IGA: Switching on for spring

The expansion of the Irish dairy industry has meant more and more dairy farmers are finding themselves either employing someone full-time, or alternatively just for the busy spring period.

Tom O’Connell, a Cork-based dairy farmer, spoke at the recent Irish Grassland Association (IGA) dairy conference, about how he prepares for the busy spring period and how he manages labour on the farm.

Tom is the labour management focus farmer for the Teagasc Dairygold Joint Programme 2018-2021, running his operation with the assistance of two full-time staff, Daniel Lyons and Dan O’Mahony.

Tom outlined the switching on for ‘SPRING’ guide used on the farm to efficiently manage labour.

Simple system: Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be developed and communicated to the employee(s). A SOP is a document or a sign with a clear step-by-step guide, or instructions, on how to complete a particular task or procedure on the farm.

SOPs can be adopted for tasks such as: the milking routine; washing the milking machine; calf feeding; treating a cow for mastitis; and treating a calf with scour and many more tasks that farmers perform on a daily basis.

Tom highlighted one such practice on the farm with ear tagging done on calves that have received their colostrum. A calf without a tag hasn’t received its colostrum.gestation length

Purchase time: Using the contractor to free up time, especially during the busy spring period. Tom said ”don’t be afraid to allow someone else do a job you can do yourself”. Examples could include slurry spreading or early application of fertiliser.

Rest: Tom stressed the importance of using the dry period to take time for yourself and staff. Ensure that staff have adequate time off and a start and finish time should be decided upon and communicated. Tom said that he mainly looks after the night-time calving, with Daniel and Dan focused on day-time calving.

Inventory: Have all necessary supplies present on the farm before the calving season starts.

Also Read: Management hint: Your pre-calving checklist

Necessary work: Tom said that over the weekend they try to only carry out jobs that need to be done. “Your staff have a life outside of the farm just like you; allow staff to have time off between milking on the weekend.”

Good communication:  Tom says that no one that works on the farm is a mind reader; it is important that you talk to your staff clearly. “I like to get ideas out of my head and onto a white board.”

Image source: Tom O’Connell presentation

Tom explained that he has a whiteboard in the staff room with a yearly planner, which includes days off and staff timetables and a weekly planner whiteboard in the dairy for cleaning out sheds or animal health checks.

Tom also has a weekly whiteboard meeting with all staff on Monday mornings so all of the plans for the week are known and any issues can be brought up during this time.