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Labour saving this spring

Labour saving this spring

The workload in spring makes up over one-third of the total hours needed to run a farm per year.

Many farm owners are working in excess of 80 hours per week in spring and overcoming this workload can be a challenge on many farms. The main spring labour efficient practices highlighted from a recent labour efficiency study are summarised as follows.

Care care practices

  • Fresh milk piped directly or transported mechanically to the calf house;
  • Train calves on group feeders from days one to four;
  • Feed calves on automatic feeders or ad-lib once grouped and trained;
  • Bed calf pens at least every second day and clean regularly – bedding should be easily accessible;
  • Put a plan in place to sell bull calves promptly, preferably in batches directly from the farm.

Cow care practices

  • Ensure cows are in the correct body condition score (BCS, i.e., 3.0-3.25) and receive correct minerals to reduce problems at calving;
  • Implement once-a-day milking for the first two to three weeks of the calving season;
  • Train heifers to enter the milking parlour from one month pre calving;
  • House dry cows in groups according to calving date to make sorting easier;
  • Provide a group pen for calving, with easy access to an individual pen for handling from this area;
  • Have all your cow and calf supplies purchased and in stock before the first cows calve.

Grassland practices

  • Have a farm map and clear instructions in terms of the fields;
  • Repair any fencing/water troughs before turnout;
  • Have reels/posts ready to go;
  • Have a plan in place for the first rotation order of paddocks.

Getting help

  • Book the contractor in advance for fertiliser and slurry applications;
  • Consider options for weekend and part-time work – highly skilled employees are hard to find, but it is often possible to get help for certain tasks;
  • Have defined roles and operating procedures in place for each task;
  • Start milking by 4.00pm at the latest in the afternoon to control the length of your working day;
  • Night calving cover is becoming more popular. Consider options for February and March.

This article was originally published in the Teagasc Dairy Advisory Newsletter January 2023, which features the latest news and advice from the Teagasc dairy team, including:

  • Managing early N this spring
    High fertiliser nitrogen (N) prices significantly increased cash costs on dairy farms in 2022 and will continue to do so this spring. However, a lack of N supply in the soil limits spring grass growth, which will lead to higher feed costs later in spring. It is important to maximise the efficiency of fertiliser used this spring.
  • Mastitis in early lactation
    Early lactation mastitis, which occurs in the first week or so after calving, is a problem in many herds. Cows are especially at risk of acquiring mastitis in the two weeks either side of calving because at this time, the cow’s immune system is at its lowest ebb. Recent research work on commercial farms also shows that up to 30% of first-calving heifers are calving down with infected quarters. 
  • Check your fodder stocks
    Following on from the Teagasc fodder survey in autumn 2022, there is a continuing risk of fodder shortages on dairy farms in the south east, midlands east and southern regions in particular. A seemingly small deficit (10-15%) at the start of the winter could become a big problem in March/April if weather and grazing conditions are poor.
  • Health & Safety: Start the new year safely
    Let’s all make 2023 a safe and healthier year for everyone working and living on farms. Improving safety and health requires intention in advance of action. Review and update your risk assessment document and then take actions. A total of 12 fatal farm workplace accidents were recorded in 2022 (provisional data).This is almost 50% of all workplace fatalities (26).

 Click here to download the publication (PDF).