Running that marathon on the farm

Following my last article in the Dairyman about calving being likened to a marathon, I have fielded a number of calls on this topic. Consequently, spurred on by some very positive comments from various callers, I have cobbled together some further thoughts on the subject.

Food and meals

If you are running a marathon, you need to think about how much energy you are burning, this not only applies to calving and mating either. If you are starting at 5:00 am, then by my reckoning, you have worked half a day by breakfast time at 9:00 am. Did you start the day with anything to eat or drink?

Is your team getting stroppy with the cows? One of the reasons for this may be that they are hungry.

One caller said to me that they had a snack breakfast of cereal and toast at 5:00 am, then a full breakfast at 8:30 – 9:00 am, which normally included some cooked breakfast, i.e., bacon and eggs. Lunch was at 12:30 pm sharp, for 1 hour. This was enough time to eat lunch, and also have a nap. By 3:00 pm they were back milking the cows, with coffee and biscuits available in the cowshed. Milking was finished by 5:30 pm, and everyone had to be in the house by 6:00 pm. This is an 11 hour day by my reckoning, with some meal breaks included.

This scenario sounds pretty reasonable to me. What this farmer did, was try to work to a routine which allowed adequate time for meals. Skipping meals in my opinion is not an option. Do your junior staff's mates' in town go without food? Not likely, and neither should your team.

On my own dairy farm, we always had coffee and biscuits at the start of the morning milking as soon the first set of cups were on. It was a good time to enjoy the beauty and peace that surrounds you, which is something that comes with the farming life. It was also an appropriate time to swap stories and catch up. Just because you work 24/7, you can't expect the same from everyone else.

What of holidays?

One of my callers reckoned that the best holiday was a package trip to Fiji for a few nights after calving and before mating. He said you can't really relax in a motel down the road or at the beach. His argument was that you need to leave the country, and all the problems behind. He even built the cost of one Fiji holiday per staff member into his wages package because it worked so well for him.


A caller said to me that he had worked so hard with so much focus for so long, and now he has to ask himself the question "What am I going to do now"? The farm is sold, he has a big wad of cash, but now what? This is a question that will be discussed in next month's article.


Farming is like running a marathon, not only for you, but also for your team. Work to times, make sure that you eat properly and realise that a decent break after calving is essential. All this allows for better relationships, and if you employ staff, are you really in the farming business, or are you in the people business? If you are in the people business, then you must look after your team.


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