Opinion

Dole labour option is an insult to Irish dairy farmers

Which genius within the civil service came up with the idea of taking people off the dole in order to have them milk cows? Talk about ‘dumbing down’ the dairy sector.

At a time when the milk industry should be striving to highlight the genuine skills base that exists within its ranks, the general public has been fed a line which will get them to thinking that milking cows is akin to stacking shelves in the local supermarket.

And, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we could well end up with an unfolding scenario that could see consumers having real concerns about the quality of the dairy products they might wish to purchase, if they felt that the expertise on Irish dairy farms was not up to scratch.

Modern dairy farming requires a level of technical expertise that is above and beyond that which is both displayed and required within all other comparable walks of life. Or, let me put this another way: what actually happens if mistakes happen in the milking parlour?

Well, in the first instance, the use of an incorrect milking technique will lead to enhanced somatic cell count and milk hygiene-related problems. The end result in such circumstances is a significant reduction in the price paid to the farmer.

And this is only the beginning. In cases where a tubed (antibiotic treated) cow is accidentally milked, the follow-up madness associated with antibiotic-contaminated milk getting into the bulk tank is just not worth contemplating.

At a very general level, there is a unique skill required in working successfully with dairy cows – and this is not picked up overnight. For example, it takes a highly trained eye to recognise if a cow is off-colour when she comes into the milking parlour. If this issue is not picked up as soon as possible, the consequences for the animal could well be significant. The issue then arises of how this animal should be best managed thereafter.

I would also argue that taking people off the dole, giving them a minimal level of training and then pushing them out onto dairy farms represents an enhanced health and safety risk for everyone involved within a farm business.

One of the main reasons why seasoned farmers tend to get out of dairy is because they find the ever-tightening quality standards demanded by the industry as a whole so difficult to achieve. So, given these circumstances, how will people with absolutely no background in milk production help to ensure that this challenge becomes any easier for those producers who might consider employing them?

Putting the cow first is the mantra by which every milk producer worth his or her salt lives by. Dairy farming imposes a round-the-clock requirement on the part of the farmer and all those involved within the business.

Making important husbandry decisions is a regular occurrence within all dairying operations. But it takes a person with the right skills base to ensure that the correct conclusion is arrived at, every time, for both the sake of the farm and the animals concerned.

If there is a staffing problem within Ireland’s milk sector then it behoves all the relevant stakeholder groups to come up with a plan that will see only properly qualified people securing the positions that are available. Going down the ‘cheap and cheerful’ route represents the worst of all worlds.

And this is no reflection on those people who find themselves on the dole.

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