Farm Ireland

Friday 14 December 2018

How these dairy farmers have reduced the number of hours they need to work

Pictured at the launch of Leanfarm, a pioneering training programme rolled out to all Dairygold suppliers are Geraldine and Liam Herlihy, Hill View Farm. Picture: Miki Barlok
Pictured at the launch of Leanfarm, a pioneering training programme rolled out to all Dairygold suppliers are Geraldine and Liam Herlihy, Hill View Farm. Picture: Miki Barlok
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Making small changes on your dairy farm can make a big difference.

That was the main message from dairy farmer Liam Herlihy at the launch of the Dairygold Leanfarm programme at his farm in Granagh, Co Limerick last Friday.

Liam was one of 15 farmers who took part in Dairygold’s pilot Leanfarm programme in 2017 and said that by making small changes to the operation of his 70-strong Holstein Friesian herd, he has been able to reduce the amount of hours he works in a day.

“Our milk advisor Jack Cahill asked would we join up to the Leanfarm programme last February and we said we would as one of the 15 pilot farmers,” John said.

“We found it very encouraging and we came up with ideas. Once you’ve come up with one thing you’re thinking of the next thing you can do to make life easier.”

Some of the simple changes Liam has made to his daily operations  included putting a tank in the calf shed for hot water and organising and labelling his tools and equipment.

“Like with feeding the calves, I was up and down to the milking parlour for hot water but now I have a tank in the calf shed where I need them and in our tool shed, all the equipment is laid out and marked. There’s a place for everything and everything has its place,” he said.

“You wouldn’t be thinking before about how you used to do things, you’d just stick to the old routine but you can change things and save time.”

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Liam’s wife Geraldine, children James (21), Leanne (18) and Daniel (15), all enjoy helping out on the farm and according to Geraldine she has noticed  how Liam has more free time since making changes to his every day work.

“I’m out every day on the farm and the children are on mid-term break now so they’ll be helping out more. I’ve really noticed how Liam has more free time and is less stressed as well,” said Geraldine.

It’s not about going hell for leather

Tipperary dairy farmer Patrick Shine is based in Ardfinnan and manages 130 Friesian cows as well as calf to beef and tillage. He was also one of the 15 dairy farmers who took part in the pilot project last year.

Patrick pointed out that taking part in the Leanfarm scheme was about taking little steps and found the simple task of installing whiteboards in various areas of his farm such as in the milking parlour has made him more focused and made life easier for the farm relief worker who comes to his farm.

“We started off very small by putting a farm map on to the white board. They aren’t expensive,” explained Patrick.

“One of the big upsides of it is the visualisation of it. You’re always looking at what you have to do.”

“We also have a white board in the calving shed and there’s pen numbers on each pen so if you have a farm relief worker out and you write on the board that you’re moving a calf from pen two to pen three, there’s no mistakes.”

For Patrick using a GPS fertiliser spreader system has been a big help and he would encourage farmers to not just see them as tools for contractors.

“It’s all time saving. GPS for fertiliser spreaders are very important. Any farmer could get in to it. Everyone thinks it’s for contractors but you can get a GPS for under €1,000. It’s brilliant, you’re spreading on 21m in comparison to 12m and there’s more accuracy.”

Mr Shine added that it’s not about going “hell for leather”, but making small changes  that means the lean approach can work on any dairy farm.

Mitchelstown dairy farmer Ned O’Brien also took part in the pilot project and said that for him Lean has become a “culture” and that he is constantly looking at what he can do better to “knock time off”his work.

“Lean is a culture. I’m trying to look for something every day I can improve on. Today the cows are only out for an hour but you can do it and it will improve the quality of the milk,” he said.


Dairygold are currently in the process of training a further 200 suppliers in to “lean” techniques which aim to save the farmer time, money and reduce on-farm waste, while making the farm safer and more efficient overall.

Dairygold milk advisor Maeve O’ Connor added   that the Leanfarm approach is about standardisation and putting the farmers mind at ease.

“It’s about assessing the  one best way to do a task. It’s identifying the safest and most efficient way to do it,” she said. “In the case of a relief milker  if you’ve one standard process of what they have to do, it makes it more efficient both for them and the farmer.”          

Programme halves the daily legwork

FARMERS on the Leanfarm programme have reduced the hours they walk per day by 50pc, according to a farm advisor working on the project.

Brendan Dunne told the Farming Independent that he challenged farmers on the pilot programme to examine how many kilometres they walked a day. They found that they walked up to 18km a day.

He added that by making small improvements such as having tools like brushes located “at the point of use” farmers were able to reduce hours walked by 50pc.

“They used Fit Bits and apps on their phone to measure their walking and then looked at how they could cut down on that walking,” he said.

“Things like moving hot water to the point of use and pumping milk to the calf shed helped reduce walking.

“Some managed to cut it down by 50pc or 40pc a day. It was all down to simple things. On the farm they have everything where they need it.

“If you look at the lifespan of a farmer, if they’re walking 18km a day that adds up to bad hips and knees. If you can cut that by 50pc that will make a huge difference in the long run.”       

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