It isn't everyone's cup of tea, but calving doesn't need to be the stressful time of year it can be.

One of the keys, says DairyNZ's animal care team manager Helen Thoday, is preparation.

It was one of the themes of a DairyNZ CalvingSmart workshop held in Pongakawa recently.

Helen says that while calving is often thought of as the busiest and most stressful time of year for dairy farmers, care needs to be taken to avoid putting words in farmers' mouths.

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''Some farmers say they enjoy calving - why be a dairy farmer if you don't enjoy calving?
And actually, if you are well planned, it shouldn't be that stressful, so if you can alleviate some of the stress, that makes it more enjoyable, which helps make people want to [farm] for a living and get a good result out of it.''

CalvingSmart workshops were run at a variety of venues across the country to help farmers approach the calving season with confidence. Around 50 attended the Pongakawa event.

For less experienced farm workers the ''junior'' sessions focused on practical skills.

''It's getting anyone that's new or in their first two or three years in the sector and giving them a bit of a heads-up about calving, how to look after themselves, what it might be like to actually calve a cow and, the most important thing, to recognise when something's not right.''

With farm owners and managers Helen held a session on building a farm culture that delivers a high level of animal care.

''[They] don't always realise they are an influencer. They are always being watched by younger farmers or by people driving past. That's the reality of what a farmer is facing now.''

The welfare of people was also a subject discussed at the workshop.

''The problem can be that farmers don't prepare - they have just finished the season and they take a break and then calving will happen.

''But really in that break period you need to be having team meetings and communicating.

Even if you're a team of one or a partnership, you still need to make a plan.''

Calving workshops have been run for several years, but this was the first series where realistic simulators had been available.

''We have had them, but in a very primitive form - a crude plastic barrel and we used to use dead calves. With M Bovis, we needed to eliminate that biosecurity risk and, moving on, we also thought we could do a better job.''

The simulator has offered a more realistic experience ahead of the real thing.

''It's all about providing people with the chance to experience something before you are going at 100 miles an hour and you can't get hold of your manager and you are there going 'what should I do?'.''