Sunday, December 3, 2023

FARMSTRONG: Look after yourself

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Over the last four years more than 15,000 farmers have improved their wellbeing as part of Farmstrong. Here’s how.
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Farmstrong is a nationwide rural wellbeing initiative helping farmers and their families cope with the ups and downs of farming. 

It’s all about sharing the things farmers can do to look after themselves and the people in their business so they perform well, live well and farm well. 

Farmstrong offers practical tools and resources through its website, workshops and events inviting farmers to find out what works for them and lock it in.

One of the hallmarks of Farmstrong is that it has been shaped by farmers for farmers. Here’s a few of the dairy farmers who have shared their insights.

Sharemilker Nick Bertram says “Farming’s a bloody good gig but you’ve just got to look after yourself. I guess I’ve got more used to dealing with the stress of farming over the years but it was challenging to begin with. 

“The thing with farming is that the one little thing that goes wrong can turn into a big thing. But if you’re working too hard and not eating or drinking or getting enough sleep then any problem becomes a lot bigger than it needs to be.”

Contract milker Abbi Ayre learned the hard way that no matter how busy life gets on the farm you still need to look after yourself. 

Abbi and her husband Frikkie work on a 900-cow dairy farm at Culverden, North Canterbury.

“I was working very long hours, often with no breakfast and sometimes no lunch. But it was my first job and I didn’t know any different. I almost didn’t carry on in the industry. 

“Once you get tired like that it’s a downward cycle. I’m much more aware now about looking after myself and our staff too. We’re just in the process of altering our roster now so that everyone has more regular time off and they’re not working too long hours.

“You can’t just focus on the problems in farming. You’ve got to stay positive and decide how you’re going to deal with challenges and keep moving forward. There’s no point dwelling on things that have happened. That’s a real trap.”

Southland contract milker Tangaroa Walker says it’s important to remember to look after yourself so you can actually enjoy the job. 

“It’s funny isn’t it? We go to school and do farming courses and learn about all these things but nowhere do you learn about how to look after yourself by eating properly or making sure you call a friend when you’re stressed. No one teaches you that. That’s why I think Farmstrong’s the best thing since sliced bacon.

“So, I always try to make sure my headspace is good, I’m fit and healthy and that I turn up for work every day with yesterday’s stresses gone. And if I’m feeling down I’ll ring my mates straight away and have a yarn. That’ll always lead to us going diving that week or playing rugby. Then, all of a sudden, the little dramas I had on-farm that were really getting to me feel like bugger all and I’m good to go again.”

One of Farmstrong’s key ideas is that if people invest in their wellbeing when times are good they’ll have plenty to draw on when times are more challenging. 

Farmstrong ambassador Sam Whitelock says “I know from having grown up on a farm that farmers are great at looking after their stock and pasture but, sometimes, not so good at looking after themselves.

“A good way to think about building your resilience is to imagine it’s a bank account. What you invest now will benefit you later. You can make regular deposits and build up your wellbeing bank account by learning a few simple habits. 

“I call them the Five Ways to Wellbeing. They are very practical things. If you do them regularly they will become habits that help you to keep things in perspective when the going gets tough. 

They are:

• Staying connected with mates; 

• Keeping active;

• Taking notice and appreciating the small things in life;

• Being curious and learning new things on or off the farm and;

• Giving back to the community.

“Whether you’re a rugby player or a farmer there are always going to be things that you can’t control like the weather and prices. 

“That’s why investing in your wellbeing on a regular basis is so important.”

Cambridge dairy farmer Marc Gascoigne is a big fan too. 

“Why should farmers care about the Big 5? Because that’s the stuff that keeps you physically and mentally healthy. It keeps you sane,” he says.

“You’re often isolated on a farm so if something’s gnawing away at you and you’re working by yourself all day it can fester in your head. The more socialising and talking to people you can do the better.”

Gascoigne reckons he ticks off three of the Big 5 every time he climbs on his bike at the Te Awamutu Cycling Club. 

“Cycling’s a big part of my socialising. I’m getting the exercise, I’m connecting with people meeting up for rides and I’m serving others because I’m president of the club. When you’re giving to others like that it makes you feel a hell of a lot better yourself.”


To find out what else could work for you, check out our farmer-to-farmer videos, stories and tips at

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