Sometimes, when I am out, standing in a field acting as a human sheepdog, I wish I had the ability to read minds.
How handy it would be to have such a superpower! It would be so useful when I'm trying to interpret the head shakes and hand signals of my husband from the other side of the field. I often turn the sheep the wrong way or catch the wrong lamb. The inevitable debate that follows always includes him saying “I thought you would know what I meant”! Unfortunately, my superpower skills, as well as my farming abilities, are frequently lacking!
It isn’t though just when working in amongst sheep that communication may need to be improved. There are countless times when we don’t tend to talk enough. Mostly it might be about something as simple as which one of us has let the dog out, or who has put the kettle on. In the grand scheme of things, these have no consequence. A minor irritation needing to wait longer to get a cuppa (or the dog being grumpy). But often, we don’t communicate well about the bigger things too, and that’s where we can begin to run into problems. Going back to what I said in my first blog post, when our buckets get too full, we can feel overwhelmed. Spending time with other people and talking to others is one way of emptying some of our buckets.
It may sound like a cliché, but it really is good to talk. Being of a certain age, the phrase inevitably conjures up memories of Bob Hoskins and a phone advert from the 1980’s. But the phrase sticks and resonates, simply because it is true. It isn’t just about the big things though. It’s not always just about the stresses that we face. When I say it’s good to talk, it’s not just talking about problems, it’s just as important to find that farm gate to lean on to chat about the good things. Sometimes, it’s just good to have a bit of a craic and put the world to rights.
As farmers we seem to always have a lack of time, there’s constantly work to do and there never enough hours in each day. One of the things we can end up sacrificing to get our jobs done is time spent with others. We are all so busy and it takes time to travel anywhere. So, it can be easy to fall into the trap of not making time to be around other people. However social company is so important. Having a chat and keeping in touch with our friends, neighbours and our wider families is good for us. Being connected to people can make us happier, reduce our levels of anxiety and stress and can improve our wellbeing. More importantly, meaningful relationships are vital to our health and are worth making the effort for.
Speaking with our partner or spouse seems like an obvious place to start. However, after a hard day out at work, I can count on one hand the minutes it takes for my husband to fall asleep once he reaches the armchair. But our partners are there for us, to share our good news with and to have a laugh and a joke with. And, as a gentle reminder, they enjoy your company and will appreciate having someone to chat with too. So, making an effort to spend time with our loved ones and talking to them should be a priority.
Making time to visit neighbours, our families and the auction mart is something else that we should prioritise. Perhaps you have a local farming discussion group in your area? A sports team, darts team or bowling club? Maybe you’re lucky enough to still have a pub nearby? It’s important to know that you don’t need to feel guilty for taking time out to leave the farm.
If, like on our farm, time is in short supply then there are also communities on social media which can help us be in touch with many like-minded folks. Have you joined a farming group on Facebook? You can follow some of the many farming accounts on Instagram, Twitter or TikTok as well. These can help us to stay connected with others when things are hectic. A quick phone call or just sending a text to a friend can be good too.
Talking helps us get access to the support we need when we need it. Farming is hard, we spend so much time alone and there are so many things that can go wrong. It is important that we don’t bottle these up. We need to share our problems, remember the adage ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. The significant people in our lives are there because they care and want to experience the ups and downs with us, be that a quick chat or a lengthy moan. They will want to support us when we need it.
Lots of the problems we face are commonly experienced by others too, but in the heat of the moment we might feel that we are alone. We might prefer to keep our fears or difficulties bottled up. If problems are building it is vital that we reach out for support and not just plough through. Talking is essential, saying your concerns out loud can lighten the load. When things are going wrong it can often seem that we are the only ones facing such problems. But we rarely are. Many people will be sharing your experience.
It is important to remember that talking can be good for others too. By keeping in touch with people and offering support to our friends and neighbours, it gives them a chance to share what they want to with you too. Opening that conversation with someone might just be what they need to be able to ‘empty their bucket’ and being someone who can give support to someone else, can also really help us to feel better. Helping other people is a really good way of improving our own wellbeing; it is one of the reasons why so many people volunteer.
If talking to a friend or family member is too close to home, there are lots of support organisations available. Sometimes, as farmers, we worry that these helplines aren’t confidential or that we will be recognised. Occasionally we can even worry that by admitting we need help, there will be consequences. However, the people that can help us deal with these issues every day and they have the knowledge of where to go to get some extra help if necessary. Some links to organisations that can offer confidential and relevant support are below:
https://fcn.org.uk/ (Farming Community Network)