Herd expansion brings changes to staff management

As dairy herds get bigger the staff required to manage them should simultaneously increase – both in terms of providing a higher input of labour matched by the necessary husbandry skills.

But, as herds steadily add extra cows to try and off-set fixed costs and boost income and 1000-cow herds begin to become commonplace, the question has to be asked at what point does the profitability of those cows start to suffer simply because staff are physically stretched?

Kingshay has been looking at how to assess the number of litres produced for every person as a starting point for examining staffing rates. Dairy farmers can calculate this figure based on the number of people working with the herd divided by the number of litres produced.

In the Kingshay study, figures showed an average of 603,759 litres were produced for 1.9 labour units employed, which prompted the question: Can your day be made more efficient?

It’s a question that should be asked when cow numbers are being increased and labour needs are under review. Consultants are now starting to take more notice of the range of staffing capabilities that can most efficiently deliver the labour required and are looking at it in terms of having a direct impact on the profitability of the unit.

But apart from improving efficiency of the farm’s labour input, many consultants working with expanding herds believe staff management needs a major rethink. And consultant, Sian Bushell, Haverfordwest, is convinced there are improvements to be made to the way large dairy units manage their staff.

“Dairy farm staff are responsible for substantial investments that have been made in cows and machinery and are working in a professional environment. That has to be recognised when employers want to achieve commitment and efficiency from their work force – and that means improving communication at all levels,” says Ms Bushell.

“We need to see more employers explaining to their staff about the aims and ultimate achievements of the business so they feel part of a team working to a common goal. There should be on-going appraisals of farm staff and these should be regarded as benefiting both staff and employer as a means of providing important feed-back on how their role in the business is progressing.”

Only in this way will issues come to fore on a regular basis and be dealt with without risk of causing grievances – something which can inevitably impact on the herd’s performance, adds Ms Bushell.

Things can also get blown out of proportion when good communication isn’t maintained which can lead to staff leaving when issues aren’t resolved, says Ms Bushell, who also informs dairy farmers not to be wary of providing a clear job description.

“When staff know their role in the day to day running of the farm they will undertake their work more efficiently and that has to be the aim of all employers.”


Dairy farmer Mike Bowe from Dalston, Cumbria, is developing a new dairy unit and is milking 550 cows. He employs three full-time staff – a herdsman who manages the cows, a dairyman who milks the cows, and a tractor man.

“Our staff are a vital part of the business and they all have specific roles which we believe is the best way to meet each part of the herd’s daily needs,” says Mr Bowe. He believes as dairy farms expand a more ordered approach to staffing will be vital.

“A structured approach to staffing will benefit the employer, cows and staff so everyone knows exactly what they have to do.

“Going from 250 cows to 500 cows takes a big rethink in staffing but once you have a structure and a daily timetable to provide a guide as to how long various jobs should take – I believe a bigger leap in cow numbers should be possible without a significant increase in labour needs,” he says.

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