Opinion: Dairy farmers may be essential workers, but that doesn't necessarily mean "business as usual" when it comes to mental health during lockdown. Waikato dairy farmer Sam Owen offers practical advice on how to look after family, friends, staff and yourself.
Murphy's Law - after dodging a bit of a bullet in 2020, Covid has now reared its ugly head during one of the busiest times on farm.
Luckily, there are so many ways we can look after not only ourselves, but our staff and others in our rural communities as well.
We all know that keeping good mental health during the spring period is critical. But what does that actually look like in practice?
Sleep, nutrition and communication are three biggies to help limit stress.
Big decisions are made each hour on farm - most of the time covered in mud or whilst chewing down some well-earned food.
During Covid lockdown stress can be exaggerated, so staff and personal safety should be paramount.
Work bubbles, good hygiene practices and effective communication lines should be already established, but it's a great time to quickly review these.
Making sure staff are aware of the risks and the consequences around Covid in the workplace and the policies put in place to limit the risk and or spread if the worst was to happen, is key.
Planning for the worst seems all doom and gloom, but, as in other major farm events, it's better now than when the worst has arrived and Covid is in the workplace.
Look at things such as:
• Suggesting staff get vaccinated, and even offering to pay for their hours away from work whilst they do so.
• Can the existing staff already on the farm cover each other's roles if need be? If not, what training whilst still keeping a safe bubble needs to be looked into.
• What provisions are in place for a deep clean if needed?
• If you're on a smaller farm or sole charge, perhaps talking to a neighbour or relief milker to see if, at a bare minimum, animals will be fed and milked.
• Putting plans in place to milk OAD or 3 in 2 to lessen the workload for yourself or any relief staff.
• Updating farm procedures so it's easier for someone to take over if the worst should happen.
• Keeping in regular contact with farm owners and consultants.
During this time, it may be easy to just ask staff to work lower hours and limit time off as there's not much on offer outside the farm gate anyway. But keeping a regular routine as much as possible can lessen the insecurities.
Regular meal times, work start and finish times and rosters can offer stability and assurances at a volatile time.
Keeping a regular schedule as much as possible can ease mental anxiety, when family dynamics change.
Having children and partners at home 24/7, means life at home can change and be reflected in the workplace.
It may even be that allowances are made for children on farms or time allowances made to help with children's study.
Having regular farm meetings via the dreaded Zoom call or Facetime is a good way to gauge how people may be coping.
Maybe even a social call after work drinks or a quiz to help with socialising amongst the team.
Listen to Jamie Mackay interview Sam Owen on The Country below:
As dairy farmers, we are deemed essential workers. So, we need to be doing the essentials each day and week.
If we get that achieved, we've done what was needed.
Do not belittle the effort you put in - just because were still allowed to operate our businesses, unlike so many others, doesn't make us any more immune to the stresses of a Covid lockdown.
If you get finished early or need a bit of time out, take it.
Ring a mate and have a yarn, watch a movie, read a book and play a bit of backyard cricket with the kids.
It's okay to stop and smell the roses sometimes.
Where to get help:
Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.