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Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)


Many farms need committed workers to operate successfully. It is important that permanent or casual workers complete work procedures consistently and accurately. Standard operating procedures are written instructions used to manage variation that is introduced in production systems when different individuals perform tasks in different ways. Each of us may have a different way of doing something but when you are trying to produce a high quality product, it is very important that each step is done in a specific manner to ensure high quality is maintained. Even small farms with no hired labour should consider writing down how tasks should be done. This will allow someone with some experience but not familiar with your operation to carry out tasks on the farm without it being a huge safety risk or negatively affecting your farm business. 

What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

A standard operating procedure or SOP is a document consisting of step by step instructions on how to complete a particular job or procedure on the farm. SOPs can be adopted for tasks such as Milking Routine, Washing the Milking Machine, Calf Feeding,  Treating a cow for Mastitis, Feeding Animals, Dosing Animals, Calving Cows and many more tasks that farmers perform on a daily basis.

What are the Benefits of a well written SOP?

A well written SOP will:

  • Provide direction
  • Improve communication
  • Reduce training time
  • Improve consistency
  • Allow somebody to help out in the case of an emergency
  • Support a more profitable business

SOPs are an excellent tool for farmers and their employees to work towards common goals. It also creates a positive sense of teamwork.

SOPs used in combination with planned training and regular performance feedback lead to an effective and motivated workforce. 

How to Develop an SOP

This should be an inclusive process. It should consider the input of everyone involved in the procedure. Farmers / Managers that consider the input from their workers will increase buy-in and produce a better SOP. People will support what they help create.

There are seven steps to producing excellent SOPs

  1. Planning
  2. First Draft
  3. Internal Review
  4. External Review
  5. Testing
  6. Post
  7. Train

 1. Planning

The first step is to link the SOP with the business goal or goals that it will help achieve. The SOP can then be shaped from the beginning with steps that lead to accomplish this goal. Goals do not work without measurements and feedback on performance. For example an SOP on milking routine should tie in measurements like somatic cell count (SCC), total bacterial count (TBC) and thermoduric bacteria levels in milk.

2. First Draft

The next step is to make a detailed list of the steps in the order that they are done. Don’t try to be perfect with the first draft because it is very likely that you will need to make changes. Writing a first draft provides a starting point for the review and discussion that will take place

3. Internal Review

Provide each employee who performs the procedure with a copy of the draft SOP. Ask them to review and suggest changes that are easier to understand, more accurate or will improve performance. Assure employees that their input is important and will be considered. People are much more likely to accept and use the SOP if they feel a sense of ownership in it. Workers will feel ownership and commitment to an SOP if they believe that the owner or manager used or at least fairly evaluated their ideas during development. Another reason to involve employees is that they are likely to have good ideas.

4. External Review

Farmers/Managers should seek advice and ask for feedback from people like for example their advisor, and vet when creating an SOP. They can give advice that draws on their knowledge and experience from other farmers. Provide them with a draft of the SOP and ask them to suggest any changes that will make it clearer and more effective. Revise the SOP as necessary to incorporate these changes.  

5. Testing

For procedures to be effective, they must perform in the workplace. There is only one way to be absolutely certain that a procedure is well written and performs as expected. Have a person (preferably someone unfamiliar with the task) test the SOP by performing each step exactly as it is described. Any step that causes confusion for the test worker should be revised.

6. Post

Make a final draft of the SOP and display it in the appropriate location. A master SOP file should be kept in a central location where workers can review all SOPs when necessary. The workplace SOP should be laminated and printed in large text so that workers can review while completing their work. It is also essential to keep SOPs up to date.

7. Train

The last step in the SOP writing process is to train the workers to follow the procedure exactly. Otherwise workers will interpret the meaning of procedures in different ways leading to inconsistency in work routine and performance. When training workers, share the reasons why procedures must be performed correctly – not just what to do or how to do it. Workers are much more likely to follow procedures exactly when they understand why they are important.


SOPs are powerful tools for bringing farmers, managers and employees together to focus on improving general farming tasks. When everyone gets involved, goal setting is performed, monitoring is built in and feedback is provided. This will enable the business to become more successful and also encourage employees to perform at a higher level.

Key Messages

  • Written in a clear and readable style
  • Need to be specific to the farm
  • Linked to business goals
  • Written logically
  • Located beside the workstation where they are needed
  • Laminated
  • Photos can be included
  • Keep to a single page
  • Break down the tasks for example milking can be broken into 3 SOPs e. Preparation for Milking, Milking Routine, Cleaning up after Milking.
  • Build on feedback from internal and external personnel
  • Get buy in from your employees by involving them in the process from the beginning.
  • Measurable
  • Useful
  • Test the SOP – Preferably somebody unfamiliar with the task
  • Train your employees to follow the steps of the SOP
  • Update and review regularly.
  • Have a master copy of all SOPs in a central location

Read about SOPs for milking here

Read also how one farmer is using SOPs Standard Operating Procedures (PDF) Today's Farm May/June 2018