Saturday, 14 February 2015

Staffing your Seasonal Unit

In today's post I thought I'd discuss staffing on seasonal calving farms.

On an unrelated note, here's a recent picture of my 1 year old heifers, just to hold your interest:

Heifers cell grazing

As a spring calver I like to think I work twice as hard for half the year, then half as hard for the rest! Almost all the important, labour intensive tasks are focussed in the first six months of the year. We calve for 10 weeks, then we're straight into our DIY AI for another 6-8 weeks, before we can turn the bulls in and have a rest.

This all works OK(ish) with owner operators and equity/sharefarmers. We can work from Feb to mid April without a cow free day, including weekends. But really is this just a failure of our own management?

I recently heard that the goal of management was to make yourself redundant. I don't wholly agree with this, but it's an interesting point. One of the markers of the success of our management is how well things run in our absence. By this measure if I feel I can't take a day away from my farm for 70+ days, this would seem quite a failure.

But is seasonal calving a special case, that doesn't necessarily compare to other industries and wider management practises? At least one experienced person needs to be available round the clock, unless staff are onsite, which is rarely the case for small/medium operators in the UK, then this will fall to whoever lives in the farm house.

The other problem is that there is not an abundance of semi experienced causal labour that can be fairly employed for the 3-4 busiest months. We face the choice of either over staffing for the entire year, or under staffing, grinning and baring it. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between? 

We've recently taken on a relief milker for the morning milkings. So far it's working well, freeing up an extra pair of hands to either help with calf rearing or training heifers in the parlour. We've calved 33% in 14 days and so far we seem to be coping. I doubt I'll manage many more cow free days, but with my wife expecting our first child on April 11th hopefully I'll be forced to relax, manage better and spend as many days as I can getting to know my new baby daughter. Because ultimately those will prove the most important and memorable days of my whole seasonal calving calendar!


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