With larger dairy farms comes an increased labour requirement. While the overall labour efficiency of the farm, regarding cows, might be good, retaining quality labour is proving challenging for many.

Like many areas regarding Irish dairy farming, we can look to what New Zealand dairy farmers are doing regarding farm labour.

Below are some areas that may help to both entice and retain labour, many of which are common place in large New Zealand herds.

Set start and finish times

As an employer, it is necessary to understand that it is unexpectable that an employee will work in excess of hours more than is contracted. While there can be flexibility at busy periods, such as at calving time, this cannot be seen as the norm.

Having a set start and finish time will allow workers to plan activities outside of work and will also encourage you to finish at a similar time to them.

Adopting a 16:8 milking routine, covered in a previous online article on the Irish Farmers Journal website, will aid in finishing the working day at a reasonable hour.

Regular time off

Regular paid time off is both a legal requirement and is necessary from a mental and physical health point of view to avoid burn out.

Encourage staff to take time off at regular intervals. Where you plan to take time off yourself or where there are several employees on the farm, a schedule should be introduced to ensure sufficient labour is available to cover the daily tasks while ensuring everyone receives adequate time away from the farm gate.


With house prices and rents at current levels, on-farm accommodation is a major benefit to those working on farms.

Not only the price of accommodation that is proving difficult for farm workers, but actually sourcing rented accommodation close to their place of work is proving hard.

Where possible, renovating older farm cottages into liveable accommodation will prove a draw to those seeking employment.

The benefit of accommodation can be adjusted for in wages, as can utilities, but remember that the accommodation has to be fit for purpose and has to have a financial incentive to it.


Labour should be viewed as an integral part of the smooth running of the farm and rewards should be given as required. Production-based rewards will benefit both employer and employee, with an agreed target - for example, 550kg solids per cow, and agreed bonus, percentage of milk cheques or young stock.

Young stock, in particular, as a production bonus may lead to long-term labour transitioning to a shared milking arrangement, as is common place in New Zealand.