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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Dairy > Grazing systems > Knee deep in grass: A survey of twenty-nine grazing operations in Minnesota > Labor changes

Labor changes

Brian Loeffler, Helene Murray, Dennis G. Johnson, Earl I. Fuller
Reviewed 2008

Reported chore time estimates were used to analyze the effect of MIG on dairy chore labor requirements. Estimates were used from farms whose herd size, labor force, equipment and facilities remained similar. Graziers also reported changes in whole farm labor requirements. Changes in labor force, equipment, facilities, alternative enterprises and farm size complicated analysis of the effect of MIG on labor requirements.

Summer labor needs

"Now the cattle work for us, instead of us working for them."

Changes in summertime labor requirements (difference between before and after MIG) ranged from +1.5-6.0/adult worker hours/day. On two farms there was an increase in summer labor requirements; on four farms there was no change and on nine farms there were small decreases. On the remaining 14 farms other circumstances prevented analyzing the specific affect of MIG on the labor needs.

Graziers reported saving labor from decreases in feeding, feed processing and manure handling time. One grazier commented, "Now the cattle work for us, instead of us working for them."

The survey inadequately addressed calving labor requirements for farms that freshen herds seasonally. The survey also failed to fully consider the labor needs for all-at-once calving. Therefore responses concerning summer labor savings may be distortedly large on some farms.

Winter labor needs

Labor requirements changed only on farms that had seasonally freshened herds or farms in the process of changing to seasonally freshened herds. Labor savings resulted not only from decreased milking time but also from the reduced feeding and manure handling time associated with dry cows versus fresh cows. Time savings ranged from 0-9 adult worker hours/day. The percentage of the herd producing was a major factor.

Transition period to MIG

Often labor requirements increased as farms made the transition to MIG. Initially, extra time is needed for fencing, installing watering systems, seeding pastures and developing a new chore routine. Almost all agreed that as they gained experience, chore time decreased.

Whole farm

Fifteen graziers reported whole farm labor requirements decreased significantly because of grazing. Many farmers reduced or eliminated cropland, often in favor of pasture. The reduced amount of cropland was responsible for the bulk of the time savings on many farms. It simply reduced or eliminated the time spent planting and harvesting crops and time spent repairing equipment. Labor requirements were reportedly reduced a little on four farms. Seven farms indicated labor needs remained the same. Two farms reported that labor needs increased significantly and one said they increased a little.

Again, some farmers' need for labor changed for reasons other than MIG. For example, several farms expanded their herd size.

One grazier pointed out that, despite the significantly reduced need for labor on his farm, he was still keeping busy. He stressed, however, that MIG has changed the type of work on his farm. He and others indicated they have substituted management for physical labor.

Changes in daily tasks

The changes in daily tasks were noted as being much greater than changes in labor time savings. While impossible to place a numerical value on changes in tasks, many respondents viewed it as necessary for an improved quality of life.

Job changes

Changes in the chore routine seemed to enthuse respondents more than time savings. Reduced amounts of physical and repetitious labor was recognized as one of the biggest benefits of MIG. Chores such as harvesting feed, manure handling, equipment maintenance, hoof trimming, etc., were reportedly reduced or eliminated on all farms in the study. In short, management duties have, in many cases, replaced those of a physical labor nature. Graziers frequently said that they enjoy the new challenges of managing cattle and pastures together. Respondents stated that they now have time to make actual management decisions since they have reduced much of the repetitive work. For example, one grazier noted that instead of raking hay or hauling manure he could focus on things like pasture supplementation or breeding schedules.

Time off

Taking time off from the farm is more of an option since adopting MIG, according to some graziers. Hiring temporary labor while on vacation has become easier because of the reduced labor needs and concerns about equipment functioning properly. In general, graziers stated that finding qualified relief milkers is easier if there is less equipment to operate.

Responsibility changes

Twenty graziers said there had been changes in their roles and responsibilities in the last five years. Nine farms said that there had been no recent changes. Ten of the 20 said that changes in their roles were the result of their changing family structure. These farms were either in transition between generations or respondents' young children were reaching the age when they could do chores. Five indicated that MIG has changed their roles and responsibilities. Four stated that changes in their spouse's off-farm employment have affected their roles.

Twenty-two graziers anticipated changes in their roles and responsibilities in the near future and seven said they did not expect any changes. Ten respondents expected changes in their family structure to change their responsibilities. This included farm transfers and an increase in available labor from maturing children. Four farmers said that expanding the herd size would affect their responsibilities. Four graziers expected physical labor requirements to be reduced and replaced by management duties. Other changes included hiring additional help, spending more time with their families and direct-marketing farm commodities.

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