Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Time To Ditch The Roster

I've talked about hours worked in my last post and how I feel that the long hours are the main cause for the dairy industry’s inability to retain good people.

But the total hours worked is a little bit simplistic. It’s more than that. The hours worked on a dairy farm are also “unsociable”, which means that when you work on a dairy farm it is difficult to be social and socialise.

Apart from the long hours worked, the main culprit is the “staff roster”. Look at any advertisement for a dairy position and the roster is quoted, 6 on 2 off, or 11 on 3 off etc. Rosters work well for employers because it’s easy to work out and manage.

But the roster doesn’t suit the 20 year old who wants to go out on the town and chase the ladies on his days off, because no one is in town on a Wednesday and Thursday night. And it sucks to be stuck on the farm on Saturday night getting txts and pxt from your mates telling you how club xyz is filled with hot backpackers from Germany, Sweden and Brazil, or that your mates new Skyline is proving to have remarkable acceleration but rather poor traction characteristics.

Nor does the roster suit the family who want to go to church on Sunday, because only once in a blue moon does their rostered days off fall on a Sunday.

It doesn’t suit the young school leaver who excels at netball. Because netball is every Saturday morning and even if she could make it every Saturday she’s far too knackered to want to run around for 60 minutes.

To a young employee and even the not so young, the ability to have a life outside of work is important.

The whole western world has revolved around the weekend, that’s when everything happens. The kids sport, the rugby’s on, the home show, the craft show, the boat show, wild food festival, Warbirds over Wanaka etc. The weekend is when your friends are off shooting or fishing or helping each other install blow off valves onto their “sick rides”.

Unfortunately the weekend is often treated just like any other day on the dairy farm.

After 10 years of no physical activity, I have taken up social soccer. The team is made up of a mixed group of people, some work for the Waimakariri District Council (I know, shudder ), others are electricians, a painter, a builder, 3 or 4 university students, a draughtsman and me, a house husband masquerading as a farmer. All these guys work during the week and have the weekends off. One of the electricians is on call one weekend a month, but only if needed.

It’s a fact that none of these guys could play sport at 2:00pm every Saturday afternoon, if they were employed on a dairy farm.

I believe weekends should be reserved as special days so staff can have time out with family and friends. If farmers can do this, then I’m convinced a majority of staffing issues will disappear.
How can this be achieved?

Every farm is different; the staffing on a 200 cow owner operator farm is quite different from that of an 800 corporate farm. The solutions will be different.

A few simple practical ideas of mine are:

Have a core team of staff, who only work Monday to Friday. (Obviously calving time will have to be different)

The only tasks to be done on the weekends are milking, that means no feeding out, no messing around moving calves or moving the effluent spreader, just milking.

All feed and supplements should be set up or fed out in advance on the Friday and clearly marked on the white board/map. The effluent spreader should be shifted etc. This means that the only jobs to do on the weekend are getting in the cows and milking them.

Employ relief milkers for the weekend’s and have one of the permanent staff “on call “as backup
Milk once a day on the weekends.  I know I know that might hurt production, but we should keep an open mind. Has anyone tried it? Will dropping 2 milking’s out of 14 really make a difference?

If we farmed with that sort of mind set that weekends are important and implemented a few simple practises like I mentioned above, then there is no reason why relief milkers could not do the weekends.

I can just hear farmers reading this will be saying to them selves “this guy has got his head in the clouds”, “we’re not made of money". But I would point out that the "town" business that I am involved in, spends 25% of it turnover on wages. Café's generally spend 30% of turnover on wages, construction spends 30% and dairy farms spend approximately 10% of turnover on wages, which is on par with supermarkets.

At the end of the day what I am really saying is dairy farmers need to spend more money on staffing to make the conditions similar to what people in town work. It really comes down to more money being spent on extra staff and a change in the way the working week is structured.

The dairy industry is asking people to make a big sacrifice by not having regular weekends off. The simple fact is employees have a choice where they work and the long list of “Dairy farmer worker wanted” ads in the newspaper tells me that people are voting with their feet.

Dairy farming has so much to offer it can be such a great career. If the industry could just make a few changes it could be a profession people want to work in.


  1. Ive been working on one for a month now and i dont really mind the long hours so much im a backpacker so the chance to get money was good. To be honest I don't mind the work at all. I was supposed to stay for 4 months but the silence isolation and lack of friends and people where I am is doing my head in. I tried to give an excuse to leave early than planned but the reaction form the guy im with was not the coolest. So ive decided to leave very soon i like your blog dude its good

  2. Thanks for your comment. Which part of nz are you in?