• Posted 19/11/2019 9:01pm

How Lean can help you farm smarter (and safer): part two

Our last blog looked at some basic Lean principles and the simple, low or no cost solutions we can implement on farm to improve how work gets done during calving. 

This blog explores how the same principles can be used to make work safer during calving.  Making work safer also makes it more productive, efficient and enjoyable.

Although health and safety is sometimes viewed as a compliance issue, actually it’s much bigger than that.  It is about making sure everyone on farm gets home safely to their family at the end of each day.  There isn’t anything more important than that! When we shift our focus from compliance to the real issues of keeping people healthy and safe it’s easy to see how this should be a key focus for everyone on farm, everyday.

To really nail health and safety we need everyone in the team to feel safe sharing mistakes, things that aren’t working and ideas for what could be better.  They also need to feel comfortable asking for what they need to support them to do their job safely. 

Teams who can talk to each other and learn from mistakes or opportunities outperform in all areas (including productivity and quality, not just safety).

Tapping into the knowledge of the team (the people at the coal face who actually do the work) and involving them in identifying problems and possible solutions is at the core of Lean.  A team approach to identifying the issues, their root cause and coming up with a solution is what Lean’s all about.

There is no doubt that hearing from everyone in the team improves outcomes.  The leader can’t be everywhere all the time and the team have different perspectives and experiences.  Here are a couple of examples of a team approach to identifying opportunities to improve health and safety on farm during calving and identifying and implementing solutions.  One is low cost/high value (which is where most of the value in applying lean sits).  The other is high value but came at a cost. The two examples show you that lean can be used to make quick, easy, low costs gains immediately but also has value when you are developing infrastructure and investing.


Wood chips from the calf sheds were overflowing, meaning the ground outside was often really uneven.  The only people to really notice this were people feeding calves (when you are carrying calf feeders you need a stable footing or rolling an ankle is a real possibility).  Raising the issue was the first step in getting a solution; the team came up with the idea of placing old pallets outside the sheds to provide a firm, flat surface to stand on.  This isn’t perfect (it can become slippery when wet) but it is a huge improvement.  It was also low cost (the pallets were available anyway, the only cost was time to place them).  They can be reused/returned afterwards.

 Shed 2Shed 1

Lifting calves

Anyone who works on farm knows that lifting and carrying calves is an essential part of calving.  We can’t get away from it.  However, we can minimize the risks that are associated with lifting by using good techniques and also thinking about our infra structure design.  When the opportunity to build a new calf shed arose, designing it to minimize lifting was front of mind.  Once again, the solution came from the people who actually do the work who, in this case, designed (and built) a shed where a mobile gate system allows gates to be swung in front of the shed and calves walked along the ground to the collection pen.

  Shed 3Shed 4

 The collection pen is ingeniously level with the sheds but built into a bank which allows the stock truck to pull up and back in; once again the calves walk straight onto the truck. 

Shed 5

This is an enormous improvement from the old system, where calves had to be lifted from ground level up to the level of the collection pen (which was a significant lift adding to the other necessary lifting that happens on farm during calving).  The new system makes sense from a practical point of view but it also uses a lot of Lean principles (there is less motion waste (no extra lifting and carrying), the system improves ergonomics and ensures the collection pen is as close as possible to the point of use cutting transport waste). 

This is obviously a solution which did cost time and money but building the new shed was going to happen anyway.  An understanding of lean principles and a team approach resulted in the best value from this investment.

Tips for getting your team to talk

If you want to encourage your team to talk about opportunities for improvement or share their ideas (including about health and safety) there are some simple tips you can use to get you started:

  • Walk the talk –Role model the behaviours you want, for example, talk about your near misses, share your stories.
  • Think about the behavior you are rewarding – you get more of the behavior you recognize and reward. 
  • How do you react when someone brings up issues?  Do you shut them down?  Ask open questions to understand more?  How do you think this will make them feel about bringing up issues in the future?
  • Get good at asking questions: ask open questions.  Practice asking questions which get people to open up (rather than shut down and get defensive) e.g. what do you think about this?  What makes you say that? What would help you do your job?

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