Farm advice: Taking care of your team

DairyNZ's Guy Michaels shares a few top tips from farmers on taking care of their team

Annalize and Stefan du Plessis with their farm team family: (back row, from left) Stefan Burger, Arun Aravind, Zander Ferreira, Kara Toimata, Armand Fourie, Stefan du Plessis, Carlo School, (front, from left) Zackery Ferreira, Lee Louw, Annalize du Plessis. Absent from photo: Jancke Burger.

I was pleased to see a Southland dairy farming couple recognised at the Primary Industries Good Employer Awards recently.

Annalize and Stefan du Plessis are 50:50 sharemilkers on a property milking 700 cows and contract milk 600 cows on another local farm.

The pair do lots of good things to create a great workplace, including being flexible about working hours and leave.

Annalize and Stefan ensure their team have plenty of time off during quieter periods. Staff also have input into when they work, as they’re part of developing the roster.  

Farm teams are now recovering from calving, with some having worked particularly hard due to staff shortages. Taking time off is important for us all to stay well – mentally and physically – especially after stressful periods.

Annalize and Stefan also say it’s important to have good systems and routines in place to reduce inefficiency. This includes having the right machinery and equipment so jobs can be done faster, helping create a good work environment with greater flexibility for staff.

Another option to keep working hours manageable for a lot of farms is flexible milking. DairyNZ research indicates that shifting from twice a day milking to ‘three in two’ reduces labour time and improves body condition score (BCS), reproduction, and lameness. It does result in a small decrease in milk production.

Three in two milking can also be a good option if you’re down a staff member or want to improve cow BCS in summer or autumn. I’ve also seen some farms use flexible milking to provide staff with time off over Christmas and New Year.

Supporting a great workplace can also involve some simple gestures.

Annalize and Stefan recognise staff birthdays with a day off, a present, a cake, and even warm meals. They also have an open-door policy and encourage their team to come and chat with them about any concerns.

The couple works hard to help new staff settle in, encouraging them to join a local sports club or get involved in community activities like Young Farmers.

With calving now behind us, now is a great time to catch up with your farm team to find out how they’re feeling and ask if there’s anything more you can do to continue supporting them.

Tips to help farm staff feel valued

DairyNZ research shows that farm staff value:

  • regular one-on-one catch-ups and team meetings
  • being able to share their views and ideas
  • rosters that provide enough time off to avoid burnout, especially at busy times
  • health, safety, and wellbeing being a priority
  • being regularly told they are doing a good job
  • having warm and comfortable accommodation
  • having a clear set of expectations
  • competitive pay
  • opportunities for upskilling or training.

For more information on managing people, visit dairynz.co.nz/people.

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