The dos and don'ts of the most labour-efficient farms

Having only a dairy enterprise simplifies overall operation, so consider contract rearing of replacements,

This is one of the tips from dairy farmers in Teagasc discussion groups who have looked at far labour efficiency, and at farm practices that impact on workload.

Teagasc has listed the practices used by the most labour-efficient farmers who took part in the groups’ discussions.

* Seasonal milk production will reduce overall labour requirements compared to winter and spring calving. The herd is treated as one, with one calving season, one feeding system, etc.

* Compact spring calving allows for a closed period in winter. Compact calving will increase labour requirement in February, March, and April, but this can be planned, and paid for by the increased milk produced off grass.

* Avoid complex systems, such as where alternative feeds are fed, like cereal crops, maize, and mixtures of straights. These systems require extra machinery to mix and feed, increasing costs and increasing labour requirement.

* Calve the herd to match grass availability in spring.

Calving

* Compact calving focuses the work in a short period when everyone is prepared for calving.

* Use practices such as correct calving body condition, adequate feeding, batching cows, dry cow minerals, etc, to prevent calving problems and downer cows,

* Keep freshly calved cows in a separate group from the milking herd, near the parlour, and milk them once a day.

* Easy calving sires will reduce the number of assists during calving. Night feeding of silage after a restricted period of no silage results in more calvings by day.

* Have cows in good fit condition for calving, organise night help for large herds. Calving cameras can reduce time spent travelling to the calving shed.

* Group calving reduces feeding time and observation time.

* Outdoor calving reduces the need for bedding

* Two-year-old calving: less groups of replacement stock to manage and feed

Calf Rearing

* Feed calves in group pens. Individual pens (even for a few days) require more individual calf attention.

* Get calves settled in their pens quickly, minimise moving calves from pen to pen.

* Outdoor rearing with shelter will reduce the labour input for bedding.

* Pumping systems for milk transfer from the dairy to the calf house and within a calf house will reduce manual labour and reduce feeding time.

* Calf feeder on quad: for easy movement of milk from parlour to calf house and calf rearing paddock.

* Mechanical cleaning of calf houses: have doorways with access for a loader to allow for quick and easy cleaning.

* Adequate facilities: new sheds and bigger feeders are required as the number of calves reared increases.

* OAD feeding; feed calves once a day after three weeks of age.

* Beef calves: sell them early and focus on dairy stock.

Milking

* The milking process takes up about 33% of the working day, having sufficient units will go a long way to reducing your daily labour input. Target seven or eight rows of cows for one person operations.

* Earlier evening milking forces better time management. Target a 4pm start of evening milking.

* There’s no yield effect in an 18/6 hour versus 12/12 hour milking interval with herds averaging under 6,000kg.

* Once a day milking: OAD milking can be used as a management tool at any stage during the lactation to reduce labour. It is particularly useful in early lactation, during the peak calving period.

* Drafting facilities, either manual or electronic (operated from the pit), will mean the milker need not leave the pit during milking to hold cows.

* Collecting yards; slatted yards or good channels in the collecting yard and high volume wash pumps will speed up work.

* ACRs will allow one person to manage a large number of units without concerns of over-milking.

* Backing gates eliminates the need to leave the parlour to get cows in.

* Automatic machine washing will help to reduce the labour input

Grassland

* A good farm roadway is essential, with a smooth surface, to allow easy movement of cows to the parlour. A clean roadway will reduce the time spent udder cleaning for milking.

* Less topping; better grassland management minimises the need for topping.

* Paddock maps allow better communication and planning between the farmer and family help, employee, or contractor.

* Three grazings per paddock; grass can be allocated every 24 or 36 hours during the summer, avoiding the need for wires and 12 allocations.

* Paddock access; extra entry gates or gaps will allow more access and facilitate a longer grazing season.

* Early spring grazing; cleaner cows reduces preparation time and possible infections. Likewise, grazing cows later in the autumn will reduce the labour input for cubicle cleaning and slurry spreading.

* If short of grass in the autumn or spring, consider leaving half the cows indoors and half outdoors rather than letting cows out for three hours grazing and then re-housing them.

* Quad bike: use it for herding or fetching cows.

* Tunnels; eliminate the need for a second person when crossing public roads.

Breeding

* Heat detection aids or auto-detection meghods minimise observation time for detecting cows in heat.

*  Teaser bulls are useful after the first three weeks of the breeding season.

* AI technicians: some large herds are reverting back to technicians to save time spent inseminating.

* Once a day AI: one drafting time only.

* Synchronise heifers: heat detection and insemination can be confined to 10 days following synchronisation.

Animal health

* Having good handling facilities for cows for AI, vaccinations, herd testing, hoof car, is vital (on outfarms also).

* Disease prevention: have an animal health programme and screening to minimise health issues. The more labour efficient herds have bulk milk screening as an early signal for prevention of animal health issues.


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