herd of 150 milkers and an A2 herd of 400 milkers. He has five full time staff and two casuals.

It was perfect timing for me to re-think how involved I needed to be in supervising every day activities and routine decisions.

“We have reached a point where we’ve got a stable and very competent team. They’ve all had thorough on-the-job training and our standard operating procedures are documented. And each of the full timers has specific areas of responsibility, matched to their skills and interests.

“When I thought about it, I was confident they could work more independently if I gave them the opportunity.” Chris immediately began a process of progressively handing over responsibility.

“In the past, people generally checked with me before they made a decision. Now I’m encouraging them to make decisions independently, knowing I’m only a phone call away if they really want advice. And I’ve allocated myself regular days off in the roster.”

It’s been a surprisingly smooth transition.

“It wasn’t really hard to let go, more a matter of changing my mindset.”

Chris noticed the difference straight away. His phone doesn’t ring as often; he resists phoning to check up on things and the farm is running smoothly whether he is present or not.

It means less work for me, less stress, more time off and the ability to relax when I’m away from the farm. I am so pleased with the outcome that I’ve booked myself a holiday in two months.

“That gives us a deadline to complete the transition process and I’m confident we can achieve it,” he said.
Chris said the Large Herd’s Business Retreat was a great opportunity to share experiences and ideas with other farmers with similar scales of operation.

“Large herds face some different issues, such as managing a bigger team of people. The retreat was a really good place to hear how other people deal with those issues. The seminar presentations were very interesting but I also got a lot out of talking to fellow farmers over a beer in the evening.” Chris said.