The season of goodwill gives way to the season of seminars and symposiums for farmers. January is packed with conferences as many seek new knowledge on how they can improve their business or learn about new policy.
Hearing of different health issues farmers have experienced inspired the Carbery Group to take a different route and host a farmer health and wellness event. The first one took place in January 2020 and COVID-19 meant it became a webinar before resuming due to demand as a live event in 2023.
The fifth one took place on Thursday last and before anyone at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery could get comfortable in their seats, fitness expert Karl Henry had everyone on their feet for a balance test.
“Pick your dominant foot, place it firmly on the ground and bring your other leg out in front of you as far as you can and raise your hands.”
A few nervous giggles broke out among the 170 strong attendances. They briefly went silent when he uttered: “Now close your eyes”.
Concentration was now required in order to prevent a few wobbles before all resumed their seats.
The fitness expert from RTE’s Operation Transformation was on hand to give practical tips to farmers on how to look after themselves ahead of a busy spring.
A recent Dublin City University (DCU) study showed one in four of 351 farmers surveyed reported burnout. It revealed half of all Irish farmers surveyed suffer from sleep issues.
Those findings came of no surprise to Karl. “When I think of farming, I think of stress, hardship, isolation, mental health, injuries, back pain. It’s a phenomenally tough occupation. Farming is more than a job, it’s all consuming. To do that job you need to mind yourself and mind your health and wellness.”
And he’s right, because during busy times of the year, like calving season, farmers don’t get those magic eight hours sleep.
He also highlighted caffeine, food and stress as three areas where farmers could focus on to improve the quantity and quality of sleep they get.
“Any idea when you’re last cup of tea should be on a day before bed?”
Judging by the murmuring, I wasn’t the only one trying to work out when the last coffee hit of the working day was. This was the first of a number of times during his presentation that I found myself doing a review of my own eating, sleeping and exercise habits rather than taking notes for this article.
“About 4pm, that tends to be the cut off for caffeine for sleep quality. For some people it’s earlier but we know that caffeine intake after 4pm will impact how you sleep. Switch to decaf. It doesn’t taste any different. By reducing the caffeine, you do sleep better.”
When it came to food, avoiding big meals close to bed time would help quality of sleep.
“Ideally, you’re looking at two to three hours between a big meal and bed. Try and have a bigger meal earlier in the day and a small one later.”
You could sense plenty agreement in the room for the the big meal earlier in the day advice.
To counteract stress and sleep, controlling the controllables was the first port of call. Making a to-do-list helps too he added as it shows the tasks that are actually ahead and that slows down the rate of thoughts.
In a little over 20 minutes, he managed to get a wealth of practical information across when it came to food and exercise too. Simple advice that will go a long way to be heeded on many farms over the coming spring.