Dairy farmers should retain a focus on ‘quality of life’ as part of their post-quota growth strategy, industry experts advised at the joint Teagasc/Dairy Expansion seminar in City West Hotel, Dublin.
Teagasc dairy expert Pat Clarke said that, to enjoy a reasonable quality of life, many dairy farmers will need to examine labour usage and efficiency on dairy farms.
“In order to achieve efficient use of work time, farmers need to operate simple dairying systems, have adequate facilities for their herd size and make timely use of contractors,” said Mr Clarke.
The Teagasc specialist indicated that those farmers who start the evening milking around 4.30pm have consistently been shown to be more labour efficient due to being more organised between the two milkings.
“Numerous studies have shown that an earlier evening milking time has no effect on milk yield, while it allows more evening time for family and lifestyle.
“Farmers must also have suitable buildings, machinery and equipment and a farm infrastructure to optimise labour efficiency. Having adequate milking machine capacity as milking typically uses 34% of a dairy farmer’s total working time.”
Teagasc health and safety officer, John McNamara, cited international research which found that excessive workload is one of the main stressors impacting upon farmers.
“The three most common sources of farm workplace stress are long working hours and poor safety conditions, worry about farm finance and poor health,” said Mr McNamara.
He also emphasised the importance of the farmer looking after his/her health, as poor health causes stress and has been shown to reduce income by limiting a farmer’s capacity to farm.
Mr McNamara drew attention to the availability of the health booklet for farmers Staying Fit for Farming, which was circulated nationally to farmers and is available on the Teagasc website.
He also reminded farmers of their responsibility to make their farms “a safe and comfortable place to work for everybody”.
Peter Byrne, chief executive of Farm Relief Services, advised farmers to gear up for more efficient labour use by looking at farm layout, roadways and buildings and identify changes necessary to improve labour efficiency.
He urged dairy farmers to develop a plan for support that included family, direct employment, student, contractor, Farm Relief Services, and various collaborative farming arrangements.
“Each comes with advantages and disadvantages and the first thing every farmer should do is to identify which option suits their situation best,” said Mr Byrne. “If you do decide to employ additional labour directly, be aware of your legal requirements relating to the provision of a contract of employment, a payslip and a method for recording hours worked.”
Tom O’Dwyer, Teagasc head of dairy knowledge transfer, noted that the most labour efficient farms are managing 100 livestock units per labour unit.
“This has to be the benchmark in terms of labour efficiency,” he said.
“It is also important that dairy expansion does not take place at the expense of the farmer’s physical, mental, and social health.”
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