Staff management may be the furthest thing from many farmers’ minds at lambing, but making sure temporary lambing staff know what is expected of them is essential for a smooth running lambing shed.
Northern Ireland-based Alan Montgomery says the main thing to remember is that everyone is different and all staff, particularly students, have differing skill and knowledge levels.
“Some are great at lambing ewes, while others may be better at the after care.
The key is to let staff do what they are good at and make sure they are confident doing it.
“I tend to avoid leaving students to do night lambing, as this can be quiet and bore them.
Far better to have them working the day shift and kept busy.”
Paramount is letting temporary staff know the importance attached to each live lamb, he says.
“It is far better for a student to come and ask for help and save a lamb’s life rather than struggle and lose the lamb.
When there are set routines and protocols tell them and give them a set of daily tasks to follow.”
But in some cases inexperienced staff can be better, believes Staffs-based farm manager Andrew Blenkiron.
“Those without experience have fewer pre-conceived ideas about what should and shouldn’t happen in a lambing shed, so are more receptive to our ways of working.”
With at least three students working alongside the farm’s regular shepherd, Mr Blenkiron says giving each member of staff their own areas of responsibility is essential.
“We allow one to keep an eye on the lambing ewes, another to look after ewes and lambs in pens and the third covers the night shift.”
This night shift student tends to be one who has worked with the flock the year before and knows how the system works.
“Once new staff have settled in we rotate their responsibilities, giving them the chance to learn new skills and preventing boredom in their routine,” he says.
ADAS consultant Kate Philips believes challenging students early is the best way to assess their ability and give them the confidence to work as part of the team.
“It’s also important they arrive in a quiet week.
Having students arrive when it is busy means there is no time to train them or for them to get used to the system.”
For night staff Mr Blenkiron says a written routine is useful, as it ensures they carry out all the regular tasks expected of them.
“We ensure they know which lambs to keep an eye, when they may need suckling and what to do when a problem develops.”
Easily worked handling systems are also key, and the lambing sheds at Chillington Farms are designed to keep sheep moving from lambing yard to individual pens without the chance of them turning or backing up.
“A system of backing gates helps and avoids staff having to struggle with freshly lambed ewes.”
Clearly identifying the scan results of ewes in lambing yards also helps, as does keeping ewes tupped by one breed together to limit the chances of mis-mothering.
And having students live in helps, too, as it means they have less to worry about – such as meals and laundry – when working a 12 hour shift, adds Mr Blenkiron.