Making dairy farms a more attractive place to work
Many farmers are excellent employers offering decent employment opportunities with flexible working conditions for a fair wage. Marion Beecher, Beth Dooley and Abigail Ryan have information and advice on making dairy farms a more attractive place to work
Irish dairy farmers are in a unique position to provide an attractive workplace, involving working outdoors with animals in a healthy environment. Farming in Ireland is experiencing a decrease in family-based workforce and a general decline in the number of people employed in agriculture. The dairy sector, like many other non-agricultural industries (e.g., construction), is often perceived to have long working hours, precarious working conditions, and low wages. Nevertheless, many farmers are excellent employers offering decent employment opportunities with flexible working conditions for a fair wage.
Calving and breeding seasons
While the 6-week calving rate is improving on many farms, this can cause an unbalanced workload. To manage the busy calving and breeding seasons, it is essential to have the facilities and practices to match herd size requirements and enough people available to work to ensure that everyone gets some time off. Employees will opt to work for a farmer that has efficient work practices (e.g. set rosters and cow flow) and facilities in place (e.g. optimum number of milking units), which will also reduce labour input. Likewise, farmers who have good people management skills, especially good communication skills, find it easier to attract and retain quality employees.
The reduced availability of farm workers, combined with farmers themselves placing greater emphasis on achieving a good work-life balance, has led to work organisation, efficiency and people management emerging as priority research topics. Both work organization and labour efficiency contribute to social sustainability, which is less well researched than economic and environmental sustainability. Therefore, the current research programme aims to make farms an attractive workplace for both the farmer and their family as well as those external to the business including:
- relief workers
- full- and part-time workers
A key objective is to optimize the family dairy farm in terms of herd size, while meeting labor requirements and maintaining a satisfactory work-life balance. Results of a case study with four farms highlighted that 117 cows can be effectively operated with 2,986 hours of labour input/year or 54 hours/week while still achieving the key targets for spring calving herd. Several key requirements were identified to achieve this high level of efficiency:
- Compact calving (87% in 6-weeks)
- Excellent work structures, including good organization and appropriate practices (e.g. mechanical cleaning of calf houses)
- Efficient facilities with capacity matching herd size and in good working order (e.g. 7-8 rows of cows at milking, two calf sheds in close proximity to the milking parlour)
- Good use of technologies, including automation (e.g. automatic calf feeder) and smartphone apps to make work easier and more enjoyable.