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Lean management – a must-have on every farm?

Lean thinking is making its way into farming all over the world and it’s about time, writes Jana Hocken.

No – It’s not an exercise programme nor is it a speed up program at the sacrifice of animal or people well-being. It’s a management philosophy or approach for operating a business and your farm is a business.

A well-oiled machine

What happens to a motorbike if you forget to add oil? Or your tractor or your pump? Generally, it stops working. But at what cost? Well, often it can leave your wallet empty after it’s been damaged so badly that you have to replace a full motor. Not only that, but it will cause some disruption to your business. And it was all preventable.

On the other hand, if you have a well-oiled machine, it will run efficiently, achieve what it needs to and keep going without stopping unnecessarily.

Lean is kind of like the oil – it helps to keep your business running efficiently and effectively, ensuring that your operation is optimised, and your people, animals, environment infrastructure and equipment are in top condition and performing well. It helps you to achieve the results you want.

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Waste not, want not

A key concept of lean is eliminating waste; this is the stuff that is not necessary, doesn’t add any value to your farm or customer but adds to time or cost.

Inefficient processes and ways of working often create this waste. This waste comes in many forms from the milk down the drain after the VAT tap wasn’t closed and red milk went in, to the lost tools that have to be purchased again, to the extra 2 miles we had to drive because we forgot to pick up the pipe fitting yesterday when we were in town.

In fact, believe it or not, but if we start to track some of our everyday farm processes and jobs, we often find that 95% of our process is WASTE in the eyes of the customer! Imagine how much time and money this is costing us! Scary right?

Navigate the challenges of today

All over the world the farming landscape is changing. Banks are becoming tighter, consumers have very strong views and expectations of farmers and the market and regulation is driving changes in farm practices relating to the environment, sustainability, safety, animals and people. It can all be quite overwhelming for farmers.

Having a lean approach on your farm, can make all this much easier. Lean will help you to create good processes, standards and systems that will not only address some of these challenges but actually make great business sense for your farm. You will be in control of your operation and run like the well-oiled machine.

Lean is good for business

Who doesn’t want to save time and reduce costs? Of course, we all do. And we also want to reduce stress and frustration, have an enjoyable and safe workplace and ensure our animals are in top condition and happy. And of course, improve profits. Lean can help you achieve all this. Whether you are a one-person family farm or a larger operation with 20 people, everyone can benefit from applying lean. Lean is about “doing the right things, the right way at the right time”. Results will follow.

Sound too good to be true? 

Well, it’s not. It is easy? It depends. Implementing some of the principles and tools is relatively easy. Making them stick and creating the discipline and drive to do it and continue to do it so that you get the results is harder. If you have a team and need to change the culture it becomes harder. Lean does require a shift in mindset and a strong commitment to continuously improve and challenge the status quo. But boy is it worth it!

Lean in practice in New Zealand

More and more farmers are seeing the great benefit lean can have on their farms. We have been applying lean on our farm in New Zealand for a few years with fantastic results. You can follow our journey on our website and social media. I have even written a book about it – The Lean Dairy Farm.

So if you want to work smarter, not harder then start today. My book will give you a good start if you don’t know where to begin.


You can purchase Jane’s book here, see her website, Facebook or Twitter.

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