Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Running a successful farm can often come down to a simple matter of the right work ethic

John Shirley

'Do you see that man driving the school bus? He milked his cows this morning before setting off on his bus round. This evening he will again milk his cows after having done another round in his bus."

This observation got me thinking about the workers and slackers in our society.

It amazes me how much some people are able to pack into their day. Equally, others can fill their day with inaction. The latter will always have a reason for not doing something.

In our own individual cases there are days of progress and there are the wasted days. After a lifetime of visiting farms I would even suggest that the difference between the successful farmer and the rest is primarily down to the energy and work ethic. I guess that the same applies outside farming as well.

Isn't the proverb "if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it" very true? In theory, you should ask a person who seems to have a light workload to do the job. In practice the person who is busy, active, up and about, is more likely to deal with a task promptly than the person who is lazy, resting, taking a break etc.

Outside the farm in communities, whenever there is something to be done, it's the same people who get involved. Somebody gets a name for performing and they are asked to do more and more. They have also developed the skills, the knowledge and the contacts to get things done.

Once I asked a successful farmer businessman with several staff, including family, how he organised his time.

"I wake at about 6.30am. For the next half-hour I lie awake planning the day or even the week for each member of the team. Then I call the others to get them out of bed and give each his instructions," he explained.

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This man held the full board and management meetings within his own head.

An early start to the day is essential. Some, like our bus driver mentioned above, can have a day's work done before many of the rest of us get up. I reckon, too, that a good routine is essential. If you can establish a good routine this becomes the norm and doesn't require any special effort. In contrast, if you get into bad habits it's hard to break out of the cycle.

Of course you can also be a busy fool, slaving away at great personal effort, but in reality making no progress. A farmer can be awfully hard working but have no organisation or method and be making no profit. Such a person needs to pause, stand back and do the sums. Concentrate the effort where reward is most likely.

Henry Ford of car fame, and Major General Costello, manager of Irish Sugar and a man known for tactics and leadership, are said to have one plan in common. They would place a lazy person at a particularly difficult task on the production line. The theory was that the lazy person, in order to make his life easier, would figure out the easiest way to do the job.

In the south-east, especially, this has been a dream spring for getting work done. Not only for the tillage farmer but also for the spring calving and lambing. Newborn lambs and suckled calves could be put straight out to grass. Grazing conditions have been excellent and reports suggest that there has been less scour in suckled calves. One could almost become poetic about farming life and the countryside in a spring like this one but definitely the workload has been eased by the weather.

It seems farmers are catching up on drainage jobs. Drainage stones are flying out from sand and gravel pits and co-ops and hardware shops are running out of drainage piping.

I reckon that the people who calve the country's cows and lamb the ewes are the unsung heroes of farming. Every extra calf and lamb born alive adds to the country's wealth. But the process does not happen without enormous effort and long hours for those who have to put their hands into the birthing channels. There is also risk involved. Again this year there have been reports of farmers being attacked by freshly calved cows, a phenomenon that seems to be on the increase.

A lot of the time the farmer is working alone and despite little tricks like feeding stock last thing in the evening, births will still take place at night. On family livestock farms the younger members can make a contribution at this busy time. Tasks like feeding the calves can take pressure off the boss.

Getting involved in the farming action at a young age is also great life training experience. Employers like to take on people who have grown up on a busy farm. They are flexible, they are not clock watchers and they have a good work ethic. A bit of hardship early on in life can be beneficial. It can create a hunger to get on, an appetite for work, and turn one into a better citizen.

Look at the Eastern Europeans that have come to work in Ireland. Some of these people have become indispensable for farms and small businesses. If staff have to be reduced sometimes it's the locals that are let go and the hungry-for-work Poles and Romanians that are kept on.

Indo Farming