I've always loved rural New Zealand.
Growing up beside a farm, I'd spend hours hanging over the back fence talking to the animals or across the road in the other direction, feeding grass and carrots to the rescued horses in the SPCA paddock.
Some of my happiest memories of childhood holidays are visiting family on their farms around the country. It's a rite of passage growing up in Aotearoa. As I reached adulthood and became a farmer myself, I loved being on the other side of the fence - hosting friends and family as they came to visit, bringing their own budding farmers to see the animals or milking.
In the coming weeks, families unable to make a quick dash across the Tasman to reunite with loved ones will head to the Pacific Islands for a spot of R&R. Others, instead of that trip to Disneyland they've been bribing the kids with for years, will venture to far-flung parts of New Zealand they intended to see "one day."
For a lot of people, that will mean heading to a farm. For some, it will be just like the incredible family holidays I remember.
For others, the memories will remain with them for more devastating reasons.
While December and January signify Christmas presents, barbecues and summer holidays, they are also the months with the highest number of fatalities in rural areas - the majority of which involve vehicles and machinery.
So how do you keep visitors safe on farm? Something I've always lived by is the concept that there is no such thing as "common sense."
I mean, take Lashes and me for example – put us side by side on a farm and we have an inherently polar opposite understanding of the dos and don'ts.
Whereas I naturally give bulls a wide berth, there's a good chance Lashes could potentially go in for a "lads-lads-lads" rump-slap and receive a swift and powerful kick to the nether regions in response.
It's the same for visitors to your farm. They often have no notion of which terrain is safe to traverse, things like where the ruts are in a paddock when it's all covered in long grass, or how to react when things take a turn for the worse.
That's where things like seatbelts, crush protection and clear communication around hazards, can make a huge difference.
Visitors aren't the only ones farm-hopping instead of beach-hopping over summer. Contractors will be working like crazy, often around the clock, to keep everyone else ticking along, often with limited labour on the ground. So it's no surprise this is the time of year when they're most at risk.
November through January represents the highest injury period for contractors, causing more than one week off work. It's also contractors who, are far too often represented in fatalities during December and January.
To help alleviate the danger, good communication comes into play – small things like letting contractors know if anything's changed recently, or you've got something going on that's outside the norm. This becomes particularly important if they've got new labour in to help out, who aren't familiar with your property.
Right, now that you've got everyone else taken care of, what about keeping yourself safe?
Just because a lot of us have knocked off for a couple of weeks, it doesn't mean the farm necessarily slows down. There's still a lot to be done – bulls to go out, or come in, from dairy herds; crutching, shearing, marking, weaning, harvesting, drilling, spraying, fertilising, mowing, baling – the list goes on.
So it's all too easy to find yourself, at the end of a long day, suddenly rushing to get that final paddock check in before a quick scrub up and off to a social gathering or a night out at a mate's place.
That's the only time I've ever rolled a quad bike – jumping on it at the end of the day on a very minor slope. Half concentrating, half trying to work out if I needed to wash my hair before going out for dinner or could get away with just tying it up, I accelerated too quickly in reverse, at the same time turning the handlebars too sharply and over she went.
Not even remotely the steepest paddock on the farm, but just a moment's inattention, which could have had catastrophic results. Real-life experiences collected by WorkSafe suggests these "one last thing" situations are often what's behind instances of serious harm on farm.
Finally, if you do successfully manage to dodge the annual trip to the in-laws this summer (well played…), it's worth noting that not only do you get all the Christmas leftovers to yourself but there are suddenly fewer people around in the event of an emergency.
I know they're usually associated with fun things like hunting or fishing trips but personal locator beacons are worth taking with you if you're working alone. It could be the difference between receiving help quickly or waiting for your absence to be noticed.
Which, (blokes) if your Christmas present consisted of a household appliance or (ladies) new socks and undies, could be quite a while, I'm picking…
So however you spend the festive season, let's all pull together to improve New Zealand's farm safety stats in 2021 - I reckon we're due a bit of a break.