Attracting and retaining staff on dairy farms remains a challenge for the agricultural sector as a whole. The Irish dairy sector has experienced significant growth since the end of quotas, with 100-cow herds now more common than two decades ago. However, the lack of skilled labour within these herds continues to be an issue.
Most Irish dairy farms operate on a family model, with the running of the farm handled by the family. However, many farms require hired labour from outside the family, ranging from full-time staff to relief milkers. Finding and keeping staff is difficult, and this challenge persists across the sector.
To make dairy farms more attractive places to work, farmers should focus on several key areas. One of the most important is working hours. Although longer days are sometimes necessary, farmers should aim to establish a set start and finish time based around milking time. Starting the evening milking earlier in the day can help staff finish work earlier.
Another important area is scheduling days off and creating a rota. Cows need to be milked every day, but staff cannot be expected to work every weekend. Farmers should compensate weekend work with a day off during the week.
Ensuring a safe work environment is also crucial. Livestock and machinery may be safe for the farmer to use, but other people may not be comfortable with them. Facilities should also be easy to work in, although they do not need to be the most modern or high-tech.
Finally, farmers should offer a route of progression or further training to staff. Progression could involve managing the farm in the future, while training could include courses in hoof paring or artificial insemination. These courses benefit both the farmer and staff.
In conclusion, attracting and retaining staff on dairy farms remains a challenge in the Irish agricultural sector. Farmers should focus on several key areas, including working hours, scheduling days off, ensuring a safe work environment, and offering progression and training opportunities. By doing so, they can create more attractive places to work and help address the ongoing labour shortage.