“Get the work-life balance right”
Neil Gray runs a dairy farm with 600 cows on the Hauraki Plain.
“It’s a family farm that has been in the family quite a while. We feel pretty privileged to be farming there and hopefully we can farm it for future generations to come as well,” he says.
When asked why he’d taken time out of his busy working life to get into lyrca and on the bike as part of Fit4Farming Cycle Tour, Neil replied:
“I’ve got behind Farmstrong because I believe it’s an important message. I’ve been through the hard yards in my farming career and know the sort of stresses and pressures that people are under these days. It’s important we get the work-life balance right in our industry.
“We need to tell the young guys, ‘Think about what is important to your family, your friends and your health and wellbeing. Make it a priority.’”
Zooming in on the importance of fitness for running a successful farm, Neil says:
“I grew up in that generation where we played rugby as a traditional sport and that kept me fit and active. I do believe that helped me make some good decisions around my business. It also helped me keep things in perspective.”
Neil’s main advice to the new generation of farmers is to make sure they look after themselves and their families and reach out for help when needed.
“There are a lot of people out there – wise heads with grey hair like myself – who can help you share the load and help you through. There’s plenty of people out there willing to help.”
“You just feel so good afterwards”
Peter Gasson, a beef farmer from Miranda in the Hauraki Plains, is just about to sell the farm and move on to the next stage of his life.
It’s a hectic period for anyone but Peter has made time to join the Farmstrong Fit4Farming Cycle Tour because he believes in its goals.
“When the Cycle Tour was first talked about a year ago I thought ‘Oh, why would you want to do that?’ But then when I actually thought about it, I realised, ‘Ok, why would you not want to do that?’”
He says he started cycling seven years ago and has found it a real help with managing the ups-and-downs of farming.
“I remembered that I’d had a few moments where things weren’t going that well financially and you go for a bike ride and you just feel so good afterwards. It helps you get through. That’s what it was like for me, so if I can spread the word for others that’s huge.”
Peter says staying connected to other farmers through activities like sport is a really important aspect of staying well and on top of the game.
“Life’s not all about work. Life’s a triangle of work, family and other activities and you don’t want one of those sides to break down.”
He says the camaraderie on the Farmstrong cycle tour was a real highlight.
“Fifteen minutes on the bike”
Hamish Clark has just finished his Masters’ studies at Lincoln University and returned to work on the family farm near Otorohanga, where his Dad runs a dairy, beef and deer operation.
Hamish has been working there as a dry stock manager. He joined the Fit4Farming Cycle Tour because he is passionate about the importance of health and wellbeing.
“Jumping back on the bike was something that changed my world. I found that fifteen minutes on the bike made my anxieties melt away. I just wanted to share that message with people. That’s why I’ve put my money where my mouth is and jumped on the bike for the tour.”
Hamish says the Fit4Farming Cycle Tour was a great way of meeting farmers and helping them think about these issues.
“We cycled through my home town of Otorohanga the other day and ran into a few farmers feeding out. They all knew who we were and they knew what we were doing, which was remarkable.
“They also knew that we were like them – we were all still working, all busy, the pay-out was down for us too and some of us were struggling – and yet there we were making time to do this tour. That sends a great message.”
Hamish says many farmers he’s run across on tour are struggling to find time in their day to exercise.
“I can understand that. I come from a busy farm as well. But exercise is one of those things where if you invest an hour, you gain two. You make better decisions, you work smarter rather than harder. That’s what you can achieve by getting on that bike and clearing the mind.”
“Multisport the answer”
Steve Garrett has been dairy farming for 25 years near Golden Bay.
Eight years ago he says he had a “heap of debt, a heap of cows and heap of stress’”. Something had to give.
So Steve made some radical changes. He completed a farm management course, sold a couple of his farms and settled for “a cow shed with just 300 cows” instead of 1,000.
“Then I went and bought a beach house, a boat and a push bike,” he says.
Steve got into multisport and found immediate benefits. He ended up losing about 30 kgs in weight.
“I started exercising to lose weight. Then I kept exercising to keep it off. Now I do it for my health and wellbeing. I regard it as the most important part of my life.
“A lot of farmers say they don’t have time. Well, if you don’t make time for your health, you’d better make time for your ill-health. That’s one of my mantras now.”
He believes too many farmers neglect themselves in getting their farms up and running.
“It’s very, very important for farmers to start thinking about themselves, because if you’re not well, you won’t make good decisions.
“I find if I’m feeling stressed and I get out on the push bike or go for a run, it just makes the world of difference.”
“It clears the mind”
Des Silvester and his wife farm 380 cows near Paeroa where they’ve worked for 30 years.
About a year ago, Des ran into Fit4Farming Cycle Tour organizer, Ian Hancock, at a farm field day. He not only liked the sound of the tour, but also its cause.
He worked hard on his fitness over the past year so he could join a core peloton of 20 riders and ride with them all the way to Bluff.
“Our message to farmers is to just get out and enjoy life. Once you start to get a bit fitter, you’ll enjoy it even more. It’s a struggle at first, but as you get into it, you get more and more out it. It’s also a break from the farm. I make time in the afternoons to go cycling and it just gives you a fresh outlook when you get back.”
Des says the biggest benefit of cycling for him is that it helps clear the mind.
“You go out and do a good hard ride and you feel clear when you come back. You feel better the next day as well. While you’re on you’re bike you’ve got time to think about things.”
Des says farmers are a bit like mechanics and builders, great at looking after their business but not so good at looking after themselves.
“We probably don’t think we’ve got time when we are under pressure, but you actually feel better and more refreshed when you go out and do something different.”
Des received plenty of support from his fellow peloton riders during the tour.
“I’m one of the weaker, bigger riders. Some of these guys are pretty scrawny so they don’t have to peddle too hard. But they’ve been fantastic and have looked after me. I feel privileged to be here.”
Des acknowledges that times are tough at present, but says it’s important to stay positive. He also points out that hard times are nothing new in the industry.
“We’re bombarded with negativity all the time, but you’ve got to remain positive. Get out there and play a bit of sport. When I was playing rugby there was also a downturn in farming, but playing and coaching rugby helped me a lot.”
“Young farmers need to get out and meet people either through sport or social activities and talk about things. If you stay positive you’ll always work your way through it.”