Andrew Hoggard has run both the 11-3 and 5-2 rostered systems on his dairy farm and he compares how each has affected his farm and the people working there

Andrew Hoggard has run both the 11-3 and 5-2 rostered systems on his dairy farm and he compares how each has affected his farm and the people working there

By Andrew Hoggard*

A number of comments have been made about the working hours of staff on dairy farms and the amount of time off our staff receive.

Any perception of working every single second doesn’t exactly help when you are trying to attract quality Kiwis into dairying. 

Questions to me include, ‘why don’t dairy farm workers work five days just like everyone else?’

The standard dairy farmer response is that the cows don't take the weekend off and someone has to milk them.

It is true dairy farms operate seven days a week during the season. Yet it is also true that some farms are starting to run ‘five days on, two days off’ rosters and this is what I have been running on my farm this season.

So dairy farmers and similar businesses in the primary industries may be interested in my experiences, both positive and negative.

Prior to adopting ‘five on, two off’, we’d previously run a roster that had my workers doing ‘11 on and three off.’ While that may seem Victorian, it was only the essentials, like milking and any feeding that were to be done on a weekend, if you happened to be rostered on.

Given that’s a common roster in our industry why did we change?

It wasn’t a visit from the Ghost of Dairying Future, as in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but walking the talk as a farm leader.

To do my role as Federated Farmers’ Dairy chair justice, I need a good team to take care of the farm.

This means better than average staff in the roles we have so a ‘five on, two off’ roster was a way to make our farm attractive to the staff I want and need.

Finally, with our oldest girl starting school, it means Saturday morning sports aren't that far off. Coming up with a roster where I will actually be able to go and see them play each week is another bonus.

It also enables me to do the same for the Farm Manager, who also has a young child. Finally and just maybe, I might be able to carve out some ‘me time’ at the rifle range putting my target rifle to good use. I haven’t given up on the Olympics just yet!

So that's the theory, what was the reality?

First, the good points.

Since our weekly hours were roughly the same we didn't lose any productivity.  That also goes to underscore that our original roster in terms of hours worked, wasn’t as Victorian as it may sound when splashed on Twitter.

By making Saturday and Sunday regular working days, it also meant those non-essential but important daily jobs got done instead of being left for Monday.

The not so good points were that for most of the week we operated at minimum staffing levels.

In theory that’s fine for in our weekly roster all the jobs should still get done and we should still have time up our sleeves to deal with the unexpected. In reality, we found the lost flexibility of an additional person hit us when things went pear shaped, like they inevitably do in spring.

There were probably periods where we ended up working longer hours than we would have under the old roster. Admittedly, if it wasn't for the fact that I was busy off farm and if I had been a ‘full-time labour unit’ rather than just half of one, then I could have scheduled things a bit differently to help overcome that. For next spring, we will get a temporary staffer in just to cover the busy spring period.

The next issue we have all struggled to get our heads around is the fact that Saturday and Sunday are now regular workdays. If you’re rostered on you are working the whole day and not doing just the essentials.My gut tells me we were initially not nearly as productive on weekends, myself included, as opposed to the working week.

That said this is new so like adjusting to shift work, we are getting used to it.

In terms of differentiating my farm, I am currently advertising for a new staff member. Rather than being inundated by applications attracted by ‘five on, two off’ it is surprisingly light.

It could be the time of the year and it could be that the ‘weekend’ for this role is Thursday and Friday; potential applicants may prefer the traditional Saturday and Sunday, at least every second week.

So yes, ‘five on, two off’ has its positives but it also has some negatives too. We have a few lessons to take from this spring and I hope we’ll reduce the negatives and increase the positives.

My key message is that ‘five on, two off’ is doable in the context of modern employment practices, but you need to have good plans to ensure it works.


Andrew Hoggard is Federated Farmers dairy chairperson.

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Andrew raises an interesting point re weekends being Saturday and Sunday or Thursday Friday.  When our sharemilker advertised for staff for this season he had applicants commenting that they wanted a Saturday/Sunday weekend, 'not a roster system of days off'.  Saturday/Sunday works well when you don't have a lot of staff - our sharemilker employs only one fulltime labour unit and casual staff, so it is easy to give a Saturday/Sunday weekend off.  Young people especially, like to have Saturday/Sunday with their mates.  Wednesday or Thursday just isn't the same. Likewise those with school aged children like weekends off for the same reason Andrew does. 

Why shouldn't they? They are probably never going to achieve farm ownership as an offset to giving up their weekends, are they?

The same could be said for the thousands of young people working in retail and other urban based jobs that don't have regular Saturday/Sunday weekends. ;-)

Corporatized everything. Ghastly world

You've added staff (which aren't available in all areas, and often are poor quality)

how have you increase revenue to cover the extra people.

Many farmers (not landlords) have to work as much as possible to pay off debt, and this includes up and coming sharemilkers trying to payoff their herd asap (because you won't live forever to pay all all the mortgages, so every paid second counts ...(unless...))

Ok Kidos,  Andrew Hoggard in particular,  how about ponying up with some replies,  Leave the seagull territory for corporate mangement.

I'll extend you this courtesy then, a bit of constructive information:  The reason you're not getting innundated for the 5on-2off, is that the industry is used to 6on-1off, so your offer is being seen as 1day less pay.  
   Given the wages (that you probably didn't list - and I personally recommend salaries not hourlies) ... the wages in farming the hours make up for the low pay.  So everyone thinks (1) you're shorting their paycheck (and they could make more doing the extra day), (2) most young farm types see time off as an expense they have to find things to do, (3) that you're not commited to the farm and so you are some "queen st'r" who is probably out of touch with industry norms (and the real physical needs) and thus everything will go pear shaped and messy (this is normal risk adversion...institutionalisation...just like animals in a paddock too long who learn never to look for the gate.

Great to see better/fairer rosters becoming more common.
I run 2 staff (plus myself full time) and run a roster of 7:2 7:2 7:3. This gives a Fri/Sat Sun off for each staff member once a month, so is easier to sell in an advert than having to commit to mid week 'weekends'.
I like this roster as the 3 days really allows them to recover, and or plan something worth while like a trip away. Like you Andrew, weekends are still bare essentials. Having worked on both 11:3 and 8:2 before becoming a sharemilker, I find the current system works petty well.

DJDave: Do you take that third day off leave entitlements?  

When I used to work roster (and when I did social engagements) we used to find the shifting days an absolute disaster.  Same as rotating shifts for night staff.

Sure might be all good and fine for the employer, especially 9-4:30 chair warmers in management.

But it was always a case of "who's running class today, Jo's working this week. ".  "Who's standing in as senior warden, Greg's got shift this week, and doesn't know about next week."  Anything with a hint of responsibility or team work and the rostered people were immediately out

No, the guys still get 4 weeks annual leave (actually 21 days).  Plus stat days rostered off or time 1/2 + day in lieu if worked. The maths is;
Roster 7:2 7:2 7:3
= every 28 days get 7 days off
= 91.25 days per year off
91.25/52 weeks = 1.754 off per week
Therefore 5.246 days worked per 7 days
5.246 x 4 weeks = 20.98 days
Therefore 21 days annual leave req.

52 weeks * 2 days = 104  weekend days on a 5,2   ; 52 weeks = 364 days.

7+2+7+2+7+3 = 28 days.   364/52 = 13 weeks. 
(2+2+3) = 7 ; 7 * 13 = 91 days of :"weekends".
"Standard" 6:2. = 8 days.  364 / 8 = 45.5 "weeks"
45.5 * 2 = 91 days of "weekends".

364-91 =274 workdays.  Industry standard  (vs 52*5 = 260 for office folk).

compared with Retail which often has a late night and saturday morning. for a 5.5 : 1.5 ratio

Maybe any changes will be short lived.
I read about a year ago that cows were being genetically modified. No suprises there, but these modifications were to make cow milk as close as possible to human milk.
China, it read, had got close, i think it said something like 2 genes away but Brizil was only 1 gene away.
Now that might sound good to all dairy farmers, but consider this.
Once you identify the genes needed to change a cows milk to human milk then what is to stop you doing it to goats and sheep.. We may well see a big conversions to sheep and goat farms (worldwide)

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