Thursday, May 19, 2022

Calmer farming through pressure and change

A new online programme – Know your Mindset. Do what Matters – is boosting the ability of rural communities to handle pressure and change. Dairy farmer Matt Goodwin discusses how it’s helped him.

Matt Goodwin has plenty on his plate. 

He oversees not just one farm, but two – the family’s South Canterbury dairy operation comprises a 600-cow farm and a 300-cow farm. 

It’s a big job, but Matt loves dairying. 

“I really enjoy being my own boss and working outside. Farming’s really practical too. If you make the right call and change something, you immediately see the benefits in the vat.”

The pressure to perform, however, is constant. 

“This is a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year industry. It never stops. There are also lots of things you have no control over, but still have to deal with. For example, the weather.”

Goodwin’s responsibilities have grown over the years. 

“That was something that really hit me when the farm was expanding. I was 27, had 1000 animals to look after and six or seven other people’s livelihoods, as well as my own, at stake. I learnt the hard way that managing the to-do list is a real trick. It is possible in farming to just work and worry all the time.”

He says there are also times during the season when staying positive would be a challenge for anyone. 

“If you’re bogged down in the rain during calving season working very long hours it’s very easy to get into ‘catastrophising’ – blowing small things that go wrong out of proportion in your head.

“For example, you might get a wet day in spring when the cows go and turn a paddock into mud and you’re thinking ‘oh no, that’s never going to grow again’. It feels like the end of the world. But actually, if you go back in a month’s time it might be a bit pugged, but it’s green again. You definitely need the right mindset to cope.” 

So last year when Goodwin heard about the Know your Mindset. Do what Matters course, he signed up. 

The programme, developed and delivered by the Agri-Women’s Development Trust (AWDT) with the support of the Ministry for Primary Industries, Farmstrong and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, has proved popular.

More than 300 people have completed it to date with a further eight programmes set to roll out shortly. 

The course comprises two online evening sessions, one week apart.

Goodwin credits it with helping him make better decisions on farm. 

A good example is achieving time off. 

Goodwin loves his hunting and fishing but struggled to find time for either. 

“I’d be invited along on a three-day hunting trip right in the middle of calving, but always turned it down because we were so busy. That really frustrated me.”

He says the course encouraged him to think more strategically. 

“Instead of not doing anything at all during calving, I started to do half a day’s fishing or hunting. If I just picked a nice warm, afternoon when things were going well, I could get off farm to fish and come back feeling positive. The programme definitely changed the ‘all or nothing’ mindset I had.

“It also helped me accept the reality of the dairy calendar – that it’s ‘uphill’ to Christmas with calving, mating and irrigation and ‘downhill’ afterwards. I used to try and fight that mentally, now I’ve learnt to take it on the chin.

“So, instead of trying to roster lots of time off through calving, I just relax and spend more time on farm, focus on getting the end of the season right and then reward myself by taking more time off after Christmas. That’s when all the best hunting and fishing happens anyway.”

The course also helped Goodwin manage the day-to-day pressures of the job. 

“I think I’m a lot more accepting of bad days. I see them for what they are and try not to catastrophise like I used to.”

Matt Goodwin
Dairy farmer

“My thinking’s far more flexible nowadays. If everything’s going well, I’ll think, ‘good staff, good rosters, cows are happy, sweet, away you go for a day’. Or if the weather turns bad for a month, I’ll think ‘right, time to pace yourself’ and I’ll schedule a bit of downtime on-farm so I’m not burning myself out.”

He says having the right mindset is a huge help on days when nothing seems to go right. 

“I think I’m a lot more accepting of bad days. I see them for what they are and try not to catastrophise like I used to. When you’re thinking ‘oh no, we can’t carry on like this’, it helps to realise that’s just a one-off thought popping into your head. Don’t let it ruin your day. This programme helps you to take a step back and manage those pressure points calmy and clearly.” 

Goodwin says the bigger picture is that mental skills training is just another aspect of being organised on farm.  

“Farmers already seek expert advice on financial matters, livestock, the environment and staff development. Mental skills training is just another pillar to support the business.

“Being in the right head space is important in farming. It’s like oiling the squeaky wheel on the silage wagon. The day that it rains, you know that the bearing will still be going strong because you’ve greased it. This course is doing the same for your brain. You’re keeping all the cogs working at their best, so you don’t get bogged down mentally when things crop up.

“I would definitely recommend Know Your Mindset to other farmers. It’s going to improve the decisions you make and how you perform on farm. It teaches you to look up from the to-do list, cut through the ‘noise’ and focus on what matters most. It definitely helps you feel like you’re on top of your game.”

Registrations for now your Mindset. Do what Matters 2022 are now open via www.awdt.org.nz

Programmes start on Tuesday, June 7 and Thursday, June 9.

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