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Dairy Farmers Need to Examine Labour Use and Efficiency

Achieving a balance between producing more milk and having a ‘quality of life’ means that many dairy farmers will be required to examine both labour usage and efficiency on dairy farms according to Teagasc Dairy Specialist, Pat Clarke.

Speaking at a Teagasc/ ICOS Dairy Expansion Seminar this week, he said that in order to achieve efficient use of work time, farmers need to operate simple dairying systems, have adequate facilities for their herd size and make timely use of contractors. The Teagasc Specialist indicated that those farmers who start the evening milking around 4.30pm have consistently been shown to be more labour efficient due to being more organised between the two milking’s. Numerous studies have shown that an earlier evening milking time has no effect on milk yield, while it allows more evening time for family and lifestyle. He also emphasised having suitable buildings, machinery and equipment and a farm infrastructure to optimise labour efficiency. In particular he emphasised having adequate milking machine capacity as milking typically uses 34% of a dairy farmer’s total working time.

Excessive workload is one of the main stressors affecting farmers according to Teagasc Health and Safety Officer, John McNamara. International research has shown that the three most common sources of farm workplace stress are long working hours and poor safety conditions, worry about farm finance and poor health. He also emphasised the importance of the farmer looking after his/her health, as poor health causes stress and has been shown to reduce income by limiting a farmer’s capacity to farm. He drew attention to the availability of the health booklet for farmers ‘Staying Fit for Farming’ which was circulated nationally to farmers and is available on the Teagasc web site. Finally, he reminded farmers of their responsibility to make their farms “a safe and comfortable place to work for everybody.”

At the seminar Peter Byrne, CEO Farm Relief Services advised farmers to firstly “gear up for more efficient labour use by looking at farm layout, roadways and buildings and identify changes necessary to improve labour efficiency” He went on to outline the various labour options available to dairy farmers including family, direct employment, student, contractor, Farm Relief Services and various collaborative farming arrangements. “Each comes with advantages and disadvantages and the first thing every farmer should do is to identify which option suits their situation best.” If you do decide to employ additional labour directly, he advised “to be aware of your legal requirements relating to the provision of a contract of employment, a payslip and a method for recording hours worked.

In conclusion, Tom O’Dwyer, Teagasc Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer, stressed the importance of getting labour efficiency right before adding more cows and that the most labour efficient farms are currently managing 100 livestock units per labour unit. “This has to be the benchmark in terms of labour efficiency. But it is also important that dairy expansion does not take place at the expense of the farmer’s physical, mental and social health.

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