Oct 8, 2021
As New Zealand gradually gets vaccinated against Covid-19, the government is looking at potentially relaxing the rules around how it manages future outbreaks of the disease. Although strict lockdowns could soon be a thing of the past, as the country opens up to the rest of the world, quarantining or isolating affected individuals to minimise the risk of community transmission could remain with us for some time to come.
While no one wants to see Covid-19 on our farms, it is likely that sooner or later it will get there, which is why it is important to have a plan in place to ensure that the farm can still run while you are in quarantine for 14 days or more.
Contrary to popular belief and/or wishful thinking, there is no guarantee that a farmer or a farm worker will be allowed to quarantine on the farm. Due to the nature of Covid-19, especially the Delta variant, the Ministry of Health has the power to make you quarantine where it thinks the risk to yourself, those around you and the wider community can best be managed. Having a plan that can be quickly put into action if a Covid test comes back positive, could save you a lot of stress and heartache, as you are quarantined within a matter of hours and those around you are forced into self-isolation as ‘close-contacts’.
Things to think about include:
- Getting everyone on the farm, including any farm workers, fully vaccinated as soon as possible. This could mean the difference between being allowed to stay on the farm and being forced into quarantine elsewhere.
- Running split shifts (work bubbles) if you have a large enough business. There should be no contact between the shifts/bubbles and everything should be sanitized between shifts, to allow one to take full control of farm operations, if the other is put out of action.
- Who can come in from outside the farm to make sure essential tasks get done? Don’t assume anything. Talk to them and get their agreement before you need it. Who else could help if that person was out of action for any reason? If you don’t have anyone around who could help, please call your local Deer Farmer’s Association representative for assistance.
- What are the absolutely essential things that must happen and what can be delayed for 2-3 weeks? Make a list and share this with whoever has agreed to help, so they know what to do and when. Be brutal. If it can be delayed, then delay it!
- Make sure you have enough disposable gloves, face masks and hand sanitiser for anyone coming onto the farm for the period while you are in quarantine. It is not acceptable to expect someone who is doing you a favour to provide their own protective equipment. Also make sure there is somewhere safe and secure to dispose of used gloves/facemasks before anyone leaves the farm.
- Is there enough feed on hand to cover the period while you will be away, especially if the weather changes for the worse? If not, consider bringing in supplementary feed or look at reducing stock numbers if you can.
- Is the drinking water system working well and could someone fix it if you weren’t there? Consider getting it checked or leaving a diagram/instructions of how it works, just in case.
- Can you work remotely, i.e. use a smartphone or laptop to communicate with whoever is helping you out? Being able to stay connected with the farm could help reduce stress and anxiety during quarantine. If you can’t work remotely, how will you keep in touch, e.g. daily phone calls via landline?
- Talk to your neighbours and other deer farmers. Sharing your plans with each other could make everyone’s even better and help build up your support network in the process. The same goes for any staff that work for you. If they have to self-isolate, give them a call every few days to check they are okay.
- Make a list of key contacts/sources of help and share this with whoever is helping you out. Don’t forget to include your local Deer Farmer’s Association representative, the number of the Rural Support Trust, your veterinarian and your meat processor (if applicable). Make it as easy as you can for them to keep the farm running in your absence.
- Don’t avoid getting tested if you feel at all unwell, as this will only increase the risk of the virus spreading and prolong the misery for everyone. No one is going to look upon you kindly if your inaction causes another national lockdown.
- Can you adapt an existing contingency plan to save you time? If you don’t have any existing contingency plans, e.g. for flood, drought etc., then now would be a good time to create one.
Finally, if you do get Covid-19 and are allowed to quarantine on the farm, then it is vital that you comply with all Ministry of Health instructions to the letter. On-farm quarantine, if granted, is a privilege and one that we must all do our part to protect.