One of the main advantages of European and of course Irish dairy farming is the fact that most dairy farms use a lot of family labour. Compared with some of the other major global dairy producing countries such as New Zealand and America, Irish dairy farms are relatively small in scale. In New Zealand, for example, the average size of dairy herds is well over 400 cows per farm.
Essentially this means most farm workers are employed (non-family members).
On many Irish and European farms, this is not the case, and much of the work is completed by non-paid workers or family members and workers.
While this offers an advantage in terms of reduced outlay for wages etc, it can bring disadvantages in terms of health and safety.
Young family members are often doing so much during the summer that they are rushing from one job to the next in order to be in time for GAA training, music lessons or simply rushing inside to go on the computer. As the farm owner and director of the business, don’t allow rushing or running between jobs as a large number of accidents happen when a time pressure comes on.
The job might be better off uncompleted rather than a rushed job where someone gets injured in the process.
The good spell of weather up to now has seen a lot of the first-cut silage completed and even some hay baled. Rushing to beat the weather often means safety comes under pressure. Moving round bales is a dangerous job not just for the person driving the tractor and loader but for those in the field and maybe around the tractor and trailer.
Make sure all children realise that the weight of the big bales could crush them if they fell in the wrong place.
Try and keep them away from where you are loading but in your line of sight. Don’t let children climb up on round bales. Always be mindful of loading round bales where there are overhead wires.
Even in big fields be careful of overhead wires and place the trailer for loading in a space where there are no wires overhead. Again, when unloading back in the yard pick a spot where there is no chance you can catch the wires with a bale on the loader.
When moving young stock from field to field be careful of stock that have been out of sheds and untouched for a number of weeks.
In large groups they can often run wild as they have had little or no human contact since they left sheds. Try and coax them in with meal or nuts and make them follow you rather than trying to force them.
On dairy farms a very early start for milking can often leave an operator very tired in the afternoon, especially after food in the middle of the day and more importantly on very warm muggy days. Spreading slurry can be a particularly slow and monotonous job and there can be a strong danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
Take a break – get down out of the tractor on long draws, get something to drink, and, if you have to, turn off the tractor and lie down for a break.
As the AI season is more or less over for most dairy farms, stock bulls have been released on many. Mixing young and old bulls can lead to the bulls jostling for superiority. Be conscious of this and don’t get in the way.
Maybe leave the bulls in the paddock rather than bring them in for milking. Be conscious of family members that might not be as familiar or as wary of bulls.
Vasectomised bulls can be equally as aggressive and dangerous as stock bulls.
Some farmers will paint the stock bulls from head to toe with a very illuminous colour (yellow along the head and back) to make it easy to pick out the bull and alert anyone in the field of its location very quickly.
While most of the cows in Ireland calve in 10 to 12 weeks in the spring some calve in June, July, August and September. These are either late spring calvers or cows destined to produce milk over the winter.
One of the most dangerous times to be around cows is at or shortly after calving when they are very protective of the newborn.
At this time of the year what can make it more dangerous is that often the cow is out in the paddock when calving so there is no gate to protect the person when he/she goes to help calve the cow or check on the newborn.
Always have someone with you or drive in with a tractor or jeep to give you some protection. If and when you can, check a cow calving outside in the paddock.