9 tips on employing dairy staff for the first time

Year on year, the number of dairy farms and cows in the UK is falling. By contrast, herd size is increasing.

According to recent AHDB statistics, the average size of a UK dairy herd is 160 cows. This has risen from 123 cows 10 years ago.

See also: How to stay legal when providing farm staff accommodation

More cows often means extra pairs of hands are needed to help manage the additional workload, and businesses that previously relied on family labour are now recruiting.

Paul Harris, managing director of people consultancy Real Success, says it can be a daunting process for businesses that have never formally employed people.

“Taking on the first salaried member of staff is a big milestone for any business, [and] it can be a minefield working out all the different steps needed,” he admits.

Mr Harris shares some of his top tips on the key points to consider.

1. Don’t rush the process

Farmers often rush into recruitment, but doing it too hastily increases the chances of it going wrong.

Recruitment should, in some ways, be viewed in a similar fashion to buying a new piece of farm machinery or equipment – if a farmer was planning to spend thousands of pounds on a new machine, they would not rush out and buy the first one they saw.

Instead, they would regard it as an important part of the business and go about buying it in a measured and considered way.

There are many stages to recruitment, including working out what help you need, how many hours you expect the employee to work and what that job entails.

A lack of clarity when that person joins the business can cause problems.

2. Get the advert right

The purpose of an advert is to get people to apply, so write a decent one – be positive, but do not oversell the position.

Keep it brief and to the point, but include all the important details such as:

  • Descriptions of the farm and the farming system
  • The role and duties required
  • Knowledge and experience needed
  • Indication of salary and extra benefits – pay must not be less than the statutory minimum, although a business may choose to offer enhanced entitlements
  • Farm location.

3. Maximise advertising opportunities

There are plenty of farming groups on social media platforms where adverts can be shared for free, and these provide a good opportunity to reach potential candidates.

Do not overlook using paid-for advertising too, as this can successfully draw in candidates who are actively in the market for a job.

Word of mouth is also very effective. Farming is a very tight-knit industry and word quickly spreads if a farmer is recruiting.

4. Don’t underestimate the draw of accommodation

Of all the farming sectors, there is an expectation in dairying that accommodation will be provided.

Offering somewhere to live can benefit the business – if you are looking for a full-time worker, it means you can recruit from anywhere in the UK.

If you cannot provide accommodation, you massively reduce your available pool of people.

Accommodation is also a very attractive part of the pay package. When you factor in the cost, a job on a dairy farm is a very well-paid role. 

Someone working in a supermarket may be on an annual salary of £25,000 gross, for example, but if you add £1,000 monthly accommodation costs on top of that, the comparable salary on a dairy farm works out at £37,000 a year.

The dairy industry does not do enough to promote the fact that accommodation has a value and is a very tempting part of the job.

Farmers should sell that more, especially if it is an asset already available on-farm.

However, the accommodation must be appropriate. If you recruit a single person, a caravan or mobile home might be acceptable, but the quality of it is important.

A simple rule of thumb: if you would not expect a family member to live in the accommodation you are providing, you should not expect an employee to either.

5. Screen candidates

When it is time to select candidates for interview, have a telephone conversation with them to allow you to form an initial judgement.

Personality profiling is an option at this stage to establish whether the candidate is suited to the role.

For example, if the position is to look after youngstock, a person who is organised and caring would perhaps be better suited than someone with a focus on getting a job done as quickly as possible.

Check references before candidates come to the farm for an interview.

6. Keep the interview formal

The interview should be structured and professional with pre-prepared questions for the formal part.

Rather than hopping in the truck and going for a spin round the farm before you have had a chance to go through the formalities, do the interview first.

There is no point in spending an hour and a half showing a candidate the farm if they are not going to be right for you.

If you want the interview to progress beyond the formal part, then take the candidate around the farm. When you are sure that they are right for the job, make a formal offer.

7. Plan an induction

The induction should be planned.

On the first day, ensure the employee meets the entire team and family members, is shown round the farm and all the necessary human resources issues are dealt with.

In the first week, thoroughly explain how the farm works, the job role in detail and issues such as health and safety.

From then on, hold regular update meetings and further reviews after three and six months.

8. Take professional advice on the contract

From day one of taking on a new member of staff, by law you must give them a copy of the principal terms and conditions of employment.

Within two months, a full written statement of terms must be provided.

Failure to provide a contract, or providing a contract without all the required information, can expose a business to additional risks at tribunal claims.

9. A workplace pension is a legal requirement

Most employees aged between 22 and the qualifying age for a state pension of 66, and earning at least £10,000 a year, must be enrolled in a workplace pension scheme with at least 3% of their qualifying earnings paid in.

These deductions should be listed on the pay statement.

An employee can choose to opt out, but will need to be re-enrolled every three years if they still qualify. They can choose to opt out again at that stage.