A growing number of dairy farmers are getting behind nationwide rural wellbeing initiative Farmstrong. Ohangai dairy farmer Kane Brisco shares his tips for getting through the busy season.
'The Most Important Cog in The Wheel'
It's a busy life for Kane, who is in his seventh year 50/50 sharemilking at Ohangai near Hawera, in South Taranaki.
"We have 215 cows that I pretty much milk myself. My wife Nicole helps as much as she can with the calves, but she's working part time as a nurse too. We've also got a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy, and a baby due in a few weeks."
Despite being busy, Kane and the family have made their wellbeing a priority.
"Keeping everything in balance is a constant challenge, but what's really helped me is the notion that I can't help anyone else unless I'm in a good place myself," he says.
"So yes, the days are certainly long. All our focus is on work and the farm, but I'm still trying to look after myself too because I'm the most important cog in the wheel."
Here's how he does it.
Focus on The Basics
Kane believes there are four main pillars that underpin general physical and mental wellbeing - sleep, nutrition, movement and dealing with stress. He compares them to the four legs on a table.
"You can have a three-legged table that still does the job, but once you get down to two, it doesn't work. I try and make sure I always have at least three strong pillars."
"At the moment, we're so busy that sleep is hard to come by. I make sure I'm really eating well, staying hydrated, and managing my stress, and I made sure I was farm fit prior to calving to reduce the chance of getting injured or fatigued by the physical side of the job.
Kane says having a plan each day is the key. By writing down and prioritising all the jobs that need to be done, he gains clarity about what's coming up and can manage other jobs that may pop up. "I also feel much more energised when I understand what I'm trying to achieve. It means I can reflect back and feel grateful for what happened at the end of each day. It makes a huge difference.
"The other thing is to just acknowledge how you're feeling and be honest about anything that's getting to you. That's where it's important to let go of the little things - often we give little problems so much time and space that they start consuming us. Understanding what you can control and what you can't is important."
"I think as a farming community, we need to be much more open about the pressures we face. People often withdraw into themselves. If you ask someone on a farm how they're doing, the most common answer you'll get is 'good'. They don't want to tell you the truth because they think you're going to judge them. We need to change the culture, so people feel comfortable to talk honestly."
Getting Farm Fit
To make sure he can handle whatever comes at him in spring, Kane makes sure to be fit before spring hits. As an ex-rugby player, he has always loved his workouts, but the trouble is, he lives a long way from any gym. So he built his own.
"Eighteen months ago, we set up a community 'boot camp'. We bought some gear in and use a lot of farm equipment too. The 20 litre (L) water container is a classic. You'd be surprised what you do with those in terms of exercise. We also use things like ropes, fence posts and sledgehammers. It's a gym for farmers," Kane says.
"When you actually break down a farmer's day - the movements they do, the loads they carry, and the balance and mobility required - there's a hell of a lot that goes into the job that we don't even think about. There are a lot of strains on the body."
"I think of it like this: the All Blacks don't go into a test match without training for it. But farmers often make this massive effort over spring with no preparation. That's been one of my main insights over the years - why shouldn't farmers have a pre-season too? Once you do, it makes life a hell of a lot easier!"
As well as getting fit ahead of spring, Kane says the sportsman mentality continues into the diet.
"Farming is bloody hard, so fuel yourself as you would for a big sports game or event," Kane says.
“I eat nutrient-dense food. I eat a lot of vegetables, and because I’m working hard all day, I also get plenty of carbohydrates and protein in as well, so my muscles have the energy to keep going and my mind’s clear. I also drink plenty of water. It's really simple stuff."
Time Outs and Breathers
Even when in the throws of spring, Kane will try to give himself a break during the day. He does this by completing as much work as he can in the morning so he can take a longer lunch.
"That allows me to have a good meal, catch up with the family and properly relax and also have a well-earned power nap," he says, adding 15 minutes of good shut-eye can do wonders.
Live Well, Farm Well
Kane believes physical and mental wellbeing are entirely linked to performance on the farm. With that, he told himself a few years ago that he would never go into spring unprepared ever again.
"I guess my main message to other farmers is that you don't have to learn these things the hard way. Programmes like Farmstrong are trying to get the message out there that being proactive about your wellbeing is a lot better than being reactive."
Find Out More
Farmstrong helps farmers cope with the ups and downs of farming by sharing things farmers can do to look after themselves and manage stress and pressure. Last year, more than 18,000 farmers, growers and farm workers were involved.
Check out www.farmstrong.co.nz for more farmer-to-farmer stories and resources.