Small Farm: Time Management Tips for Part-Time Farmers
Note Number: AG1048
Published: September 2003
Updated: September 2006
This agricultural note is to assist part-time farmers who are often under stress through lack of time to both manage a farm business and generate the majority of their income from off-farm sources. It is hoped that through this short document you will see one or two ideas that if implemented can give you more control of your business and your time. Below is a list of tips generated primarily from discussions with part-time and full-time farmers from dryland farming systems.
Strategic (or fundamental) issues
- An appropriate enterprise
Cattle require less time than other livestock, but you need yards, a crush, and loading ramp. Buying young cattle and growing out as steers is the least intensive beef operation. Cows and calves need specialist attention at times – joining, calving and weaning.
Other livestock enterprises aimed at meat production can be managed with minimum labour e.g. meat goats, and some prime lamb breeds, especially those sheep that shed their fleeces such as Wiltshire Horns and Dorpers.
Perennial crops and tree crops require less labour than annual crops but they may require labour at special times during the year and you need to make sure your ‘non-farm’ work matches these requirements.
- A well laid out farm and key infrastructure
If you work with the soil and terrain you can greatly reduce the workload. Planned grazing with a single mob and frequent moving makes for easy management. Livestock prefer to move in certain patterns and understanding these means less handling. Livestock will learn to follow you if you regularly move them through the planned grazing system. A laneway connecting a good set of yards and the ‘back paddock’ should mean that the stock can be moved from one to the other without having to move other livestock and with minimum effort. Strategically planted shelter belts mean that you can leave livestock in a paddock knowing they won’t come to harm during rough weather. And good livestock handling facilities will help avoid the risk of injury and lost time, improving your interest in the farm.
- Develop a low input farm
It is possible to develop a farm with dense pastures, no weeds in the paddocks and requiring minimum fertiliser application. This should be a priority for part-time farmers wanting to save time. Healthy, dense pastures on clean paddocks will reduce the need for drenching animals and for distributing additional feed such as hay.
- Develop a source of support labour
As a part-time farmer there will be times when other duties conflict with the farming activities. Work at training someone else to do the farm duties, ready for the time when you face a major time conflict. Train a neighbour, a member of your family who lives with you, or a friend who may live at some distance who can step in when required. Think about people who are retired as potential part-time assistants.
- Form useful alliances that can be contacted by mobile phone or e-mail
You are unlikely to have developed all the information networks you need due to time constraints compared to full-time farmers, so make sure you build a network of people with expertise in farm finances, marketing, technical aspects of farming, risk management, and farm and local government politics
- Link to established markets
Build information networks on markets. You need several sources of information to know whether the price you are being offered is reasonable given the market situation. Useful links include the driver who transports the produce (especially if another farmer), a wholesaler, market reports available from the radio (ABC Rural), newspapers (e.g. Stock & Land, Weekly Times), Internet, and neighbouring farmers
- Develop a networks of contractors
In some way this is similar to developing a source of support labour (except they may cost more). You may get better service if you link your requests with neighbours so the contractor can get a reasonable amount of work in the one location e.g. spraying weeds, specialist animal husbandry tasks (e.g. artificial insemination, shearing), and hay making.
- Develop a communications network
Modern communications technology can be a great help to you – use it wisely; Internet, e-mail, mobile phones, facsimile machines, scanners, etc
Tactical (or day-to-day) issues
- Don’t do things that others can do nearly as well as you, as their input frees you to do other more important tasks.
- Don’t be embarrassed to be the support labour while you learn the trade – it’s often quicker and cheaper than learning by trial and error.
- Schedule heavy lifting sessions when you know the family will be around e.g. shearing, wood gathering, major tree planting, hanging a gate, fencing, etc.
- Schedule potentially dangerous tasks when other members of family are in the vicinity and let them know the issues, so they will come looking for you if you don’t report in on time
- Help your neighbours and friends when you can; this will stand you in good stead when you need help.
- Look for common timing of tasks with neighbours to get the best results – if a contractor in the area, try and get a better deal by doing two farms at once.
- Treat for weeds and vermin at the same time as neighbours – a better kill will result, plus time potentially saved in purchasing and storing poisons, baits, etc.
- Mix social and business – a friendly morning tea or a BBQ can be a useful time to plan, or at least explore, potential joint activities with neighbours and friends.
- Gather, read, and file, useful books and magazines on aspects of farming and rural living.
- Bookmark web-sites that have links to lots of other web-sites on the same subject. Make sure http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au is one of those web-sites.
- Join the Country Fire Authority and your local Landcare group (http://www.landcareonline.com/) the information the members can provide will be invaluable. Remember to do your bit for those organisations – there is no `free lunch’.
This Information Note was developed by Max Coster, September 2003.
It was reviewed by Max Coster, September 2006.