Friday, February 23, 2024

Achieving the right work-life balance on-farm

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Jonathan Hoets is the manager at Kairoa Dairies in Mid Canterbury.
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Jonathon Hoets is a farm manager at Kairoa Dairies Limited, which is part of the Rylib Group farming portfolio located in Mid Canterbury. He oversees a 790-cow operation with the help of three staff. He shares his insights about how the team lives well to farm well with Farmstrong.

How long have you been farming and what do you enjoy about it?

I have been farming for 13 years. Along with my six siblings, we were born into farming and after having a taste of city life through high school, most of us found ourselves back in the primary sector. I like the variety – you can do 10 different things in a day, looking after stock, mechanics, financials – it’s not just the same thing all day.

What are the main challenges on-farm for you at the moment?

It’s been a bit of a rough season here in Canterbury. We were caught up in the flood, but not as bad as other people. We didn’t lose fences or stock, but it still made life very difficult for months. The worst thing about a flood is once the water has gone through, you’re still stuck with the aftermath. It’s a lot of work ensuring your cows remain healthy, but rewarding to see the positive results afterwards.

Has your approach to dairy farming changed over the years?

What’s changed most is my mindset. I used to just work my socks off, never ask for help and if I did the most hours of anyone, I’d pat myself on the back. All my friends on-farm were doing the same, missing weekends and not getting those breaks. I used to think ‘that’s just the way it is’. Now I have a different view of the industry. I try to make sure everyone does consistent hours and spends time with family. My wife Stacey and our children really create a new view on what is important.

What made you change?

When I first started farming I had that sense of responsibility where you don’t want to let go of anything, in case something went wrong. But as my role grew I realised that other people do have those skill sets and if they don’t, it’s your job to train them.

What are your go-tos to keep well?

I try to exercise three days a week. Farming’s a physical job, but to stay on top of your game, you really need to do something that lifts your heart rate. I’ve got a treadmill in my garage to keep fit. I also get off-farm to play hockey. Keeping your mind fit is important. I started meditation for 10 minutes a day and aim to read for 20 minutes a day.

How do you find time for these activities?

The great thing about dairy farming is that you do have that flexibility and can find a couple of hours for other things. You have to prioritise what is important to you. Substitute watching TV for reading a book or phoning a mate.

What difference does getting off-farm make?

Farms are great places, but it’s not healthy when your life just boils down to work. That’s why you need to sit down as a team, discuss these things and make a plan. After I play hockey, for example, we catch up for a drink. It’s good to mix in different circles and chat about things other than farming.

What else do you do to keep well?

I’ve been in the local volunteer fire brigade for nearly three years. It’s a really good way to give back to your local community and another good social outlet. It puts your challenges in perspective too. You’re often attending events that are the worst thing that’s happened in someone else’s life.

How do you manage the pressures of running a business?

Sometimes as farmers, we’re our own worst enemy. If something goes wrong on-farm, you tend to blame yourself. You can’t let your mind dwell on little setbacks. Remember your current perception is not your reality, it is just your current perception of reality at that moment.

How about sleep? Do you wake up at night with the to-do list going round in your head?

One thing I’ve learnt is to make sure I get eight hours of sleep a night. I always go to bed at the same time and try to be asleep by 9.30pm. Before I go to bed, I do a bit of a mental debrief and if there’s something pressing on my mind about work, I’ll make a note of it on my phone, so it gets it out of my head.

What about if you’re feeling under the pump?

I’ve got a couple of mates I can ring up and get things off my chest, if I need to. That’s an important part of keeping well too. It’s important to have a supportive network around you so you can have a bit of a debrief and move on.

How do you make sure everyone in the team keeps well?

As a group, we’re trying to bring wellness to the forefront. At our weekly staff meetings, people’s wellbeing is on the agenda. We have a quick round up of how everyone’s going and organise the work schedule around kids sports etc.

What else does your team do to keep well?

Kairoa Dairies Limited is part of the Rylib Group which holds events throughout the year to bring all their farms together. We hold a welcome day at the start of June to welcome any new members to the group. We have something called an inter-farm challenge cup. Any of our six farms can challenge for the cup with a fun activity, whether it’s paintballing or go-karting. We also host a Christmas party for all our kids each year, hold one or two group dinners a year, as well as informal get-togethers during the week, where we might grab a pizza and come together.

What’s the benefit to the business of doing these things?

You’ve got to invest in your staff because you are trusting them to deliver the results your farm needs. Wellbeing is a big part of that. It has to be at the forefront of what everyone is doing.

How do you manage really busy days?

I prioritise what’s important. The other day I had all these tasks to manage and I just took a step back and went, right I’ll do this one first, that one tomorrow and that one the next day.

What’s your main message about keeping well on-farm?

The most important thing is to make a mental contract with yourself that you’re going to look after yourself. It all starts there. I’m running a multi-million dollar business, I’ve got staff to manage, I’ve got a family, but I still play hockey and I’m in the local fire brigade. It’s all a work in progress, but I’m definitely getting better at achieving that balance. It’s only taken me 31 years to figure it out.

This article first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Dairy Farmer.

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