Jonathan Hoets

Wellness to the Fore

Jonathon Hoets is a Farm Manager at Kairoa Dairies Limited, which is part of the Rylib Group farming portfolio located in Mid Canterbury. He oversees a 790-cow operation with the help of three staff. He shared his insights about how the team lives well to farm well with Farmstrong. 

How long have you been farming and what do you enjoy about it?

I have been farming for 13 years. Along with my 6 siblings we were born into farming and after having a taste of city life through high school most of us found ourselves back into farming, either running farms or having a link to the primary sector. I like the variety – you can do ten different things in a day, looking after stock, mechanics, financials – it’s not just the same thing all day.

What are the main challenges on farm for you at the moment?

It’s been a bit of a rough season here in Canterbury. We were caught up in the flood, but not as bad as other people. We didn’t lose fences or stock, but it still made life very difficult for months. The worst thing about a flood is once the water has gone through, you’re still stuck with the aftermath. It’s a lot of work ensuring your cows remain healthy but rewarding to see the positive results afterwards.

Has your approach to dairy farming changed over the years?

What’s changed most is my mindset. I used to just work my socks off, never ask for help and if I did the most hours of anyone, I’d pat myself on the back. All my friends on farm were doing the same, missing weekends and not getting those breaks. I used to think, ‘that’s just the way it is’. Now I have a different view of the industry. I try to make sure everyone, including myself, does consistent hours and spending time with family. My wife Stacey and our children really create a new view on what is important.

What made you change?

When I first started farming I had that sense of responsibility where you don’t want to let go of anything, in case something went wrong. But as my role grew I realised that other people do have those skill sets and if they don’t, it’s your job to train them.

What are your go-tos to keep well?

I try and exercise three days a week. Farming’s a physical job, but to stay on top of your game, you really need to do something that lifts your heart rate. I’ve got a treadmill in my garage to keep fit. I also get off farm to play hockey. Keeping your mind fit is important. I started meditation for 10 minutes a day and aim to read for 20 minutes a day.

How do you find time for these activities?

The great thing about dairy farming is that you do have that flexibility. Yes, you get up early but you also go home for breakfast and lunch so you can find a couple of hours for other things. People who commute to the city for work don’t have that time during the day. You have to prioritise what is important to you. Substitute watching tv for reading a book or phoning a mate.

What difference does getting off farm make?

Farms are great places, but it’s not healthy when your life just boils down to work. That’s why you need to sit down as a team, discuss these things and make a plan. Getting off farm is really important. After I play hockey, for example, we catch up for a drink. It’s good to mix in different circles and chat about things other than farming.

What else do you do to keep well?

I’ve been in the local volunteer fire brigade coming up three years. It’s a really good way to give back to your local community and another good social outlet. It puts your challenges in perspective too. You’re often attending events that are the worst thing that’s happened in someone else’s life.

How do you manage the pressures of running a business?

Sometimes as farmers, we’re our own worst enemy. If something goes wrong on farm, you tend to blame yourself. For example, I’ve got a team member who is moving to another farm soon, so I need to find a replacement. I felt a bit anxious about it for a day, but you’ve just got to tell yourself, well that’s going to be good for him, this is what we’ve got to do next and get on with things. You can’t let your mind dwell on little setbacks. Remember your current perception is not your reality, it is just your current perception on reality in that moment.

How about sleep? Do you wake up at night with the to-do list going round in your head?

One thing I’ve learnt is to make sure I get eight hours of sleep a night. I always go to bed at the same time and try and be asleep by 9.30pm. Before I go to bed, I do a bit of a mental debrief and if there’s something pressing on my mind about work, I’ll make a note of it on my phone, so it gets it out of my head. Then I can go to sleep. That seems to work well.

What about if you’re feeling ‘under the pump’?

I’ve got a couple of mates I can ring up and get things off my chest, if I need to. That’s an important part of keeping well too. One of the guys is in farming too so he also shares what he’s going through. A chat like that just helps you put things in perspective. It’s important to have a supportive network around you so you can have a bit of a debrief and move on.

How do you make sure everyone in the team keeps well?

As a group, we’re trying to bring wellness to the forefront. At our weekly staff meetings, people’s wellbeing is on the agenda. We have a quick round up of how everyone’s going.

If anyone wants to go and play sport they get to go early. We also prioritise family things, like kids sport. As long as I know in advance we can organise the work schedule around it. We’re pretty good at it now. We make sure we cover each other as a team.

What else does your team do to keep well?

Kairoa Dairies Limited is part of the Rylib Group which owns seven farms. Rylib Group holds events throughout the year to bring all the farms together. We hold a welcome day at the start of June to welcome any new members to the Rylib Group. We have something called an inter-farm challenge cup. Any of our six farms can challenge for the cup with a fun activity, whether it’s paintballing or go-karting. We also host a Xmas party for all our kids each year, hold one or two group dinners a year, as well as informal get-togethers during the week, where we might grab a pizza and come together. The Rylib Group also holds an awards night to celebrate our success at the end of each season. Our success is a genuine team effort.

What’s the benefit to the business of doing these things?

You’ve got to invest in your staff because you are trusting them to deliver the results your farm needs. Wellbeing is a big part of that. It has to be at the forefront of what everyone is doing.

Staff retention, for example, is really important. Most of my team have been here for the last three years. When you work as a team for a while, things become second nature and work just happens more easily. It’s hard to put a number on it, but the benefits are definitely there. When people have a good work environment, they’re in the right space to deliver.

How do you manage really busy days?

I prioritise what’s important. The other day I had all these tasks to manage and I just took a step back and went, right I’ll do this one first, that one tomorrow and that one the next day. If I don’t do everything now, it’s not going to matter. Instead of being anxious about your work, be practical. Stop and work out the next thing you need to do.

What’s your main message about keeping well on farm?

The most important thing is to make a mental contract with yourself that you’re going to look after yourself. It all starts there. I’m running a multimillion dollar business, I’ve got staff to manage I’ve got a family, but I still play hockey and I’m in the local fire brigade. It’s all a work in progress, but I’m definitely getting better at achieving that balance. It’s only taken me 31 years to figure it out!

Farmstrong is a nationwide, rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers cope with the ups and downs of farming. For more information visit:

Jonathan Hoets

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