Managing Moving Day
New herd, new home, new community. Moving day can be a stressful time for contract milkers. Here are a few tips on how to manage the transition.
Maegan Legg and her partner Terry are share milkers in the Manawatu. They currently 50/50 share-milk 320 cows on a 128ha Shannon property, owned by Spall Farms Ltd. They’ve been in the industry four years and really enjoy the lifestyle farming offers.
“We love the life we live, working with animals and the fact we get to live and work together as a couple. We want to continue to grow great kids, great cows and great grass.”
They’re obviously doing all three well, because in 2020 the couple won Manawatu Share Farmers of the Year at the NZ Dairy Awards. But Maegan admits Moving Day can be challenging for any farming family. Farmstrong asked her for some tips on mitigating the stress of moving to a new operation and community.
“Probably the biggest stress of moving day is getting everything done in time. You’re moving out, someone else is moving in. Same at the other property. So the biggest stress is the timeframe. I’d say, start early, start packing those boxes months in advance. Share the tasks – decide who is going to pack up the home, who is going to do the shed.”
“We also make sure we have a bag ready to go with everything we’ll need on the first night – phone chargers, kids’ pyjamas, a meal for that night. We even include a packet of paper plates because no-one wants to do dishes that first night.”
Pass on what you know
“Employers and share milkers can really help people moving in by leaving behind detailed farm maps and lists of preferred suppliers who know the farm well and already have accounts set up for the farm.”
“Nothing beats a good water map when you first move in. At a previous farm, we had no contact with the previous contract milker, so we moved in blind and spent many hours walking water lines to find out where they went and where you could turn them off. If someone can provide that information in advance that saves you a lot of time and stress.”
Getting Up to Speed
“The first thing we do is get the kids’ bedrooms set up, so they are sorted. It’s a big step for kids and a new house must feel like home as soon as possible. Then you can get to know the farm, get a feel for the place using any information that’s been left behind for you. That means checking that what’s on farm maps corresponds to reality. Taking a fence tester around and checking where the power is. There’s always seems to be a spot on the farm where there is no power and that’s where the cow gets out. Once you know you’ve got good water and power, you can make things happen.”
Look After The Basics
“Getting decent sleep and eating well are essential during any big change. I’m the first person to admit that I’m tragic without enough sleep, I get pretty ratty. That’s why it’s important to make sure people are still heading home at a reasonable hour each day so they are in good shape to make decisions and learn new things.”
“Farming is not about tackling a long list of challenges all at the same time. It’s about picking the important ones you can get to first, getting those out of the way and then moving on to the next task. We find the best way to manage pressure is just to focus on one job at a time. I like to make a list and just cross tasks off one at a time. Once you can see progress it all feels a lot more manageable. Obviously, on a new farm they’ll be a few unexpected tasks. But once you’ve dealt with them, go back to your list.”
“No matter how busy work gets, we always make sure we get time off. We could possibly milk our cows on our own, but it’s not sustainable for anyone to be working 24/7. That’s why we have a full-time staff member. It allows everybody to get a bit of downtime. We do that because we know we wouldn’t enjoy farming as much if we didn’t do it. It means we can spend time with our kids and doing other things as a couple. That’s why we went farming in the first place.”
“So even though my husband and I are busy, we’ve just had eight days off attending dairy industry events. And our kids play rugby, so we make time for their practices and Saturday morning games. That’s our chance to catch up with other parents and relax, talk about things other than farming.”
“People are social creatures, we’re meant to be in herds, just like our cows. So, if you’re moving to a community where you don’t know anyone at all, my advice would be – join what’s on offer, find local networks. For example, we have young children, so it’s about getting involved with the local play centre and schools. All the other farmers’ kids are there too.”
“The dairy industry also has amazing local networks. Dairy NZ discussion groups are great. They’re fun, they’re social and there’s no opinion that’s not valued. Everyone is welcomed. You don’t need to be a talker or extrovert; you can just turn up and catch up with other people facing the same things as you. It’s as social as it is farming.”
“I’d also encourage people to explore what else is on offer in their local community. Check out your local fish and chip shop, RSA or sports club.”
Support Your Team
“As share milkers I think we have a responsibility to make sure our employees are supported when they move into new communities. Our last employee came from 5 hours away, so it was a big change for them. We introduced them to other people, took them along to discussion groups and helped them integrate into the community. We’ve found people soon find their own friendships and networks once you give them a hand.”
Live Well, Farm Well
“There are always challenges in farming and more are coming. You’ve just got to be adaptable, sustainable and move with the times. Agriculture has really shown its value to New Zealand over the past year with challenges like Covid. That’s why it’s so important that we look after the people we’ve got and keep them in our industry.”
Farmstrong is an award-winning 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 www.farmstrong.co.nz.