How can I make the spring workload easier on my dairy farm?

On many dairy farms across the country spring is naturally a busy time of the year, with many tasks occurring simultaneously.

Therefore, it is a particularly demanding time for labour resources. These resources can be put under extra pressure from extreme weather, as was the case in 2018.

AgriLand recently attended a workshop titled ‘Managing the spring workload’ at this year’s Teagasc National Dairy Conference in Co. Cork.

Marion Beecher of Teagasc explained that for an average dairy farm “spring accounts for 34% of the annual workload”.

“This is mainly due to a compact-calving pattern and potentially inadequate facilities on farms,” she said. “This can result in increased stress for farmers, their families and employees.”

Survey of Irish dairy farmers

The Teagasc researcher discussed a survey of Irish dairy farms conducted by Teagasc dairy advisors.

The survey reviewed the spring of 2018 and consisted of 20 questions, answered by dairy discussion group members. In total, 349 responses were collected from 37 discussion groups in 12 different counties.

Unsurprisingly, the extreme weather and labour demands associated with calving, milking and calf rearing caused the most stress during spring 2018, Marion said. In addition, the fodder shortage experienced in 2018 was the third highest cause of stress among farmers surveyed.

Results from 349 farmers reviewing spring 2018. Source: Teagasc

Planning for spring 2019

Good planning is smart farming, according to Marion. Preparation in advance of the busy period will help reduce stress and make the use of the available labour on the farm more efficient, she added.

Marion explained that “the same labour issues arise every year, so we can plan for them”.

In addition, it was highlighted during the workshop that the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) provides details on the calving pattern of your herd. This information can be used to plan labour requirements.

Looking to spring 2019, the farmers surveyed were asked what they were going to change – budget depending – as a result of spring 2018.

35% of the farmers said they were going to improve their facilities and infrastructure, in order to reduce the labour demand and make tasks easier and less time demanding.

This consisted of updating the milking parlour, constructing new calf sheds and installing roadways.

In addition, 19% of farmers said they were considering reducing their stock numbers by selling off surplus calves as soon as possible after calving and culling unproductive cows earlier.

Some 15% of farmers said they would hire more help for the busy spring period, while 14% of farmers would make more feed.

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