Building Resilience

How you react to challenges has a huge impact on how well you manage the ups and downs of farming, says Taranaki dairy farmer Kane Brisco, author of top-selling book Tools For The Top Paddock. Farmstrong asked him to share his tips for staying calm under pressure.

It’s been a challenging year for many farmers. How do you navigate tough times?

Asking for help and advice is a big one. I think one of the things farmers struggle with sometimes is asking for help or seeking out knowledge to help them get through tough times. It’s because that Kiwi ‘number eight wire’ mentality is so deeply ingrained in our mindset and how we approach farming.

But if we really want to be more resilient and tougher and better, we need to start using different tools and different skills, and a big part of being resilient is using the people around you when the going gets tough.Bringing in their knowledge and skills is a huge way to develop your own resilience.

One of the things I do now is that after I’ve been through a challenge on farm, I go back and make sure I take the lessons out of it. I take some time to reflect and learn from it. That way it feels like you’re doing something proactive, because in farming you know there’s always going to be another challenge coming.

How do you manage the day-to-day pressures and workload on farm?

The biggest thing I do is put pen to paper, so I’m getting what’s whirring round my head out onto a piece of paper. It can be as simple as listing out your jobs for tomorrow or brainstorming and problem solving something that’s causing you stress.

It’s about getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper so you can actually deal with facts. You’re much less likely to lose sleep over things when they are listed out as facts in front of you like that. It stops you getting too negative.

The other big thing is having a pressure release valve. For me, sport and exercise are huge.  Getting off farm as often as I can, getting out and doing something whether it’s coffee with a mate or a beer down the pub or playing a game of squash. Just taking that mental rest off-farm is huge.

How do you deal with a bad day?

When I’m having a bad day I have a perspective check. I’ve got a few experiences that I relate back to and give myself a comparison. One of those is thinking about my nana when she was farming. She left school when she was 13 back around 1940 and I just think about what life would’ve been like for her on farm and that my problem, in the grand scheme of things, probably isn’t that bad!

That’s a really good way for me to put a full stop on a problem or stuff up. Let’s face it when you’ve had a bad day it’s usually about something you’ve stuffed up! [laughs] It’s a lot easier to put a full stop on it when you’ve got good perspective.

When life gets busy on farm it’s easy to neglect the basics of keeping well. What’s your take on that?

If you ask a farmer what’s the most important tool you’ve got – a lot of people would say the animals or the milkshed or the tractor or the working dogs, but how good are those without you? I reckon it’s that bloody simple. You are the biggest cog in the machine and if you can look after that cog, oil it and grease it properly and pay it some love, then everything else around it is going to be working so much better.

For me, your own wellbeing on farm is absolutely fundamental and has to be a priority. You’ve got to be in the right space physically and mentally to farm well. Physical and mental fitness is hugely important on farm and it’s all driven by physical actions – what you eat, what you drink, your movement throughout the day and even the people you hang out with – they’re all physical things that feed into that mental wellness.

What about when it all turns to custard? Any advice for navigating really challenging times?

I think it’s important to control the controllables. It’s a huge amount of extra stress to take on if you’re worrying about the things you can’t control or have no influence over. So prioritise the things you can control and influence.

I’m a massive fan of listing out all the things that need to be done and then prioritising those so you have a plan about what you attack first. It’s a bit like eating an elephant, it can feel overwhelming if you look at the elephant, but if you break down the task ahead into legs, tail and body it becomes something much more achievable. I think it’s important for people in bad situations to break down the work into achievable amounts so they’re not overwhelmed by the scale of everything.

How do you make sure you’re in the right headspace to make good decisions on farm?

I think a lot of it comes down your mindset – it’s all about that survive versus thrive mindset. You know, when you get stuck in the survive mindset you feel as if everything just happens to you and life passes you by. You feel as if you’re just there on farm and trying to survive each day. It’s not a very positive place to be.

But I’ve learnt that there’s always something you can do to help you thrive where you have a purpose, a plan and a process to start creating your life going forwards, rather than just letting it happen to you.

I admit, it can be a hard thing to do when you’re in that survival mindset, but there’s always something you can do that will make tomorrow better for you. It’s really important to try and be aware of that and understand that.

I’ve also learnt it’s really important for me to have balance in my life and work on the business and not just on the farm. Taking time out of my week to sit down and problem solve in a good, positive headspace has been really crucial to making good decisions.

What does being Farmstrong mean to you?

It’s about dealing with the full picture. Not just concentrating on being a good farmer, but being a great person off farm as well. I reckon they’re both intertwined. Being a good, well-rounded person generally leads to being a great farmer on farm.

Why are you involved in Farmstrong?

I like Farmstrong because I share the same mindset about being proactive about my mental and physical health. I think being proactive rather than reactive is hugely important to being a successful farmer. I think Farmstrong’s resources and knowledge and how they’re formatted is really easy to understand. I also think they’ve got a great set up to really help farmers on a massive scale. To me that’s super cool and that’s what I like to get behind.

To find out what else could work for you and your team, head to for free farmer to farmer wellbeing tools and resources.

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