Thinking outside the box to solve ‘multifaceted’ calving labour issue

The “multifaceted” need for farm labour during peak calving season has led the Farm Relief Services (FRS) to adopt a new approach in supplying workers specialising in tasks instead of all-round employees.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, operations and business development manager with FRS Network Padraig Madden told presenter Claire Mc Cormack what had prompted the change.

Commenting on the pressure points at this time of year, Madden said: “It’s about having a skilled operator and about someone who’s able to row in and do those jobs and work shoulder-to-shoulder with the farmer.

“The farmer is looking for someone to come in there that can support – be that at calf rearing, at milking or at feeding.

We have come to the conclusion at this stage where we try to break down those tasks for farmers and we could possibly supply someone to do those individual jobs rather than try to find someone who can do all those jobs.

The reasoning behind this, he said, is that labour has been very scarce in recent years and trying to find employees which possess all the required skills has become harder.

‘Thinking outside the box’

“We’ve had to think outside the box a little bit to see what we could do to help farms,” he said.

Commenting on the impact of the busy calving season on farmers themselves, Madden said: “It’s multifaceted really. The spring time of the year is so important to the dairy farmer or the suckler farmer. Once cows are calving, the work is long, it’s hard. There’s very little sleep to be got.

“It’s a farmer’s livelihood at the end of the day; it’s so important to them. And we’re trying to be there to support them as much as we possibly can.

“Farmers need their sleep; and there’s a health and safety issue there as well – if farmers don’t have that support on the ground, it comes back on them all the time.

And if they don’t have that support and they don’t get their sleep, it can break down on them. You can have losses on the farm, that’s one thing, but more importantly is their own health can suffer from it and this is what leads to accidents – it’s a very very important issue.

However, Madden was confident that improvements are being made, noting that FRS has never had as many operators on the ground as it has at present.

“We have over 1,500 operators working on the ground and we’re all the time seeking different avenues to try and find people.”

Weather impact

The manager also believes that the more clement weather experienced this year compared to last year has also played a part in helping to make things easier, the past couple of days aside.

“This year we’ve had very much a dry winter, we’ve had great grass growth over the winter. Yes the last few days have been a bit harder but that would have helped greatly no matter what occupation you’re in.

“If the weather is fine, it makes the job so much easier. And that has been the case for the last number of weeks, since the calving season has started on February 1,” Madden said.