Farmer health: ‘It’s a push and shove affair’

A total of 700 free heart health checks will be provided by the Irish Heart Foundation as part of its Farmers Have Hearts initiative, supported by the Health Service Executive (HSE), at Glanbia branches across Ireland.

Yesterday (July 25), the programme of health checks was officially launched by Minister for State at the Department of Health, Catherine Byrne, at Glanbia’s CountryLife store in Tullamore, Co. Offaly.

The health checks are being carried out as part of a four-year study of approaches to helping farmers improve their cardiovascular health.

The study is being conducted by Teagasc PhD Walsh Fellow Diana Van Doorn at the National Centre for Men’s Health at IT Carlow and is also supported by Glanbia Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation, the HSE and the UCD School of Physiotherapy and Performance Science.

Minister for State at the Department of Health, Catherine Byrne, gets her blood pressure checked by Marese Damery of Irish Heart Foundation with (from left) John Murphy, director Glanbia plc, Dr. Noel Richardson of IT Carlow; Pat Butler of Glanbia CountryLife and Sean Molloy of Glanbia Ireland. Image source: Jeff Harvey

Dr. Noel Richardson from the National Centre for Men’s Health at IT Carlow said the project comes on the back of previous farmer health research that was carried at marts – which found that there is “a high prevalence” of cardiovascular disease among farmers.

80% of farmers were recommended to go to their GP; but only about a third went.

Dr. Richardson believes farmers put they’re own health to the back of the agenda because of the “self-employed nature” of their work.

“Farmers always feel there’s a more important job to be done than going to the doctor. Young farmers in general have that feeling of invincibility – but that’s not the case,” he warned.

Farmer views

AgriLand decided to put this theory to the test at the event by asking farmers for their opinions on how they care for their own health.

L-R: Hugh Murphy; Matthew O’Byrne; Peter Mahon

Hugh Murphy

Offaly beef farmer Hugh Murphy, who farms just outside Tullamore in partnership with his son, frankly admitted that, in many cases, he believes a farmer’s perception towards health is – “until it troubles you, you won’t bother with it”.

That’s the perception out there; it’s a push and shove affair. If you’ve a headache, you’ll take an Anadin.

Hugh says that having the check-up available in the local co-op store is a “great idea“.

“This is where it’s going to be easiest to get farmers to go in and get checked up,” he said.

Matthew O’Byrne

Matthew O’Byrne is a dairy and beef farmer, also based near Tullamore. He too welcomed the heart screenings to Glanbia co-ops.

“2018 has been a hardy year, affecting everyone. For a lot of farmers out there the last thing on their mind is looking after their health.

Many will say livestock health comes first – they rely on you, so you put them first.

“When you’re able to go out and work, you feel ‘all is grand’. You just let the likes of your own heart health and all that go to one side,” he said.

“But, when awareness is raised, like here in Glanbia, you’re more likely to come in,” he said, adding that he got some encouragement to attend from the homestead.

She said to go in to get one,” he smiled, adding that “in a lot of cases, it’s the farmer’s spouse that will push for them to go for a checkup”.

Peter Mahon

Peter Mahon is from Walshe Island, Co. Offaly and is a beef and tillage farmer.

He says that for farmers, their own health can often be neglected because “they always feel there’s something more important to be done”.

But when health checks fit in with routines, he says it will make farmers “a bit more conscious”.


L:R: James Kelly; Jim McCarthy; and Pat Butler

James Kelly

James Kelly, a suckler and tillage farmer in Geashill, Co. Offaly told AgriLand: “I don’t look after my health as well as I should”.

My wife was at me to get checked out earlier in the year. When it comes to your own health, it will be put off until the following week unless you’re not able to get out of bed in the morning.

“Animal health is a farmers livelihood, it’s your income. Farmers’ own health is the last thing on their agenda,” he said.

Pat Mahon

Pat Mahon is a beef farmer from Coolderry Co. Offaly believes he looks after his health “reasonably well“.

We call it the NCT; we go once a year.

“Farmers should cut their cloth to suit, they’re carrying too much stock and have too many irons in the fire and need to be better planned and better organised,” he concluded.