Is your labour working for you?

Published 15 August 15

Article 6Labour is both a significant cost and a limiting resource on many farms, according to analysis carried out by AHDB’s Mark Topliff. “Using the Evidence Report 2015, intended to identify trends and drivers for the industry, we can see that in 2013/14, labour accounted for between 12% and 15% of total costs of production,” he explains.

“However, the bottom 25% farms had almost a third more labour hours per cow per year for no extra gain in output. When comparing figures on a ‘per hectare’ basis, while labour cost is similar for the top and bottom 25% of herds, revenue is over £2,000 per ha more for the better performing herds.”

Table (below): Labour efficiency in top 25% of GB herds (based on net margin performance) – Paid and Unpaid value



Labour p/litre

Labour £/ha







Mark says the most labour-efficient herds are typified as operating over 100 cows/man/year. Other common factors are:

  • Simple systems with clear, easily understood processes
  • Shorter milking intervals – influenced by a simple system or by good cow flow
  • Good cow fertility and health – influenced by both management and genetics
  • Where grazing is used, a longer grazing season
  • Timely use of contractors
  • Attention to detail in rearing youngstock
  • Organised structure and clear communication

“It’s also interesting to look at how our use of labour compares with our international competitors,” says Mark. “While the mostly grass-based countries such as New Zealand and Australia had the highest numbers of cows per labour unit, countries like Ireland, also grass-based, had surprisingly few cows per unit.

“Equally, the Netherlands, which operates broadly similar systems to those in the UK, managed more cows per labour unit. Despite this, typical UK farms compare well against countries like Germany, France, Ireland and the USA.” 

Article 6-2

Chart (above): How does UK labour use compare with international dairy producers? – IFCN typical farms.

Note: Horizontal axis labels indicate the typical farm countries and herd size; where significant regional variations occur in the dairy industry within a country, there could be more than one entry for that country with the respective herd size denoted. Source: IFCN

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