Peter West’s Farming Philosophy
A new approach to farming reaps rewards for a Waikato dairy farmer
Peter West underwent a fundamental change in how he thought about his farming career – and has rediscovered his enthusiasm and self-confidence.
Peter and his wife Karen were married at 19, both of them keen on a farming career. Peter says he and his wife had a goal of owning a farm from back then. He said they started on wages and saved enough until they could go 50:50 sharemilking.
They started off with 200 cows. Karen helped with the milking before going to a banking job in neighbouring Ngatea. In three years they’d paid off their loan.
Five years later they had bought a farm and 5 years after that a neighbouring block.
Today they farm 400 cows on their 160ha ( 102 ha effective ) property at Kaihere on the Hauraki Plains.
The farm is on peat soils. Last year production was around 150,000kg/ms
Between them they’ve won a slew of farming awards including a Fonterra Westpac award for excellence in 2005.
But despite the awards and the success Peter says he was tired, sulky and unhappy.
Peter says outwardly he appeared to have a successful farming business and a contented life but inwardly things weren’t working for him. He says he almost gave up farming because he had had enough.
“I tried to please everyone, to be the best father, husband, son, farmer, community leader. I couldn’t say ‘no’. I looked for my happiness in others.”
“I got frustrated and it came out as sulkiness, losing my cool in the cow shed and occasionally at home, then I felt bad for doing it. There was never enough time to do everything. I became fatigued, fighting fires and feeling trapped in my place of work. I remember sliding down a wall one day to the floor in tears of frustration in front of one of my sons.”
Peter says the change in his approach has led to a rediscovery of the joy he has in both farming and his personal life .
He says it started when his wife Karen did a personal development course. The course was called “Coach Approach” . Her transformation was impressive so he decided to have a go too.
The course teaches self-leadership. Participants are shown how to build foundations for life and develop communication skills. It also teaches how to recognize if there are toxic or negative patterns in a team of people.
It was a game changer for him as well. “ I wish I had known this stuff in my 20s. My whole life would have been different.”
Peter believes this is emotional intelligence - and it is the new frontier of farm management. He has a vision to help develop the skills in others.
“We have an opportunity to lead the world in how we manage ourselves as individuals that will reflect in how we manage our business and more importantly what happens in our homes.”
Getting that message through to others is however not always easy. “ If someone told me what I know now back then – I would have immediately put the defenses up.” He recalls his wife telling him he had some anger issues and might benefit from some self-leadership skills. He says exposing his fears and showing his vulnerability has grown him as a person.
Peter says his new approach has changed how he works with staff. Manager Denis Crookenden has been with them for 15 years.
He describes how he approaches farm work now and compares it to how he was before he took on the leadership training.
He now divides behavior between “above the line” and “below the line”. Above the line is to do with the values and the purpose that sits around the work - below the line is letting circumstances control you and how you speak and behave. He says classic below the line behavior is to blame others.
Peter says he’s now listening in to what he is saying to himself. “ I‘m always asking the question, ‘will this make me feel good?’ If not, ‘what can I do to change the way I feel about this so it feels good again.”
The farm is run on some basic key principles. He says he they focus on being open and honest. If they need to make changes he makes sure they talk about it.
In the old days if something went wrong he’d rush to try and sort out the problem, he’d be grumpy and “ the whole day goes to shit.” He says these days they ask the question “ How do we deal with this? “ Peter says he is interested in knowing what can be learnt from a set of circumstances..
“The power went off six times during milking – 44 sets of cups fell off – and I was able to laugh my way through it.”
The other focus is trying to make sure he is creating an environment where farming is fun.
At the end of the day he says he stops at the door and checks where he’s at. “If I’m frustrated I let it out either by using my punch bag in the garage or I’ll go on a bike ride or a run to let it go.” He says it is important that he doesn’t bring negatives into the house or dump them on his family.