Labour Review Mid-Year on the Dairy Farm
Type Media Article
By Tom Murphy, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare
The year 2022 has now passed the half-year mark. How has it gone for you so far? The response I often get to this question is usually very personalised -
- “The workload felt heavier this spring…”
- “It’s very difficult to attract or keep a good worker…”
and sometimes the answer is non-verbal, but a very tired-looking (part burn-out) Dairy farmer just nods their head.
Back in 1990 average herd size was 25 cows per farm. This has been increasing progressively since (especially following the abolition of milk quotas in 2015). Today, the average herd size is closer to 85 cows, with a significant increase in the number of larger herds. Labour studies across various size Dairy farms, shows that hours worked per cow per year declines as herd size increases. However, inevitably the total hours worked on the farm increases with expansion. Also, notably there is a disproportionate seasonal pattern to labour input at farm level.
In today’s corporate world, as a business expands, modern management teams look to the “Lean Management” model for solutions. Likewise many modern-minded Dairy farmers find refuge in this model, sometimes unaware that they are implementing it on their own farm. Simply speaking, it refers to improving working conditions by removing wastes and improving work methods.
Labour enthusiasts have categorised these wastes under specific headings, and some examples (specific to the Dairy farm) are suggested for each of these areas. Perhaps there’s something in here worth reviewing for your own farm.
Lean Management Waste types, and examples include;
- Transport – Poor farmyard layout resulting in excessive movement of materials.
- Inventory – Excess/unnecessary machinery. Livestock types kept too long (heifers calving too old or cull cows hanging around)
- Motion – Unnecessary walking, lifting, searching ( haphazard system for storing tools/ farm implements), moving, carrying (milk buckets for calves instead of a trolley or pipeline)
- Waiting – for Meal, vaccines, machinery, people.
- Over-production – Unplanned surplus bales/ poor grassland management & excessive topping
- Over Processing – Duplicating paper work (lack of simple/timely system)
- Defects – High somatic cell count milk, machinery breakdowns, unacceptably low milk constituents, avoidable animal disease outbreaks
- Skills – Not training new employees/casual workers correctly or at all
Lean Management exploits the ability of a person to work successfully when the workload and procedure is simplified and easy to follow. Visualisation and good communication plays a big role task performance, even for small tasks. Many modern Milking units now have a designated area (office or part of Dairy) where a laminated farm map is centred on the wall, with all fields/paddocks clearly marked and numbered. This hub is also used for grassland management charts and written direction, together with plans for fertiliser, herd management and other timely tasks. Unique animal (tag/freeze brand no.) and paddock/field identity (number plate at each entrance) are essential to this simple communication process. The main processes and associated farm areas, such as milking (parlour & Dairy), calf rearing (calf-shed), paperwork (farm office), machinery repair (farm workshop) should be organised according to the 5S steps
Standardised work is an agreed set of work routines which is useful for repetitive, regular tasks often completed by different people. This is often referred to as a “Standard Operating Procedure” (SOP). Typically, this is written down in brief step-by-step order, in clear writing, depicted with simple pictures and secured where required (i.e. milking machine operation procedure, on the wall at the machine operation point).
Labour input on Dairy farm studies was assessed under nine different headings. The proportion of time taken by each of these tasks is expressed as a percentage of overall farm labour and shown in the coloured pie-chart. Milking came out top of the workload tasks at 33%.
Applying Lean management to the milking procedure challenges you;
- to perfect a good and efficient milking routine (retrain yourself –complete a milking course)
- provide good cow flow and facilities (get a trained outsider to assess your facilities and procedure)
- apply the 5S’s above to ensure all equipment is always located at the point of use
- Perfect all visual management (whiteboards, effective SOP)
Research on milking interval shows that adopting a 16hr: 8hr milking interval does not reduce milksolids production, and there is no advantage in milking cows later in the evening. However, on-farm labour studies have shown that the most efficient Dairy farmers start the evening milking 2.5 hours earlier than the average surveyed. If your morning milking start time is 7AM, the evening milking should be started at 3PM. Farms which have switched to an earlier afternoon milking have a targeted finish time of 5PM-6PM. This encourages them to be more efficient between milking’s. Also, the farmer is more alert and able to focus on an efficient milking routine. Relief milkers are also shown to be a precious resource in alleviating labour pressure on a dairy farm.
Another finding of these studies showed that the most efficient farms make more use of contractors. Tasks such as slurry and fertiliser spreading, bale-handling and transport are now routinely contracted out on many labour efficient farms. Specialised tasks such as calf-rearing, and contract heifer rearing have also shown to give very positive labour, time and money saving results. Remember, the cost of this is significantly reduced on most farms when the tax is applied.
Now is a good time to assess what went well on your farm in the first and second quarter of 2022, and identify areas where change is needed. Having done that, don’t forget to take a holiday or at least a short break from the farm and revise your plan - when you return with a fresh pair of eyes.