Looking after staff is especially important during busy times. Think about the things you find comforting when you are tired and stressed, such as a warm house to go home to, clean clothes, a cooked meal and someone to talk to.
Now think about what you can do to maintain the wellbeing of staff. This will be especially important for young, single staff members who are new to the area or industry.
Ideas for keeping staff happy
- Cook and provide one hot meal per day – this could be as simple as bacon and eggs on the barbecue at the cowshed to make sure staff aren’t missing breakfast.
- Have a room that has tea and coffee making facilities and keep the cupboard stocked with things like muesli bars and protein drinks that will provide energy.
- Provide a good washing machine or take a load of clothes into the laundrette once a week.
- Check that staff have warm blankets, a comfy bed and adequate warm and wet weather clothes.
- Buddy up new staff members with an existing staff member or provide them with some contact details for Young Farmers, Dairy Women's Network or sports clubs.
- Consider hiring a housekeeper/cook for a couple of hours a day or one or two days a week over spring.
Setting up for an efficient calving
Think about how tasks and systems worked last season and what can be done to make things run more efficiently.
- Set the calf shed up prior to the start of calving. Did last year’s set up work well? Would a couple more pens or a slightly different layout make a difference in terms of getting the calves fed in a shorter time?
- Order tags well before start of calving and stock up on taggers, spare needles, electrolytes and animal health products.
- Clean calf feeders and replace any worn teats.
- Is there anything you can do to make calf feeding easier? Would a submersible pump help to transfer the calf milk? Keep bucketing milk to a minimum.
- Make a down cow kit and a calving kit and allocate it as a task for a staff member to keep it stocked up.
- Come up with processes for ways to do common tasks onfarm in the most efficient way. Laminate these and put them up where it’s most relevant to the task, e.g. workshop, office, or dairy.
- Consider employing someone to feed calves – this could easily pay for itself in terms of having healthy, well grown animals at weaning, as well as taking the pressure off permanent staff.
All these things will save time, result in less stress and contribute to a safer work environment.
Plan how you will communicate with staff over calving. This may be as simple as catching up over breakfast, or it might be a ten minute meeting after the morning milking. Regular meetings can save time and duplication of roles because everyone knows what the plan is for the day and who is doing what.
It’s also important not to take anything for granted. If you have been doing a job for years it is easy to assume that everyone has the same level of knowledge, but what seems obvious and straightforward to you may not to someone who is new to the job.
Plan good rosters and hours of work
Think about how tasks are allocated and create a roster that allows people to work to their full potential, each and every day, without overloading them. If you run a roster that has more than six days on, consider if you can rotate staff so that the same people aren’t getting up early all the time.
Implement timesheets on your farm, if you haven’t already. Having wage/time records is a legal requirement and the simplest way of recording hours worked each day is to keep a timesheet for each employee. Timesheets benefit both you and your employee as they are an accurate record of the actual hours being worked on-farm. Timesheets can also alert you when the number of hours being worked is too high or creeping up, so the risk of fatigue and health and safety on-farm can be managed.
Taking a break
It is important that the owner/manager adopts some of these strategies too. If you are worn out and stressed it is much harder to make sound decisions and too easy to get into a downward spiral that could have implications for the rest of the season – farm smarter not harder.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy June 2015