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The challenges of dairy farming during lockdown

04 March 2021

Farmers have had no let-up during the island's latest lockdown.  They continue to go about their work 365 days of the year as one of many unsung heroes irrespective of COVID-19 and the restrictions this brings.

Andrew Tabel, managing director, Guernsey Dairy acknowledges the difficult and challenging times the island's dairy farmers are going through to ensure the Dairy receives its regular supply of fresh local milk.  What has made this period more demanding is the increase in milk sales offset by a reduction in raw milk intake as farmers counter the effects of the recent cold spell.

Michael Bray, a farmer from Les Jaonnets Farm and president of the Guernsey Farmers Association said that his cows have no concept of the global pandemic, they still need care and husbandry as well as milking twice a day. 

"Our work carries on as usual irrespective of any restrictions lockdown brings," he said.

Guernsey's dairy farmers have needed to introduce even tighter restrictions in line with Public Health guidelines, to ensure they remain fit and healthy so that they can continue to go about their daily routines without being compromised in anyway by the effects of the pandemic.

Julian Ogier from Le Hechet Farm said; "We are actually masters of isolation.  For many of us milking starts at 5.25 a.m. every day and our work tends not to be finished much before 6.30 p.m. so it's a long and fairly antisocial day with little if no interaction with anyone outside each of our farms."

COVID has forced farmers to be even more vigilant.  Mr Bray said: "Should one of us contract the virus, running our farms and finding sufficient cover would then become extremely challenging."

Mr Bray's family was one of many islanders who, through the Dance Festival's contact tracing programme, needed to self-isolate. 

"We cut ourselves off from everyone outside the immediate family which raised all sorts of conflicts for us as we still had to continue to look after our cows' welfare - we were unable to drop everything and walk away," he said. 

"During normal circumstances, if we are going to take a holiday we would have been preparing handovers on the farm for a good few weeks beforehand, which would not have happened if I'd had a positive COVID result."

Globally farmers are seeing even wider challenges with shortage in supplies and materials needed for farm maintenance and backup support from local firms when something needs to be fixed.

This winter has also been particularly wet so many of the farmers are a little behind schedule from a land management point of view.

"By now I would normally be preparing my fields ahead of spring," said Mr Ogier. 

"We also totally rely on our milking machinery to be in good working order but at the moment, when things go wrong, it isn't very easy to get them fixed.  Normally we would fly a specialist technician over from the UK but instead we have had to compromise," he said.

Despite the usual challenges of dairy farming, some of the island's younger farmers are also home schooling their children which inevitably means there is a reduction in the number of helping hands around the farm.

Mr Bray has a young family and he and his wife Susie have been multitasking more than ever during this second island lockdown.

"Many farmers and farm workers are in a similar position, juggling young children and the demands of home schooling which inevitably influences our normal daily working routine," he said. 

"Susie would usually be helping me on the farm during the day when the children are at school, but she has now moved from the farm into the home classroom without any support from me," said Mr Bray.

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