Beef producers are not immune to the labour shortage facing today’s agricultural industry.
The oil and gas sector, especially in Alberta, draws workers from across Canada and abroad to satisfy its voracious appetite.
What can we do in agriculture to alleviate this strain on the labour force?
Producers are independent people and often get used to doing the day-to-day activities themselves.
However, the single person philosophy becomes taxed during cattle processing or calving.
Processing, or any other procedure in which animals must run through the chute, requires extra labour to run efficiently. Ideally, the help would have experience handling cattle, although the newer systems make it easy to train inexperienced people and still keep it safe.
The new working systems, especially hydraulic chutes, decrease the workload significantly.
Producers often ask us to bring our veterinary technicians with us when doing procedures such as castrations and pregnancy checks. We always do this during semen evaluations to speed up the procedure.
This way, skilled people are available for vaccinating or processing who are familiar with cattle handling and can operate the various makes of chutes.
This reduces the training that is required, and producers are charged only for the time they work.
Our technicians also go out on their own when only processing is done or to help handle exotics such as bison or elk. Arrangements must be made ahead of time because they may be needed at the clinic.
Foot trimmers will often help process, and in many cases, also custom fit cattle.
We even have two custom processing crews that work on farms when they aren’t needed at the auction markets. They use the most efficient forms of processing, such as auto fill syringes, and I find they are diligent at keeping vaccines at the right temperature, administering products properly and safely and minimizing waste. Your processing will get done faster with less stress on the animals.
Don’t hesitate to ask them or your local veterinarian about how to improve the process for next year. There is a need for this sort of service in each region, and if the business is there they will start up.
If older children are home on weekends , do your herd procedures then. Veterinary clinics that are open on Saturdays often encourage working when the producer has extra help.
Producers would often help each other out in the days when herds were smaller, but these arrangements can often break down if the workload becomes too one-sided or the system is labour intensive or unsafe to operate.
However, it’s still a great thing to do if it can be made to work. The workload is diminished, you get to learn from your neighbours, there is great camaraderie and neighbours get to know how to operate your system. This becomes even more beneficial when you need to be away and the neighbour can come over to help the veterinarian, hoof trimmer or nutritionist.
Perhaps you all need to keep a running total and settle up any differences in time spent at the end of the year. If you are all organized, more will get done and the extra skilled labour will be used.
Producers should also invite urban residents to help out whenever possible. Friends or relatives often relish the idea of spending time on the farm. That is why the traditional brandings draw such a crowd. They will obviously need some training, but it won’t take them long to catch on if you put them in a safe spot.
The enthusiasm they show may be contagious, and teaching is always rewarding. This puts more people in touch with agriculture and may lead to part-time employees down the road.
Don’t forget the foreign worker programs. These workers are enthusiastic and often come back year after year. Many large operations say they would not survive if it weren’t for them.
Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.