Supporting a farm’s workforce has huge benefits, writes Guy Michaels.

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 du Plessis’ 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 staffshortages. 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 and a cake, and even warm meals.

The du Plessis’ have an open-door policy and encourage their team to come and chat to them about any concerns.

They also work 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.

  • Guy Michaels is DairyNZ Southland/South Otago regional leader.