Flock of sheep in the snowLibrary photo © FLPA/Rex/ Shutterstock

Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts offer free advice on legal, financial, tax, insurance, farm management and land issues.

Here, Douglas Ogilvie, director at Savills Food and Farming, suggests ways to keep a valuable member of staff who may be considering leaving your business.

Q. I have a very good shepherd on my hill farm, but he is really disillusioned with his job and is threatening to quit following a very tough lambing season.

I know he is interested in breeding sheep and I would like to find a solution to encourage him to stay. We have 1,000 ewes on 1,000ha and he is the sole employee doing sheep work.

A. You have established your shepherd is interested in breeding. Introducing better-quality stock into the flock should improve lambing percentages as well as breeding sale prices for tups and ewe lambs.

This should benefit the enterprise’s profitability as well as giving your shepherd the opportunity to feel involved in the business.

Douglas OgilvieDouglas Ogilvie
Director, Savills Food and Farming

Task your shepherd with buying a couple of better-quality tups and a few gimmers as the base point for improvement.

Put in place clear parameters so the improvement can be fairly measured and offer a financial incentive for the better performance.

For example, you could allow him to take any of the additional profit made from the sales of the better quality lambs to buy more better quality stock for the flock.

See also: Ways to lower dairy replacement costs

Set him a goal of profit made or number of sheep sold – which, if reached, will be acknowledged by a one-off financial bonus.

Be flexible

Weather and market volatility make such incentives difficult to design for farming enterprises, so you should be prepared to recognise this and be flexible, including being prepared to reward skill and effort in seasons when the financial outcome is not what you may have expected or find acceptable.

For example, four years ago during a very harsh spring we had many Scottish shepherds going beyond what would be expected simply to save sheep from perishing.

Also, involve him in the running of the business – for example, in the budgeting and planning for the sheep flock – and ask him to suggest any ideas he has for further improvements.

Delegate some responsibility so he has ownership, involvement and pride in the stock he produces and markets.

Encourage and make it easy for him to attend open and demonstration days in order to share best practice and meet others involved in the management and breeding of a hill flock. Joining a benchmarking group may also help.

Make sure his pay, conditions and perks properly reward his contribution to your business.

Hourly rate v salary

Establish whether payment on an hourly rate is what he wants. Would set wages/a salary be preferred? If set wages are preferred, then take time to research the market rate and make sure you build in a review after say a year to make sure it is working fairly.

Make sure he receives the same benefits as workers on neighbouring farms and make sure he has good facilities and the right equipment to do the job to the best of his ability.

This should help motivate your shepherd, who will now have a vested interest in the quality of the flock. From your perspective, the flock’s improved performance means an improved income.

This advice applies no matter what the farming enterprise: staff must be encouraged, they need to be feel part of the business and that their contribution is important and appreciated, or they will choose easier options.

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