Things are quiet around the yard at the moment. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, I have the data to back it up.
I am not a fan of trying to measure or manage everything to the last half-inch, but in September 2020 I started writing down how many hours per day I spend on the farm.
Autumn was quiet and I averaged around 13 hours/week for September, October, and November
It takes about a minute every evening to sit down, remember what I did that day, and then add up the hours.
I knock off an hour for lunch and the odd cup of tea taken during the day.
Autumn was quiet and I averaged around 13 hours/week for September, October, and November. Stock on the farm then was 60 ewes and 20 weanlings. This increased to 20 hours/week for December, January, and February as winter feeding set in properly and the ewes began to lamb.
At that point, we had approximately 150 ewes and lambs, 20 yearlings and 25 calves
I started buying calves around St Patrick’s Day and between ewes lambing and feeding these calves, the work went up to 23 hours/week for March, April, and May. At that point, we had approximately 150 ewes and lambs, 20 yearlings and 25 calves. I mention the numbers only to give an idea of the scale involved.
Too many animals
In hindsight, this was too many animals to manage for a part-timer with below-average facilities, and I have made changes so that next spring will not be as manic. Since then, the workload has dropped as lambs are sold and calves came off milk. June and July have averaged 19 hours/week.
This is hardly insightful stuff, but it is information specific to our farm, and that makes it more relevant for me than any summary published by others
The bottom line is that work peaked in late spring, dropped slowly into summer and autumn, and then started to ramp up again as winter set in. This is hardly insightful stuff, but it is information specific to our farm, and that makes it more relevant for me than any summary published by others.
A longer-term goal is to improve soil health, so it too becomes more self-managing and I spend less time spreading fertiliser
It also gives me something of a benchmark for the coming year when the goal is to reduce the hours worked and help the animals to do most of the work themselves. I am slowly getting permanent paddocks and water troughs in place, so grass management and moving stock becomes a job measured in minutes rather than hours.
A longer-term goal is to improve soil health, so it too becomes more self-managing and I spend less time spreading fertiliser. A few other small jobs here and there should also bring down the average hours/week.
Profit versus hours worked
The usual farm surveys we see published in Ireland focus on production or income. Publishing output per hectare is somewhat useful to get a sense of where you’re at compared to others in your sector. But it does not tell you how much work went into that production. Would it be better to make a profit of €400/ha from 40 hours/week or €600/ha from 80 hours/week?
The second option is better only in narrow financial terms.
That farmer may have some economy of scale, but we should not hold them up as a “good farmer” without stating the extra hours involved.
Maybe you have no interest in such numbers. But if you have, it is very easy to get into the habit of tracking your hours
Would the sweet spot be combining the two and divide output by hours worked to give an hourly rate? Surely we would all be more interested in the system and methods of the farmer who earns €15/hour from his labour than their neighbour who is a good farmer in terms of production but is working for €10/hour when it is all added up?
Maybe you have no interest in such numbers. But if you have, it is very easy to get into the habit of tracking your hours. Write in a notebook or on your phone the few jobs you did and how long you were on the farm today. It might just add an extra dimension to how well your farm is doing.