PhD project by Alison Sinnott. Calving is one of the most labour intensive processes in a grass-based dairy system, because of its seasonality. Exhaustion and burn-out of farmers can be commonplace at this time due to the immense workload on the farm, if not managed appropriately and has the potential to have a knock on effect impairing cow and calf welfare. The aim of the PhD project is to evaluate strategies to reduce labour shortages associated with calf rearing without compromising calf welfare and growth
Current Irish young stock levels indicate that further expansion is likely to occur in the coming years. Increased herd size directly leads to other challenges on farm level, in particular increased workload. Calving is one of the most labour intensive processes in a grass-based dairy system, because of its seasonality. Due to improved technical efficiency and scientific advancement, a 12 week calving period is targeted, meaning more cows are calving down in this short window of time. Farm labour units are required to complete long hours during this period to ensure the health of both cow and calf. Calf rearing is operated in tandem with calving and is a very demanding task for a farmer. Cows add a further demand on labour during the spring time, because once calved, they begin their lactation cycle and resume milking again. Exhaustion and burn-out of farmers can be commonplace at this time due to the immense workload on the farm, if not managed appropriately and has the potential to have a knock on effect impairing cow and calf welfare.
The introduction of automation in the form of automatic milk feeders or applying management practices such as night feeding of pre-partum cows have been recognised as methods to reduce labour on farms, however, the extent of their efficacy and impact remains unknown. The use of automation has the potential to remove the labour intensive process of feeding calves, allowing farmers to revaluate their daily time budget accordingly. Night feeding pre-partum cows has the capacity to increase calving during daylight hours, resulting on the burden of workload during the night time for the farmers. It is also important, however, to evaluate the current system to identify alternative strategies to further improve the process.
Lean Education and Academic Network (LEAN) is an efficiency tool that was developed in the manufacturing industry. The philosophy of LEAN is to recognise and target the elimination of labour waste in a way that will improve production efficiency within a business. The use of this philosophy might be a way to tackle labour shortage on dairy farms. When applying LEAN management to calf rearing practices, however, it should not have trade-offs on for example calf welfare and growth. Therefore the overall aim of the PhD project is to evaluate strategies to reduce labour shortages associated with calf rearing without compromising calf welfare and growth. It is important to then utilise the information received as a result of these studies in order to better calf rearing practices on a national and international level. This information must be disseminated in an interactive and accessible way that will allow agricultural professionals to grow their knowledge on the topic, but also grant them the skills to initiate change on the own farms.
The following research objectives will be addressed in this PhD project:
- To establish an up to date comparison examining the effects of manual and automated feeding systems on labour, calf welfare and growth.
- To investigate the efficacy of night feeding late-gestation cows for the onset of daytime calving as a strategy to reduce labour requirements around calving and examine the effects of this feeding strategy on the welfare of the cow and the calf.
- To study the effects of various strategies to reduce labour requirements taking LEAN efficiencies into consideration and define an improved calf rearing protocol.
- To evaluate calf rearing labour on commercial Irish farms and the effect that a specialised training programme has on a farmers subsequent labour practice.