Finding replacement labour is a challenge, but not impossible

For the last couple of months, we have been in the throes of recruitment.

We normally take on an assistant ready for the spring, but this year it has been a double whammy as we have also been looking for a herd manager.

The block calving workload is unbalanced by nature, and finding an extra person to hit the ground running at our most important time hasn’t been easy, so this year we are making the role permanent.

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Interviewing can be a massive headache – or a great opportunity to meet motivated new people who could make a real difference to your business, depending on your outlook. I’ve decided to go with the latter.

Liz-HainesLiz Haines and her husband Nick milk 320 spring-calving cows in north Shropshire

We have met all kinds of people, some with years of dairy experience and others with very little.

A highlight was an application from a young man who had previously worked as a “festive colleague” at Sainsbury’s, and had literally copied and pasted the job description onto his CV.

His skills included “beaming with festive smiles”. I’m all for a happy team, but we decided not to take his application further on this occasion…

Online recruitment

Social media plays a big role in the recruitment process now, and I’ve tweeted and posted about our vacancy on numerous Facebook groups.

This has unearthed some great candidates, but I’ve also been flooded with messages from experienced people as far afield as South America and the Middle East who are keen to work, but don’t have visas.

The weaker pound has reduced the number of East Europeans coming to the UK, but it seems there are plenty of people from further afield waiting to fill the gap. This will become more significant as Brexit progresses.

It’s often said that turning over staff is a sign you are progressing people in their careers. That’s fine if you have a pool of people waiting in the wings to replace them, but it’s not easy to achieve in a small team.


I’ve never heard a farmer say recruitment is easy, or that they have candidates queuing at the gate. This is attributed to people today (particularly young people) not wanting to work with livestock, get their hands dirty or work long hours.

But perhaps it’s more a problem of expectations. My husband says you should never expect staff to do a job you wouldn’t do yourself.  

Coming from an office background with regular hours and holidays, my first year on the farm was quite a shock to the system. But while some things in life are unpredictable (stock escaping, outbreaks of disease, that sort of thing), others happen like clockwork throughout the day and year.

Spring is flat-out, but is balanced by the dry period over Christmas, and once mating is finished in summer we can take our foot off the pedal for a few months.

We can also be surprisingly flexible if we are prepared to think outside the box. For staff who want to take off time during school summer holidays and at Christmas, our system is ideal.

We need to compete with other industries and not expect people to work unreasonable hours, but also remember the benefits we can offer.

I’ve spoken to people at all stages of their career – adults looking for a career change and work experience, young people looking for weekend work and possible apprenticeships.

We’ve also heard from British people working overseas and looking to come home, and migrants looking to gain experience before returning to their native country.

Through a combination of open-mindedness and persistence, I’m confident we will find the right people. It seems the shortage of quality staff is not as bad as some might suggest.

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