11 effective time-saving tips for sheep farmers
Time is your most precious asset. Using it wisely will bring more focus and profitability to your farm, while helping you to reduce stress and enjoy a better quality of life. Here are eleven tips every sheep farmer should consider.
Dare you challenge your routine?
Day to day, week to week and from one season to the next. With so many repeat tasks in farming, it’s no surprise that many agricultural professionals fall into a routine. That’s all well and good. But when your routine becomes too habitual, it’s hard to think analytically about how you spend your time – and whether that time could be used more efficiently to benefit both your business and your work-life balance.
Your parents, grandparents and great grandparents may all have worked a certain way. But the set way of doing things isn’t the only way of doing things. Nor is it necessarily the most productive. Finding ways to use your time more effectively will have a direct impact on the success of your business. Time is money, after all. But the benefits of working more efficiently extend beyond commercial matters. Better time management can enhance your quality of life too.
Here are eleven time management tips that every sheep farmer should consider.
1. Implement online scheduling software
The duties of a sheep farmer are highly seasonal and highly cyclical. Certain jobs must be done at certain times of year to get the best from your sheep system. Using free scheduling software such as Week Plan allows you to become the master of your own destiny. You can schedule the high priority tasks that are bound to certain calendar dates and pin your lesser priority tasks around it. The simple drag and drop system makes it easy to allocate tasks to certain days of the week to give you a clear visualisation of your working world – freeing your mind to focus on the job rather than worrying about finding time to get the job done.
As for the one-off jobs that are low priority, a to-do list is fine. But when you actually allocate a task to a set day, it’s far more likely that it will get done. Just remember to build flex into your schedule. With farming, unscheduled and unexpected jobs pop up all the time. Leaving around 30-40% of each working day unallocated will allow you to be reactive to unplanned jobs as necessary, without falling behind on your planned tasks.
2. Use staff wisely
The working culture of farming is slowly undergoing a paradigm shift. The stereotype of long hours is being replaced by a new model of efficiency. That may mean considering bringing more automation to tasks that have traditionally been done by hand. For example, using machines to feed surplus lambs can save hours of labour time. The Volac Eco Feeder can feed up to 240 lambs, enabling you to slash labour costs or redeploy staff to other tasks. For a smaller number of lambs, consider a Ewe2 (or a Ewe2 Plus) will help ad lib rear your surplus lambs for a much smaller investment. You can find out more here and here.
Also remember that being the decision-maker in the business doesn’t have to mean doing everything yourself. Delegate lower priority or less demanding tasks to free you up for more important duties, or to give you time in the office to think strategically about the health and direction of your business. Simple farmhand tasks can be delegated if you routinely struggle to complete your to-do list from week to week during sensible hours. Prioritise the tasks that will have the biggest impact on your success as a business and consider empowering your staff to make decisions on the areas of the business they know best, this is also great for morale.
3. Scrutinise the layout of your farm
Think about how your flock moves from one area of your farm to the next. If you have an outdoor lambing system, for example, you will want to make sure that when lambing time comes, your ewes are in a field that’s as close to your front door as possible. Likewise if you have a rotational grazing system you should plan the growth of your pasture so that your flock can move logically and efficiently from one site to the next.
Think about the placement of key equipment on your farm too. It should be distributed close to the sites where it is most needed to reduce the amount of walking required to retrieve it. Unnecessary extra steps may seem inconsequential on a day-to-day basis. But they add up to a lot of wasted time and energy across the course of a year.
4. Focus on one thing at a time
More than most industries, farming can often be about jumping from one task to another. But whenever possible do your best to focus on one thing at a time, rather than multitasking and dividing your attention. It’s better to do one job well rather than several jobs poorly. There’s also the fact that in farming, failing to pay full attention to certain tasks can present significant safety risks.
5. Stop looking at your phone
While we’re talking about focus, there are few devices more effective at draining it than a smartphone. Yes, you need one to receive calls and be contactable. And it’s a lifeline if something unexpected happens. But turn off those push notifications and stop looking at social media. It’s not just the time spent doing it that’s the problem, but the time it takes to bring your focus back to the task at hand. A mobile phone can easily do a number on your motivation and productivity. And if you let it, it will.
6. Set clear goals
There’s nothing better than that feeling of accomplishment when you settle down at the end of a working day, knowing that you ticked off all the necessary tasks. But just as important as having daily goals is having something clear that you are building towards long term. You deserve better than working yourself to the bone simply to survive. Having a clear long-term goal and reminding yourself why you do what you do will reignite your motivation and help you to avoid procrastination.
7. Think strategically about lambing
Lambing is the most crucial time of year for any sheep farmer. Anything that you can do to bring more efficiency to your system will have a significant benefit on the success of your business. There are many areas to consider: nutrition, the management of surplus lambs, quality milk replacer (especially one that mixes cold), colostrum intake and an awful lot more. Our Lamlac page has collection of online articles written by experts across a variety of topics to help make sure your lambing season is as productive and efficient as possible. One to bookmark for sure.
>> Take a look at our lambing knowledge hub
8. Keeping records on lambing and financial performance
Keeping detailed records each lambing season can help you gather crucial insight. As the seasons pass you will be able to spot trends in the data that can help you identify ways you could bring more productivity or efficiency to both lambing season and your business in general. For example, the right data will make it easy to reduce time inefficiencies associated with unproductive ewes or those that consistently endure difficult labours. Not sure which records to keep or how to collect data? Read our article.
>> Lambing season advice: why it’s crucial to keep proper records
It’s also worth keeping records on profitability. That way you can benchmark performance, not only against yourself from one season to the next, but against other sheep farming businesses. AHDB runs a free benchmarking service called Farmbench: a national database that can help you to identify areas of your business that are performing as hoped as well as areas where more attention may be necessary. You can access the Farmbench service here.
9. Think intelligently about grass
Grass management is at the heart of efficient sheep farming. Economically speaking, grass is the most cost-effective fuel for your business. After all, up to 90% of the energy required for sheep systems typically comes from grass, hay or silage. And according to AHDB, well-managed grass alone can sustain over 250g DLWG through to weaning, without having to rely on high use of supplements.
Properly fertilised pasture can produce as much as 10–11 tonnes of dry matter per hectare for grazing. And a high-quality additive such as Ecosyl will help you to produce nutritionally rich and consistent silage in order to drive even more value from your pasture. But to reap the benefits of grass it’s essential to do the groundwork, conducting soil and pH testing to make sure your pasture is managed correctly.
10. Make sure you have a health plan
Prevention is always better than a cure when it comes to the health of your flock. Not just in terms of cost, but time efficiency too. Administering treatments and caring for poorly animals is a significant time burden. Work with your veterinary consultant to develop a health management plan for your flock and review it annually.
11. Factor in downtime
Burnout is a real phenomenon. You can’t work yourself into the ground without enjoying some ‘me time’. Getting a little distance from your business will help to prevent stress and reenergise you both physically and mentally. Energy is a crucial resource when it comes to the daily rigours of farming. Downtime is non-negotiable. Enjoy it.
What’s the big idea?
You know your farm better than anyone. But sometimes being so close to something can leave you blind as to where small tweaks could make big improvements. Come and take a look at what our digital farming community is saying on Facebook and Twitter. And if you have any time-saving tips of your own, don’t be shy. The best knowledge is shared knowledge.