Opinion: The usual New Year’s resolution, with a farm for a gym

Farming is perceived as a wholesome, healthy outdoor occupation.

Think of a farmer and most people picture a lean and muscled physique, cheeks ruddy from striding across frosty fields, hair tousled by the wind…

Unfortunately, on a January morning I’m more likely to look pasty and plump from one too many festive G&Ts and roast potatoes and not enough hours of sunlight, and my hair is more likely to be full of straw from rolling out bales for dry cows.

Although I’m more physically active now I’m full time on the farm, I’m probably not any fitter.

See also: Opinion: Farming shouldn’t be about machismo and muscles

I used to spend my whole working day sat down, but I did go to the gym a few times a week, attend a Pilates class and go swimming regularly.

Liz-HainesLiz Haines and her husband Nick milk 320 spring-calving cows in a contract-farming arrangement in north Shropshire.

Now my exercise consists of walking up and down the milking parlour, wrestling calves to ear tag them, and lifting ring feeders. Its all good physical activity, but I don’t really break a sweat and it doesn’t get my heart racing enough to improve my fitness.

FitBits and farming

When my granddad was dairy farming, he had to walk to fetch his cows in twice daily, even when they were in the furthest field.

It meant he could eat a full English breakfast every day and was still skinny as a beanpole. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky.

In my first season at Hardwick when I reared 150 calves by myself, I barely had time to eat during the day and unsurprisingly lost a fair amount of weight.

The following Christmas I totally overindulged, gleefully telling myself that I would lose all the extra pounds next spring. However, that year we reared fewer calves and I had a student to help, so my plan didn’t work out and I’m still carrying the extra timber.

My husband has the same problem – although he’s strong, he spends several hours a week sat on the quadbike, in his truck or in the tractor.

He’s not actually getting that much exercise, but he’s still exhausted at the end of a long day and the thought of going to the gym or playing sport is not always that appealing, especially in the depths of winter.

I bought him a Fitbit for his birthday, but fragile, expensive bits of technology don’t mix well with mucky milking parlours, so it spends most of the day sat on his bedside table. 

Healthier snacks

It’s ironic that our milk buyer Arla is focusing its new product development and marketing on dairy as a healthy lifestyle choice.

We often use our hectic days as an excuse for eating unhealthy food in the evenings, and ice-cream is our comfort food of choice, not skyr or cottage cheese.

The number of times I’ve seen staff members turn up to work with a petrol station packed lunch of  pasty, crisps, energy drink and chocolate suggests I’m not the only one with a weakness for unhealthy food.

During calving, I stock up the staff room with snacks to keep everyone going, but perhaps it’s time I replaced the sausage rolls with healthier fruit and protein yoghurts.

Farm to gym

This year I’m going to use the opportunities all around me on the farm to get fitter and stay that way.

Time permitting, I’ll walk instead of taking the quad, duck under the electric fence wires instead of treading on them, and lift bags of milk powder myself instead of letting someone else do it.

Hardwick Farm is going to become my doorstep bootcamp, and I’ll be my personal own trainer. Suddenly I’m picturing a diversification opportunity, but I’ll focus on getting myself in shape first.

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