It’s getting to that time of year again… at the time of writing the trees are decorated, the Warehouse is a madhouse, and we’ve eaten our share of scorched almonds already.
As those of us involved in agriculture know, the cows don’t take a day off, so how can we survive the silly season without a dose of insanity?
It’s important to start talking about the public holidays, summer holiday and leave plans with your farm team early. As well as organising time off, it’s also a good time to think about building staff morale, farm systems and operating procedures and the legal requirements.
Christmas time is often the point of relaxing and reflecting on the busy first half of the season, you’ve got the cows through winter, survived calving, and either have the bulls out or are at the tail end of mating. Often people are ready for a much needed break, so it’s a good time to give people the opportunity to have a decent stint of farm. Rested farmers and farm staff are always more productive, as are those that feel valued. I think the statement of Stu Taylor of Millennium Farming has some good advice on making people feel valued. He says “We pay people in four ways. Cash, training, flexibility and respect”.
Over the holiday period it’s a really good time to make sure you have policies in place to make sure everything continues to run smoothly on farm. If using relief milkers make sure they are left with good instructions and details of how to run the milking plant, and what the farms policies are on for treatment of sick cows/mastitis etc. Develop of standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a great too for buy in from farm staff and documenting farm management processes instead of keeping them all in your head.
Prior to the Christmas period plenty of things can be done to make sure that things run smoothly. Pasture walks done with clear grazing plans developed gives options for having break fences set up in advance. Ensuring that supplies are up to date to get through the period so no one is running round looking for mastitis treatment, or a can of spray paint on Christmas morning from the neighbours.
If you’re planning on managing the holiday season with a skeleton team, decide who will be back-up if something goes wrong. Making sure that there is a clear contact list of people to call for any issues, such as the vet, or milking shed technicians. A clear expectation for everyone on farm about what is urgent and what isn’t is critical on a farm by farm basis… can the farm survive a day without irrigation if something breaks down, compared to the urgency if there is a break down in the stock water system.
Public holiday entitlement and farming are often a source of confusion. This year the public holidays fall on weekdays, so they are the 25th and 26th of December and the 1st and 2nd of January. The employee’s pay for public holidays depends on whether it’s an “ordinary working day” for that employee – the simple way of figuring this out is asking “if this wasn’t a public holiday, would they be expected to work?” – Extend the roster from today through to the end of the holiday period and this will tell you if it is an ordinary working day. From this you’ll be able to figure out their entitlements to pay, time and a half pay and days in lieu (or alternative holidays).
For more information about making sure you get the payments right and fulfill your legal obligation this Christmas period check out the information on https://www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/ or seek advice from your accountant.
With extra visitors on farm with family and friends visiting, it’s also a good time to make sure you have your health and safety systems up to date and everyone on farm is aware of the policies, particularly with kids on the property. It’s also important that any casual staff are inducted for health and safety and remember that you can’t get way with paying people “under the table”.
Above all, have a great Christmas period, and we look forward to catching up with you all in the new year.