Gym for farmers

A home-built gym was the start of Kane Brisco’s journey from milking shed to social media influencer.  

Kane’s into his seventh year 50/50 share milking at Ohangai near Hawera, in South Taranaki. His progress in the industry’s been rapid and life’s busy on all fronts.

“We have 215 cows which I pretty much milk myself. My wife helps as much as she can with the calves, but she’s working part time as a nurse too. We’ve also got a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. The last 2 years have been hectic with my daughter starting school and the younger one becoming more mobile and racing around.”

Juggling these responsibilities would be a challenge for anyone. How does Kane cope? The answer might surprise some people – as busy as he is, Kane dedicates part of each day solely to meeting his own needs.

“Keeping everything in balance is a constant challenge, but what’s really helped me is the notion that I can’t help anyone else unless I’m in a good place myself. As much as I love farming and spending time with my family, I also need my own time, even if it’s just 30 mins a day. It sounds selfish, but actually, prioritising my needs means I’m in the right space to help everyone else.”

As a keen ex-rugby player, Kane still loves his workouts, but he’s a long way from any gym. So he built his own. “Eighteen months ago we set up a community ‘boot camp’ here.  We bought some gear in, but use a lot of farm equipment too. The 20L water container is a classic. You’d be surprised what you can do with those in terms of exercise. We also use things like ropes, fence posts, sledge hammers. It’s a gym for farmers.”

“You see so many farmers when they retire all bent over due to strains of farming. We use exercise to make the physical demands of our job easier.”

Kane’s boot camp workouts are a great stress-buster too. “I firmly believe when you move your body, you grow your mind too. It doesn’t have to be at the gym either. It could be stretching, yoga breathing, walking a dog.  It’s just about getting out and doing something you like. How I look at it is that you have your happiness bucket and your stress bucket. If your stress bucket is overflowing, little things become huge and you can’t make decisions. I see exercise as my daily scoop out of my stress bucket and into the happiness bucket.”

With calving on the horizon, now’s the perfect time to get in shape he says. “I really noticed the first season I retired from rugby, I put on 10 kilos and did bugger all. Come calving, I was in a hell of a state. The job was suddenly more demanding. I felt fatigued and that affected my decision making and mindset.”

Kane’s taken to sharing these insights about life on farm through social media and he’s struck a chord with others in the industry. “When we started our boot camp, we got some great feedback. So to help more people and encourage those conversations that are a bit harder to have, we started an Instagram and Facebook page, and put our workshops up on YouTube and I’ve been involved in webinars with Young Farmers.”

Tips on nutrition are also high on the agenda. “We’ve got to treat ourselves like sportsmen, because farming is bloody hard, so fuel yourself like you would for a big sports game or event. I’ll have porridge or Weet-bix for breakfast, work till 11.30/12 and come home to have lunch. Something that’s changed over the years is I drink a lot more water. Especially in the summer and the spring I’ll add electrolytes in. Then dinner is meat and three veg. Your body needs those whole foods for proper fuel. I see a lot of young people in our industry living on takeaways and then bumping it up with lots of sugar and caffeine in energy drinks. But there’s a much better way to do it for your body, your mind and your back pocket.”

Kane’s developed his own strategies for coping with the mental pressures of farming too. “One thing I do to deal with stress is wake up and write down my purpose and priorities every day. I feel much more energised when I understand what I’m trying to achieve and it means I can reflect back and feel grateful for what happened at the end of each day. It makes a huge difference.”

Kane is encouraging more farmers to share the ups and downs of farming. “I guess my mantra is: let’s be proactive about our health and mental health. We do it on farm when we grow winter crops because we know we’re going to need feed, but we don’t often do it with our own health. I was having this conversation with a farmer a while ago. We both agreed you have a big open space on the farm but it can still feel like a prison if you don’t leave it. The answer is to make time to do the things you enjoy, whether that’s going out for a fish, playing with the kids or hitting a golf ball.”

“I think as a farming community we need to be much more open about the pressures we face. People often withdraw into themselves. If you ask someone on a farm how they’re doing, the most common answer you’ll get is ‘good’. They don’t want to tell you the truth because they think you’re going to judge them.  We need to change the culture so people feel comfortable to talk honestly.”

“We all have a part to play in that. Nowadays, people message me to say how they actually feel because I’ve put myself out there and shown some vulnerability. So let’s start having that conversation as an industry, because our wellbeing should be an absolute priority for our farms.”

Farmstrong is a rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers and farming families live well to farm well. To find out what works for you and “lock it in”, check out our farmer-to-farmer videos, stories and tips on

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