By Debbie James

A Pembrokeshire dairy farm is using lean management principles to increase efficiency.

Dylan and Hannah Harries have streamlined tasks and devolved some responsibilities to their staff to improve performance in their spring calving herd.

Having a more organised and disciplined system reduces wastage and gets things done at the right time, says Mr Harries, who milks 550 cows at Tyddyn yr Eglwys, near Llanfyrnach,

Simple processes that improve labour efficiencies, including making better use of the time when cows are herded in for milking, have been put in place.

A bucket stocked with fencing and plumbing hardware and tools and stored near the quad allows small jobs to be tackled as cows are coming in – perhaps a fencing insulator or bungee is broken or a ball valve that needs tightening.

With the cows walking distances of up to 1.5km from the further paddocks this makes good use of otherwise ‘dead’ time and means somebody doesn’t need to drive back to that location later to get the job done.

“It’s not about taking hours away from the staff, it is about encouraging them to work smarter by getting things done in a more organised fashion,’’ says Mr Harries.

Daily management tasks and key targets such as the weekly grazing rotation, jobs that need doing and supplies needed are written on a 2.5m x 1.8m whiteboard, fixed to a wall in the dairy where staff see it multiple times daily.

“When you manage a team of people it makes the day run more smoothly if they have a point of reference for what needs doing that day, to get those things done without needing to ask me,’’ says Mr Harries.

It means the farm can be run without Mr and Mrs Harries needing to be on-farm, but it can have pinch points.

“If we have made a grazing plan and we get a week of very wet or very dry weather I will need to tweak that plan,’’ Mr Harries adds.

Targets for monthly milk production, feed consumption and veterinary and medicine use are listed on a flipchart in the canteen, which is updated every month.

Providing these helps the team understand the financial cost of actions.

“For anyone not paying the bills, costs can be dismissed as something that others will pick up and not really considered but by sharing these figures everyone in the team knows what the cost of each action is,’’ says Mr Harries.

A member of the team carries out routine checks weekly – a different person has this role for a month.

In that month, they are responsible for checks in the parlour and the dairy.

“It creates a sense of ownership and it means we don’t suddenly run out of things like dairy chemicals which creates problems and inefficiencies.’’ Mr Harries explains.

The Harries’ eat lunch with their staff once a week and have an informal discussion with them about aspects of the business.

This might be about cashflow or the money allocated for veterinary and medicine.

“If we have gone over budget we will delve into it together; it might be that we have used more mastitis treatments than expected, we will try to work out why,’’ says Mr Harries.

“By examining these things and including everyone in that process we can work out the reasons for extra costs and discuss how we can improve on that.’’

Staff are made aware of the cost of products and services.

“For instance, if they know the cost of a bottle of antibiotics they can question if the animal they are about to treat really needs it and whether they should be using antibiotics,’’ says Mr Harries.

“It shifts the balance from staff not fully realising the cost of their decisions and actions.’’

“We have seen it during calving this spring when they are taking the initiative, the roles have in some ways been flipped with them taking the lead rather than me initiating it.’’