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Dairy farming proving to be an attractive career choice at 50 hours per week

The perception amongst many dairy farmers is that all dairy farmers work long hours and that there is very little time for breaks and time off the farm. Six dairy farmers have been recording their weekly hours each week this year, with the results available at www.teagasc.ie/laboursavingfocusfarms. The first summary findings were published for February, March and April and showed that on average these farmers worked 57 hours per week. The final analysis for this year is for May, June and July.

Excluding the once a day milking farm that works off farm the five twice a day milking farmers worked on average 50 hours per week with 12 hours help from family and non-family. The average herd size is 130 cows for this group of farmers. Who would have thought that a farm owner with 130 cows could run a profitable business working 50 hours per week? I would think very few!

So how have these six farmers managed to keep working hours close to 50 hours per week?

For the six farmers the top five practices to reduce hours worked throughout the summer months are:

1. Parlour

There is no getting away from the fact that a low number of rows of cows reduces hours for every day of the year that you are milking. All six farmers had more rows of cows in the past than they have today but agreed planning and making the investment was the best thing they ever done.

2. Organisation/development work

When it comes to development work on the farm one farmer said “A farm is like a house, it’s never finished” With this in mind the question was asked should the farm owner’s hours increase every time development work takes place? After much debate, one of the farmers said that: “In the past, I would have said “yes”, my hours should increase and that it’s no harm as it’s only for a few weeks” but now he realises that focusing on the small extra cost for more help when you are already spending a lot of money on the project is the wrong way to look at it. “ I now get a neighbour to take over on whatever machine that I was driving and I go for the cows at 3.30pm and because of this the job gets done when it should be done and I finish up in the evening the same time as I always do. It’s short sighted really, as it doesn’t end up costing much to get an additional person in for a few hours here and there for these jobs.”

Another farmer said he “either drives the machine himself and gets someone into milk the cows at the time they are always milked or he milks the cows and gets someone to drive the machine”. He also commented that it can be easier to get someone to drive the machine.

All farmers agreed that there is an additional cost involved, but its small and they have to value their time and also remember that usually something gives when you try to do too much yourself.

Overall the general consensus was planning out the job properly from day one is key. Also the group found that checking in for 10 minutes three times per day was very effective to ensure the job was being done as the farmer wanted. One farmer found in the past that he was really only getting in the contractors way when he was spending a lot of time at the development area.

3. Stocking rate

Looking back the farmers are now stocked higher on the milking block than a few years ago and find this more labour efficient. All agreed that there is a balance and if you go overboard on stocking rate workload will increase. For these farmers workload has reduced due to fewer peaks and troughs in grass growth and pretty much zero topping. The topper has been made redundant due to better utilisation of grass with more cows and the removal of “strong paddocks “for surplus silage. They all agreed they were fond of topping in the past but did not realise that it added a lot of work to the summer months and in the end was not as beneficial as they had thought.

4. Fewer groups of stock

Having fewer groups of stock was deemed very important from a time and profit point of view. One farmer really noticed the difference this made when he moved from calving cows in the winter to just spring calving. Straight away you went from six groups to three groups of stock. Another farmer found that grazing 24 to 36 hour paddocks in summer versus 12 hour allocations was like having one less group of stock. “12 hour allocations add more time for no extra profit”

5. Contractor and machinery usage

Another common trend with this group of farmers was the use of the contractor. Over the last 12 weeks the contractor was on farm for 9 of the 12 weeks. All farmers have a relatively decent tractor on the farm and in times where they could not get the contractor some opted to pay someone to use their machinery to spread fertiliser or draw bales. This flexible approach meant the farmers workload did not increase.

To conclude I would like to say a big thank you to the farmers for sharing their weekly hours and work practices throughout the last six months. On average this group of farmers worked 53 hours per week from February to the end of July. This is a very respectable working week for owner operated businesses that have a proven record of running a profitable efficient farm.