Correct me if I’m wrong but is it not supposed to be springtime now…? It’s just a hunch but I’m reasonably sure we have had more frosts in April this year than for the entire 2015/16 winter combined and if it hasn’t been frosty, it’s been wet and (for good measure) the days haven’t exactly been tropical. As we approach the end of the month, the grass has started to take off and the cows are grazing well although we still have 130 waiting to go out, a repeated statement from last month! All our grass looks "wet and bothered" and it will be a good day when we can start to inject some digestate into the leys. Our apprentice is at least getting plenty of experience driving around the Estate with a pair of rollers in-between wet spells. He is excellent at 'multi-tasking' for not only do you get a nice flat field, we also end up with new gate posts!
We have finally entered a period of relative calm on our main unit with enough staff to cover holidays, sickness, TB testing, rolling, fencing, and everything else in-between. It is difficult to justify exactly how many staff one will need. One thing that is noticeable is that we have gone two months without needing any agency staff throughout the week. During this period we also managed to release one of the dairy farm staff for a couple of weeks to assist with the lambing, and I myself have spent more time planning and organising staff and tasks and less time providing on-farm cover. I think overall we can deal with the unexpected mishap a little bit more which is good!
So what now? Performance. Putting a system in place that maximises the team’s individual strengths to deliver the best care possible for our cows. How do you do that? Well… 'Answers on a Post Card' please. My approach is that I want our staff to succeed personally; if they want to build a Lego spaceship and fly to Mars as part of their career then I will try my best to support them, so long (!) as they work to the best of their ability for as long as they are with us. Aside from supplying Lego bricks it’s also important to try and provide what we can to make the job easier to meet the protocols we set. An example of this is colostrum management, no matter what we do it will not be good enough for the "experts" but we can still try.
We used to warm dump milk in a little old milk tank but getting the temperature consistent between staff was impossible so we have invested in a little milk warmer which sits in a 200lt drum and keeps the dump milk at a consistent 42oC. This then freed up the little milk tank which we have now turned into a water bath by adding another milk warmer, bringing the paddle stirrer back to life and, adding water! Now we can use colostrum bags to freeze excess colostrum and reheat quickly when needed. It will also reheat fresh colostrum and provide water at 42oC for the feeding of milk powder to our heifer calves. It always makes me chuckle because we had identified consistency as being a problem and we decided a £5,000 investment in a milk cart was the only way however, this investment was very unlikely. There are two ways to approach a problem, not bother or think of another way!
The ‘Dorset water bath 1.1’
Several years ago, on a flight back from Egypt, my then 'lady friend' showed me a passage from a book which has stuck with me ever since. Back then it was 120 dairy cows and pretty much just me (not on the plane - at work!), since then my job has involved people and the passage has become even more relevant. I lost my faith in religion back in 1998 when "Ginger Spice" originally left the Spice Girls and although there is obviously a deeper meaning to the following, just imagine a team of people built on this philosophy as portrayed in a 1975 sermon by Albert Lewis.
"A man seeks employment on a farm. He hands his letter of recommendation to his new employer. It reads simply, ‘He sleeps in a storm.’
The owner is desperate for help, so he hires the man.
Several weeks pass, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, a powerful storm rips through the valley.
Awakened by the swirling rain and howling wind, the owner leaps out of bed. He calls for his new hired hand, but the man is sleeping soundly.
So he dashes off to the barn. He sees, to his amazement, that the animals are secure with plenty of feed.
He runs out to the field. He sees the bales of wheat have been bound and are wrapped in tarpaulins.
He races to the silo. The doors are latched, and the grain is dry.
And then he understands. ‘He sleeps in a storm.’
“My friends, if we tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our faith, our lives will not be cursed with the aching throb of unfulfilled business. Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight. We will never wallow in the agony of ‘I could have, I should have.’ We can sleep in a storm."