Farming Connect Study Visit - The Udder Group
The following report has been written by the farmers and forester who took part in the visits. All views and opinions included are their own.
The Udder Group
Gloucester & Dorset
25th - 26th September 2017
All of the AHDB Udder Group member are progressive dairy farmers in North East Wales. The group undertake an annual trip for 2 days each year visiting dairy farms in other parts of the country. The group will visit farms running similar systems as well as farms running contrasting systems to look for ideas and suggestions to improve their businesses at home. We focused on specific areas on each farm, but the third visit produced a different outcome to what was expected.
Keith Davis, Lydney Park Farm, Gloucester.
Keith Davis managed the unit on a part time basis for Viscount Bledisloe. The farm was a 605 hectare all grass dairy farm, running 1,000 spring block calving herd, increasing to 1,200 next year. They also reared heifers on the same farm.
Milking took place once a day and the group questioned why once a day? Keith answered by stating that the parlour was a 30-point rotary parlour which worked well, but takes about 6 hours to milk 1,000 cows. To milk 1,000 cows twice a day would take approximately 12 hours, unless £750,000 was invested in a new parlour. It was therefore decided to milk once a day and not invest in a new parlour. Another reason for milking once a day was the walking distance the cows would need to cover to reach the furthest grazing fields.
They group then asked about staff management, motivation and retention and discussions were had on herd management. The herd were run as two distinct herds with a herdsman and distinct staff in charge of each herd. Herd one was milked at 6.00am each day followed by herd two. Staff consisted of four full time staff members with two job sharing. Staff members carried out all stock tasks but all tractor work was done by contractors, except for fertilizer and feeding the livestock.
The main focus of the visit was staff management. Most of the staff came from non-agricultural background and they were recruited as trainees and trained by existing staff. The group questioned why employ staff from a non-agricultural background? Kevin explained that they had no preconceived ideas and that they can be trained as Lydney Park wished. Apprentices were paid well over the minimum wages and an allowance of £400 per month was made towards renting property in the area.
Staff meetings were held every Monday after milking. Both herds had the same targets and KPI’s based on fertility, milk solids production and grass production/utilisation.
They had a fixed agenda for each meeting:
- What went well last week?
- What were the problems?
- Ideas that save two seconds: Each staff member has an opportunity to suggest one idea that would save time and the idea cannot be criticised until the following week, when they have had a week to think about the idea.
- Are we meeting the KPI’s?
At the end of the year, 10% of the profit is put in a pool and shared amongst staff. This encourages tight cost control during the year and motivates staff to work as a team towards a common goal.
The visit achieved its initial purpose of seeing different methods of staff management and retention on a profitable dairy farm.
Tom King, Church Farm, Dorchester.
This was a 397 hectare dairy farm (202 hectares of grass, 162 hectares of maize and the rest winter wheat), running 650 cows but planning to increase the herd number to 700. The farm reared young stock on a contract rearing basis with cows calving and housed all year round. Cows were milked 3 times a day and the milk is sold on a Sainsbury’s dedicated contract.
Staff consisted of 11 full time staff members from Poland and the UK, 1 self-employed staff member and 2 family members. The group’s first impression was that the business was over staffed. However, the milking parlour was only 16 x 16, so milking took 18 hours per day. Most of the staff lived on site in static caravans.
This is one of the top 5% operators of a housed system in the country, with an average of 13,000 litres of milk sold per cow per year. They used a very simple ration system – one ration for the milkers and a different ration for the dry cows. Although cows were in 7 different groups, feeding was simple. Simplicity and protocols were important to this business.
With a large number of staff, designation of work and responsibility was important. The farm had one member of staff in charge of feeding, another in charge of calves etc. so the ‘go to’ person about that area of work was known to all the workers.
Communication and protocols were important with extensive use of white boards and written protocols. Attention to detail was at a very high level e.g. – all colostrum was tested for quality, then frozen if it was good enough. All calves were given 3 litres of colostrum within two hours of birth and also blood tested to ensure that they had received adequate colostrum. All tasks were recorded and signed for to ensure responsibility. They had considered using IT or iPads, but felt that the working conditions were not the most suitable for technology, so it was kept in written formats.
The farm implemented dry cow management programme which included antibiotics and teat sealant followed by hoof trimming. Cows were very uniform in type, therefore excessive body condition was not an issue, and the aim was to dry cows off at the correct body condition score and maintain condition rather than gain condition.
One of the main aims of this visit was to observe and discuss staff management, including communication and use of protocols with high numbers of staff. We all came away with ideas that could be actioned on farm at home.
Mike Tizzard, North Wootton Farm, Dorset.
Mike ran a multi-site dairy business operating on 7 sites across the county, with the number of sites increasing to 8 next year. All herds were organic with a total of 2,600 cows being milked, increasing to 3,200 next year with the addition of the new site. The business farmed 2,430 hectares which included a large area of organic cereals and oilseeds. This was either fed to the livestock or sold into the organic market.
The units were a mixture of rented, owned and joint ventures. All units used a block calving system, either spring or autumn, with all herds paddock grazed. Being organic, slurry and lime nutrients were used to achieve the correct pH. All units also had very simple grass based systems.
Each unit had a manager who was responsible for the day to day running of livestock and grass. One person was responsible for the feeding of the units i.e. using one feeder wagon travelling from one site to the other. The manager was employed on a 365 day contract and paid based on the pence per litre achieved. The manager was also responsible for all labour costs and hiring with contractors being used for silage/slurry spreading and any field work.
Mike, the owner, was very profit and lifestyle driven. Last year he and the wife started taking the whole of February off to go travelling. He also employed a business manager who ran the office and dealt with the paperwork and data collection of each unit. The data collected from each unit was compared and they would challenge each unit with KPI’s set at the beginning of each season. Regular staff meetings were conducted with set agendas.
A very important part of the visit was getting the owners away from their businesses to interact with members and share their experiences. Many action points were gained from the visit, mostly involving systems and staff management. Although we saw 3 contrasting farms there was one clear message, which was ‘have a simple system’. Having a system with clear KPI’s that the whole team is aware of and ensuring that those KPI’s are monitored and action is taken if they’re not achieving targets is very important. Getting the whole team involved with regular team meetings and fixed agendas is also important. Two of the businesses favoured either giving the staff a part of the profit or some financial stake or incentive. This encouraged buy in and a sense of ownership. In terms of protocols, having written protocols and simple communication was paramount. We observed different methods of communication including white boards and using application such as ‘what’s app’.