Running your own dairy farm at 57 hrs per week in Spring
Check out the Labour Efficiency Focus Farmers weekly updates here
Six dairy farmers have been tracking their hours over February, March and April. On average these six farmers worked 57hrs per week over these three months. Farming is a business like any other and therefore the total hours do not include breaks. All farms had other help on the farm and on average this came to 12 hrs per week (excluding contractor hours). The contractor was very prominent on the six farms. The task ranged from slurry, fertiliser and farmyard manure spreading, reseeding, spraying, hoof pairing, dehorning, silage, grass measuring, underpass, extending silage pit and bale areas.
Summary of the top 4 practices to reduce hours worked
1. Calving pattern
All six farmers spoke highly about the importance of having >80% of the cows calved in the first 6 weeks. The national average figure for 6 week calving rate is 65%. However this group had 87% calved on average in 6 weeks this spring. Having adequate facilities available always comes up as essential for a high 6 week calving rate. Yet from talking to the farmers, they would say they didn’t have enough facilities, but they were very organised re additional help, selling calves, contract rearing, grouping calves, hygiene, colostrum, milk management and vaccinations. The plan was there from day one to build what was needed for the high 6 week calving rate. All farmers said that within 3-4 years they upgraded the yard and the extra milk revenue helped pay for it. Ideally the two would come together but in the real world this cannot always happen.
2. Cows to grass (grazing infrastructure)
Cows to grass came very strong from this group. The two main drivers were profitability and also the reduction in yard work when the cows were at grass. Roadways and water were highlighted as the key requirements to making this task easier particularly in wet weather. The consensus was that each year some money should be spent on grazing infrastructure.
3. Selling surplus calves
You can’t have it every way. High calf price usually means selling an older calf which leads to more work, more cost and higher risk of disease outbreak. Early selling leads to more time to look after cows and allocate grass. Having a good relationship with calf buyers that are built on fairness and excellent calf management are key ingredients to selling calves earlier.
4. Milking Facilities
As milking is done twice a day this group felt having a simple parlour that was big enough to reduce row numbers was a massive labour saver. This group of farmers on average are milking 8 rows of cows. While milking parlours come at a cost this group of farmers felt that loan repayments will be met easier as less rows for milking means more time to look after cows and achieve high milk solids. The average milk solids for the six farmers last year was 500kg and this year the average peak production per cow is 2.3kg/ms.
Morning and evening milking time was set for all farms, with the aim to be finished work and be back in the house by 6pm. Morning milking time started on average at 7 o’clock with a range from 6.15 to 7.30 am and the average evening milking time of 4.30pm with a range from 3.30 to 5 o’clock.
Quotes from the farmers to summarise the top 4 practices
“The most important labour efficient practice is compact calving; it’s now a basic requirement on this farm. I suppose I now just take it for granted, it has to be compact and that’s it”
“Calving the cows together is great if you are rested and organised”
“I didn’t have all facilities in place when I hit 80%+ calving in six weeks but believe in always doing something every year to improve the farm and yard. By degrees you get there once you have a plan in place”
“It’s hard to see the benefits of one calving season until you actual do it and then there’s no going back”
“The last day of milk feeding is the 18th of May, that’s the end of milk powder; this is another big benefit of compact calving”
“The first day you put in the milking parlour is the cheapest”
“Our objective is to remove as much stress as possible, I despise stress and we know the only solution is "have a plan"
In this video, Martina Gormley, Teagasc Dairy Specialist, interviews Jimmy Cotter, a participant of the Labour Efficiency Focus Farms Programme. Jimmy gives an insight into his farm and discusses his efforts to reduce the labour burden during Spring 2020.