“Everything on the farm is done at cow pace – on the track, in the shed. Farms are now well-developed, with quad bikes, automatic shed systems and tractors, so there’s more sitting and less movement than ever,” says Ian.
“Many farmers are mentally fatigued, but not physically fatigued.”
Now a farm consultant, Ian is keen to see more farmers lifting their physical fitness. He says to be a good farmer takes good fitness. “The guys who are fit and healthy make decisions quicker, have less stress, less anxiety and their days are planned quicker.”
Ian lives and breathes his own advice – as a runner, cyclist, rugby and netball coach and event organiser, he fits a lot in around supervising and consulting 25 farms.
“It was while I was coaching rugby that I learnt a lesson in dealing with people,” says Ian. “I’ve since realised that most of the problems faced come from people, not cows or the weather. People are crucial.”
Ian says first, a farm owner must know what they want to achieve with the farm business.
“Then you can establish values and what’s important. The third thing is team culture – setting up a fun environment to work in,” says Ian. “People will buy into whatever culture you’ve established – but it starts with the owner or manager, they have to be the culture. Being fit, healthy, active and driven will give a good message.”
He recommends establishing a ‘healthy and fit’ culture which includes finding new ways to do things.
“Drop a guy down the farm and let them walk the cows back, rather than bike everywhere. Or park the quads up and buy a mountain bike – it saves on fuel too.”
Get it done faster
Ian encourages farmers to work smarter and free up time during the work day.
“After mating, the team should be working Monday to Friday (apart from milking) and getting repairs and maintenance jobs done before lunch,” says Ian. “A lot of jobs can be done while the cows are walking down the race – get off the bike and do jobs then.”
Farm walks are also a great way to learn about pasture and get jobs done – find water leaks, lost fence standards and stretch the legs.
“There are many ways farmers can adjust work routines. There shouldn’t be so many repairs and maintenance to do during the day – some farmers go fishing between lunch and afternoon milking.”
This year Ian has completed the Kelloggs Rural Leaders Programme looking at 'low level physical activity and the impact on the fitness of dairy farmers.' This saw him assess the health of 30 farmers by blood pressure, heart rates, weight, BMI (body mass index) and waist-hip ratio; and run tests for aerobic fitness and strength.
“The aim is to keep farmers fit and healthy so they can stay in the game for longer if that is what they choose. I think there’s a lot of research yet to be done on this, to give farmers recommendations and guidelines.”
Ian's seven ways to get moving
Set a challenge
Get the team into an off-farm challenge, such as a 10km walk or run. Choose something reasonably tough that requires training and planning around work.
Find out what makes them tick
Everyone’s personalities and motivations are different. Find out what works for individual team members.
Free up time
Milking takes up roughly 60 percent of the day, leaving 40 percent. Consider running a double shift, enabling one staff member to spend an hour on fitness.
Find ways to be more active
Look at the workplace and find options for action. Rather than sit on a motorbike behind the cows, get off and do jobs (spray weeds, fix a fence…), take the mountain bike or walk them in.
Get a health and fitness check from the doctor and the gym. Get staff to do it too.
Have a healthy and fit culture
The more exercise you do, the more energy you have – therefore doing more will free up time.
Get better with time
Time management is underrated – where there’s a will, there’s a way.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy December 2014