GAA star Darren Hughes believes that looking after your body is the same as looking after your cows or machines — if you’re not giving it what it needs then it’s a slippery slope
Farmers need to appreciate their own health and keep themselves checked out, says Monaghan inter-county footballer and dairy farmer Darren Hughes.
While the Ballinode native believes the “traditional bravado factor” of farmers not going to the doctor has shifted over the last 10-15 years, he says many still ignore their well-being “until it’s too late”.
Working alongside his father, Francis, on their 110ac holding, the father-of-two (daughter Ava and the newest addition to the family, son Cillian), and husband to Orla, insists on an important ethos inside the Hughes family’s farm-gate: “The work will always be done at some stage”.
Speaking to the Farming Independent, Darren said: “Farmers often underestimate their own health, betimes it’s not until something happens that they realise they should have done more.
“You can think that just because you are out working 12/14/15 hour days that you’re healthy and fit, but that’s not always the case.
“Having had doctors at our farmer discussion group talking on health before, I would advise farmers that they need to look after themselves — that’s anyone from their 20s through to their 60s. You need to check in with it.
“Too many farmers are passing away at a young enough age, in their 50s and 60s. If only they’d gone to the doctor earlier, or got themselves checked out, it could have made all the difference.
“There is no shame is having something wrong with you, we’re all here to give as much as we can, and live as long as we can.
“I’m of the philosophy that the work will always be done at some stage. But you have to look after yourself, number one.”
The Scotstown clubman, who milks a 95-strong herd of spring-calving Friesians cows, fully understands that extra pressures during peak season on farm makes it more difficult to manage diet, exercise and sleep – particularly when also meeting strict training and fixture demands for The Farney County.
“It’s very easy to slip up on it. I’m probably a bit more diet conscious because of sport, so you’re trying to target certain meals at certain times in the day.
“But, when the pressure is on around calving season, the hours don’t be long passing, you end up not knowing what time of day it is, especially if you’ve a tight calving pattern.
“With meals, if you let bad habits build up over three to six days a week for four to six continuous weeks, it’s going to be to the detriment of your body, no matter what age you are.
“You might be prioritising your workload, but don’t be rushing, get your meals when they are ready. Having a structure in place for meal times at least is a good start.
“Looking after your body is the same as looking after your cows or machines, if you’re not giving it what it needs then it’s a slippery slope, whether in the short-or-long term.
“Don’t get me wrong, sometimes my fitness and diet would change throughout the year. Some evenings I’d be going up the road to training and I just know I’m not fit to train if I was after having a tough couple of days.
“I’ve always had managers that were appreciative of that and trusted me. I generally don’t like to miss training, but sometimes you’re going to be of no benefit to yourself if you try to push through a session after no sleep or a bad day and when your head is just not in the football or training zone.”
The Lakeland Dairies supplier tends to take some time off towards the back end of the year.
“My football season tends to tail off as my work load tails off on the farm come November or December. The cows are in and you’re just trying to keep them fed, we have the robotic milking machine there so they are milking away themselves anyway, it’s just a matter of keeping a check on animal health.
“The week-long holiday is probably more important to my wife than it is to me, I just don’t like being away for too long. I’d rather go for two days 10 times a year to re-charge, which I can do pretty easily, rather than for a week twice a year.
“But definitely I can see how farmers get caught up in the workload and don’t make time for a holiday – I could see it with my own father over the years.
“I do try to force my parents to go off more now, and it’s lucky enough that the two of us are at home. If I’m away for a couple of days, Da is here to look after things, and vice versa. We’re set up that way, but it’s not that easy for every farm.”
When asked is farming has made him a better GAA player, the midfielder replied: “Yes, but if you’d have asked me that 10 years ago when I was at home in partnership managing the home farm, I would have said ‘not a chance’.
“I tried a lot of other jobs and they just weren’t for me, the nine-to-five structure, or working for somebody else, I just don’t take too kindly to taking instructions from others, it must be,” he quipped.
“From a lifestyle point of view, I’m my own boss, so I manage the workload as best I can around football and fixtures and vice versa.
“People say to me regularly, ‘it must be tough farming and playing football’, I’d actually find it tougher sitting in an office in Dublin every day and driving up and down the road two to three times a week.
“Farming keeps me fit and active – mentally and physically. I would find it much harder looking at four walls and a computer screen every day. I have my routines at home, but everyday throws up something different so it keeps the mind fresh.”