Health and Wellbeing

The Dairy Farmer Wellness and Wellbeing Programme that was led by Dairy Women’s Network focused on physical and emotional wellbeing, including reducing stress and fatigue, and building networks to support dairy farmers to improve their health.

This programme of work was funded by the NZ dairy farmer levy through DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Primary Growth Partnership.

Physical Health Pitstops continue to be run by Dairy NZ and the NZ Institute of Rural Health. There is also an emotional wellbeing assessment, carried out by AgResearch, on offer.

These assessments provide farmers with immediate information about their health and, in many instances, have resulted in farmers taking action to reduce life-threatening conditions.

  • Nourish – Food, Family, Farm

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    Calving is an exceptionally busy time on farm. When we’re busy and we’re stressed, we tend to make poor nutritional choices that can actually increase stress.

    Good nutrition and food choices are so important at this time, as it keeps you focused and gives you the energy you need. Michael Van de Elzen, SealesWinslow and DWN have joined forces to bring you healthy, nutritious and hearty meals that are super fast and super easy.

    Click here to read more

  • Dairy Farmer Wellness – how well are we physically?

    The Dairy Farmer Wellness and Wellbeing Programme that was led by Dairy Women’s Network focused on physical and emotional wellbeing, including reducing stress and fatigue, and building networks to support dairy farmers to improve their health.

    This programme of work was funded by the NZ dairy farmer levy through DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Primary Growth Partnership.

    Physical Health Pitstops continue to be run by Dairy NZ and the NZ Institute of Rural Health. There is also an emotional wellbeing assessment, carried out by AgResearch, on offer.

    These assessments provide farmers with immediate information about their health and, in many instances, have resulted in farmers taking action to reduce life-threatening conditions.

    The Health PitStop, defined as a structured health assessment undertaken by health professionals and social researchers. With nearly 3000 Health PitStop chekcs undertaken in the programmes first four year to November 2014.

    Below, we summarise some of the findings, learning’s and future plans for the popular Health PitStop programme.

    The good news

    10.7% of the dairy farming population sampled as smokers. Both years compare favourably with the 2006 Census finding that 20.7% of the entire population are smokers.

    Over 50% of dairy farmers sampled have seen their General Practitioners (GP) within the past twelve months. This frequency is found across all age groups, except the less health needy group of 15-24 year olds. Visits to GPs increase with age and females see GPs more often than males, which is typical of the entire population.

    Only 7% (45 dairy farmers) self report having not seen their GP within the past five years.

    The not so good news

    The stand out concern relates to the presence of cardiovascular risk factors.

    Overweight

    80% of males and 60% of females had a body mass index of greater than 25, which the World Health Organisation recognises as the upper limit of normal. 30% of males and 25% of females had a body mass index greater than 30, which the World Health Organisation categorises as obese.

    Cholesterol

    Total cholesterol (fats carried in the bloodstream) were recorded as non-fasting. Two-thirds of dairy farmers sampled returned a result greater than the World Health Organisation maximum recommended level of 4.0 mmol/litre of blood. One-third returned a result greater than 5.0 mmol/litre.

    High blood pressure

    Half the dairy farmers returned blood pressure results which the World Health Organisation would regard as moderately high (33%) or high (17%).

    Blood glucose level

    Nearly 4% returned a blood glucose reading greater than8.0 mmol/litre.

    Risk factor summary

    60% of the dairy farmer attendees over the two years recorded at least one factor worthy of referring them to their GP; either obesity, cholesterol level greater than 5.0 mmol/litre, high blood pressure or excessive blood glucose level.

    Other factors of interest

    Skin state

    Protection against skin cancer is not as thorough as it could be. Wearing sunscreen and a hat that covers the ears and neck are two successful preventers. It is beneficial to also have your GP or skin specialist to regularly check your skin.
    The synergistic value of the three prevention strategies to prevent skin cancers is not capitalized by 8 out of 9 dairy farmers, in the face of increasing skin cancers, there is more reliance on sunhats and sunscreen than checking for melanoma; yet checking is an equal preventer of melanoma along side wearing sunhats and sunscreen.

    Safety equipment

    Only 80% of dairy farmers sampled advised wearing ear protection when they thought it necessary; 70% wear eye protection when they think it necessary and 25% during year two (22% year one) wore a helmet on the farm cycle.

    Follow-up

    We continue to be grateful for dairy farmers who provide up with follow up information and greatly impressed by the attention dairy farmers have paid to their own health, whether that be by visiting their GP when advised and/or lifestyle changes to aid weight loss, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels.

    Future plans

    The New Zealand Institute of Rural Health continues to develop an education programme for delivery to a select group of dairy farmers with cardio-vascular disease risk factors to raise awareness of health options for them. Subsequent sessions will provide education about men’s and women’s health issues and safety on farms.

  • Dairy Farmer Wellness – Stress and fatigue, what do we know?

    It is well known that dairy farms are places where people work hard to maintain a lifestyle they choose and love. But things are not always easy and success does not come easy. Dairy farming can be a tough and stressful yet meaningful undertaking. Most farmers love the lifestyle and are willing to make substantial sacrifices to stay on farm and run a successful business. For some it does not work that well all the time and there are many opinions about the effects of farming on people’s lives. We have done research into finding out what is happening on dairy farms in terms of farmer stress and fatigue.

    Some of the findings are not surprising. Half of the (over a 1,000) dairy farmers we interviewed over the last three years do not seek help or speak up when they are severely stressed and they tend to under report their mental health. That means they say things are okay while they are not. The causes of dairy farmer stress are well known and we found that, although finances can cause stress, there are other factors that also have an impact and that the causes of stress are actually inter related. Put differently they work together to create stress. How they interact can also be quite different for different individuals and people’s tolerance levels are different. Despite these variations there are several causes of stress that seem to plague dairy farmers.

    In 2012 we found that the most mentioned farming related cause of stress was workload and that the second most mentioned cause of stress was managing staff. Debt and farming expenses were the two most common financial causes of on farm stress. Poor health of family and not the farmer caused the most stress, not farmers’ own health. Farm staff and children were mentioned the most times in terms of relationships that cause stress on farms.

    During the same year the factors that caused on-farm stress, in order of importance, were: staff management and staff relationships; poor health of people other than the farmer; debt and farming expense, and; workload. Stress manifests itself in different forms. We found for example, that 10% farmers experience sleep disturbances because of stress and 10% screened positive for depression and or anxiety.

    Interestingly, 17% farmers were concerned about not being able to keep up with the physical demands of farming tasks, because their energy levels, body strength and or mental sharpness/abilities (like memory) have been decreasing.

    Stress and burnout are closely related. Burnout happens when a person disengages from work and experiences fatigue. Disengagement has to do with a sense that farming has lost its meaning and things become very dull. In 2012, 21% of the farmers we interviewed suffered from high to very high levels of exhaustion, caused by mental and physical fatigue. 11% of them had a high burnout score, which means they are burned out. Exhaustion was a bigger issue than disengagement from work; most farmers clearly love their farming lifestyle.

    Perhaps it is time to revisit how farming success is measured. Some people pay a very high price to achieve what they believe is success ? more than they bargained for. Many farmers have learned that financial success or land ownership is but one of several aspects of successful farming. When one is deeply depressed, severely anxious or farming has lost it meaning and it feels that there is simply no reason to go on is when lots of money or owning dairy a farm or two means very little. Perhaps we need a better balanced measure of successful farming.

    Health PitStops are available at most major industry events. The information gathered will continue to grow and our knowledge will expand, providing us with an opportunity to design and implement, with other stakeholders, evidence-based ways of supporting stressed farmers. Feedback from stressed dairy farmers about how they could be supported has shown that they want to be reminded all the time of the benefits of farming with less stress. They also want telephone numbers handy for the day they need it. They would furthermore welcome people who they interact with, like farmers and agricultural service providers, to be up-skilled in recognising the symptoms of distress and in knowing how to deal with sufferers when they come across them. They want “mental health first aiders” of sorts; people who are trained to provide help when needed.

    We are actively pursuing all these options in collaboration with other stakeholders.

    Background

    The Dairy Farmer Wellness and Wellbeing Programme that was led by Dairy Women’s Network focused on physical and emotional wellbeing, including reducing stress and fatigue, and building networks to support dairy farmers to improve their health.

    This programme of work was funded by the NZ dairy farmer levy through DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Primary Growth Partnership.

    Physical Health Pitstops continue to be run by Dairy NZ and the NZ Institute of Rural Health. There is also an emotional wellbeing assessment, carried out by AgResearch, on offer.

    These assessments provide farmers with immediate information about their health and, in many instances, have resulted in farmers taking action to reduce life-threatening conditions.

  • Tips for when stress levels mount

    Stress busters online

  • Additional Resources and Support

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