During a crisis such as the global pandemic of the COVID-19 outbreak, many businesses slow down or even close down when normal operations are not possible to maintain, even with workers working from home.
Those working in the poultry and livestock industry have no remote-work option. Obviously, farming is an essential industry as people have to eat and birds need to be cared for.
Here are some practical tips that can help farmers to weather the coronavirus crisis. Before we start, we need to consider the following items:
- A solid operation plan
- Manpower and management
- Virtual support
- Essential supplies – redundant stock
- Start with a plan
A military-like approach to this crisis is necessary to maintain optimal efficiency. The army always plans forward in considering various scenarios, while focusing on worst-case scenarios. We need to determine now how to react to different circumstances and to prepare accordingly.
The best way to do this is to gather the staff (unless you are a one-man farm) for a brainstorming session to outline the possible scenarios ahead of time and to decide how to react if they materialise. This session could be undertaken remotely or at site, but a distance of two metres between staff members should be maintained for everybody’s safety.
Such scenarios could include:
- Member or members of staff needing to go into isolation, getting sick or leaving
- Shortage of supplies
- Maintenance teams not being able to arrive.
These are just three general scenarios. How we deal with them depends on what stage of the crisis we are facing and the likelihood that the situation will continue to deteriorate.
Management and staff
This is the most crucial element as no farm can run without manpower and management.
- Assess key functions in the operation. Define critical functions that you cannot operate without (for example, the farm manager). Key functionaries should clearly write a description of their job in a way that if someone needs to be replaced, there will be some guidance. This is a worthwhile thing to do anyway.
- Cross-training. Try to train people to take over more functions if necessary. If normally only one person knows how to operate the ventilation or controller train, make sure you now have at least two people who can take over. The same applies to any other key function – ordering feed, administering medicine, vaccines, etc.
- Cooperation with neighbours. This might be the perfect time to chat with friends and neighbours, who may or may not be farmers. See if they are prepared to provide mutual cover, eg., if you are ill, they will help you and vice versa. There might be young people in the area who may be prepared to help. All this needs to be done before things become even worse, so you can show them your system and give them basic training.
- Keep your key people apart, so they don’t infect each other and force other workers to go into isolation. For example, if you have a farm manager and an assistant who can replace him, they should work in separate shifts, so they won’t infect each other. They should also refrain from being in places where they might both be infected by a third party.
In most countries, anybody who has been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus has to go into isolation. If both managers do their shopping at the same supermarket, where an employee is found to be infected, they will both be out of action for two weeks.
Avoid all face-to-face meetings that are not essential. Keep anybody who is not essential away from your premises. This is not the time to install a new kitchen for the workers.
Remote access and monitoring
If there is one thing that can really help in an emergency situation it is the possibility to remotely access the sheds and the controllers this is not common yet in Uganda. If you can do this, and your staff numbers are down, you can use untrained or less well-trained staff and allow the monitoring and control to be done from afar.
Remote monitoring and control can be done in-house within the organisation or by using external services. While using such a service is valuable throughout the year, it is especially vital as a contingency plan for an emergency.
The most essential precaution is to ensure that the controllers are connected to a PC which is linked to the internet and has a remote access programme working. Without that no one would be able to help.
Stocks of vital supplies
- Feed and fuel. We have to assume that feed supplies and fuel (and electricity) will get through, but they might be delayed. Thus, you should store the maximum amounts you can. If you can store enough gas for the whole grow out, it would be great. If not, store as much as possible and refill as early as possible.
- Similarly, no one can stock feed for a whole grow out, but instead of having two to three days of supply on hand, keep a week’s supply or more if you have room.
- Check the generators and have as much fuel as possible for them and consider buying more storage facilities.
- All medicines, vaccines and additives that you know you will need should be stored from the beginning of the grow out.
Maintenance and breakdowns
You have to assume that you are on your own. If anything breaks down, assume that nobody will come to help you to fix it.
- Check your spare parts and tools
- Check your maintenance staff
You need to try to be in the position of being able to repair anything that is likely to go wrong locally.