8 December 2000

Flock less work than thought

How much time does it take

to shepherd a flock? That was

one question answered at

the Irish Grassland Association

sheep conference at Castle

Pollard, Co Westmeath.

James Garner reports

WHILE many producers believe that sheep are the most labour intensive type of drystock, cattle require a similar labour input when results are based on hours worked/livestock unit, according to Irish research.

Liam Connolly of Teagasc, Sheep Research Centre, Athenry, Co Galway, told conference delegates that he had completed a detailed time recording study on 30 Irish lowland farms, where sheep were the predominant enterprise.

The results showed that on average 32 hours a year for each livestock unit (LU) were attributable to sheep, but cattle required 29 hours/LU.

"This contradicts the theory that sheep are far more labour intensive than cattle," said Mr Connolly.

Research shows that farmers devote a total of 2867 hours a year to their sheep flocks. Of these the farmer himself works 70% of the hours. Others, including employed and casual labour, complete 27% of the total working hours and contractors just 3%.

Breaking the hours down into tasks shows that of 32 hours given to each LU of sheep, 26 were spent on routine tasks, such as feeding, herding, dosing and lambing. The remaining six hours were spent on overhead farm activities, including farm building upkeep, fencing and meetings.

Another myth which Mr Connolly dispelled was that flockmasters spending more time shepherding are more technically efficient.

His study showed that bigger flocks, over 320 ewes in size, average 27 hours for each LU compared with 37 hours/LU for smaller flocks. But larger flocks performed better, said Mr Connolly. They had higher weaning rates and stocking rates. "Over-shepherding, therefore, does not result in better technical performance."

Housing and penning facilities also affect hours worked. Farmers with good housing spend on average 9.4 hours less/LU than those farmers with the poorer housing. Likewise, those with better penning facilities spend 5.1 hours/LU less than those with inferior penning.

"Good facilities are important for efficient management of sheep flocks," he said.

When farmers were asked what measures they could take to cut labour, Mr Connolly said it was worrying that 37% had no solutions. Others felt improving housing and preventative medicine would cut working time. Improving handling facilities and reducing feeding time in sheds were areas where some producers felt they could save time. &#42

LABOUR EFFICIENCY

&#8226 Similar time/LU for cattle.

&#8226 Most time spent on routine.

&#8226 Good handling facilities help.

Routine tasks, such as feeding, take up a large proportion of the hours worked by flockmasters.