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10 Ways to Cope with the Stress of Dairy Farming

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There is no question that Dairy Farming at the best of times is one of the most stressful jobs.  Add in low milk prices, an uncertain future and the stress of day-to-day dairy farming, and it’s enough to cause even the best of us to feel exhausted.  The Bullvine asked members of The Milkhouse how do they deal with stress on the farm. Here are 10 ways that dairy farmers have found to cope with this stress:

  1. Spend time with your children/family
    For many dairy farming is not just a job it is a way a life. A way of life that also includes your families.  Doing chores and tasks with your children can be some of the most rewarding times of your day.   “I go home, lay on the floor with my little girl, and play, and let my worries go for the day, realizing not everyone’s got that.” Shares Andrew Kammerer from Alexandria, Pennsylvania. Keith England from Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, comments “Anyway, stress relief for me includes family time, working out several times per week, watching a movie, taking long hikes, taking a rare day off (1-4 days per month) among other things yet these things I enjoy as well as vacations are either interrupted or ruined because of others.” Ashley Bridges McMurry from Polkville, North Carolina, adds “if we are having a crappy day or lost an animal or lots of money…please don’t take it out on your children. Find other ways to deal with the stress. I find taking a long drive with the windows down, and loud music helps me!”
  2. Laugh a lot
    “Aside from my children sharing time in the barn together, laughing helps a lot, trying to find something funny or know people that are hilarious and make you laugh helps a lot. Also swearing, it releases my stress. Just my honest opinion!” – Craig Sperberg, Shawano, Wisconsin
  3. Ask for help
    Sue Sellers from Belleville, Pennsylvania , adds “the farmer has always been portrayed as the eternal optimist. But sometimes it just doesn’t get better, and I think we all need to be able to admit that we are struggling, we can’t get up in the mornings or sleep at night, our tempers are short and the list goes on. Please know that it’s OK to ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness!! Us old farmers are tired, young farmers are broken hearted, and their spirits are being broken. I don’t have the answers, all I can offer is an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, but I’m here if anyone ever needs to talk.”
  4. Find a hobby
    Bridget Achterberg shares “I have hobbies aside of the farm. Hay burners to be exact. When it’s been a long, hard day and nothing seems to look up, going for a ride usually takes care of the extra stress. Otherwise, coming home just to relax. I think the key is that at some point there needs to be some form of escape from the harsh reality of farming.”
  5. Misery loves company
    Most times, we are very isolated people who would rather stay home tending to our work and avoid society. So, Kristin Pfaff from Alma Center, Wisconsin recommends “Start Thirsty Thursday. Invite a few farming neighbors over BYOB. Sit around chat and laugh. Very low stress”.  Jeff Wriglesworth from Hepburnia, Pennsylvania adds “I’m by myself a lot of the time here on the farm and appreciate the short conversations with the AI technician, milk hauler, nutritionist and anyone else that might stop by. Can take your mind off of a bad day and often turn things around.” Rob Anderson  from Atlantic, Pennsylvania  adds “I spend time talking (venting) to other farmers. People that can relate to the struggles and give you the incentive to hang in there.” Cheryl Irwin DeMent adds “CPNO. Cow people night out. 5 of us local couples that have cows get together for supper about once a month. Great to socialize and chat to realize you aren’t the only one struggling or to be doing great…whichever the case at the time.”  Good advice comes from Cody Mullikin from Waldo Wisconsin “Surround yourself with positive influences. Being there with people who were negative influences and it’ll make it worse. Sometimes just walking away and keeping mind off the subject is the best manner. Come back the next day, with a positive go get it mindset.”
  6. Spend time with what hooked you
    Ryan Schaufenbuel shares “For me, I go back to what got me hooked… the damn cows. Spend five minutes with them (especially heifers), and you can’t help but smile, laugh and shake your head when they are displaying their personalities. Brings it all back into perspective.”
  7. Get Social
    “Conversing with other farmers. Whether it is on here or other social media outlets. It lets your problems go with people who can understand them and maybe help.” Comments Bruce Hill from Ottawa, Ontario. “We’ve been somewhat in limbo for a year now. Luckily I have a few FB friends that I can talk to about whatever is going on.” Adds John Kiser. “We have found that since launching the Milkhouse the members of the group have been amazing at supporting each other. An excellent example of this was Kipp Hinz when he was going through a tough time. (Read more: Dairy Farmer Shares His Loss With Dairy Community on Social Media)”
  8. Get off the farm
    “There are many many farmers out there who struggle and there should be no shame. Just because our ancestors thought that depression or mental illness was weakness doesn’t mean we should. It seems most of the farmers I know deal with stress by working harder or shutting down mentally and working by rote. My hubby does For me, it helps to do something off farm, not necessarily something time-consuming, but just away. Also, church does help- because it does give you a different perspective on life.” Shares Beth Foster from Fishersville, Virginia.
  9. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
    “I always look at it as a marathon rather than a sprint. I agree that there are days where everything seems to go wrong, but I realize if I’m going to be in it for the long haul then accept when things go wrong and move on. Losing a cow or having a calf DOA makes me mad at that moment but I have to realize that’s a part of the industry. Like others, I’m lucky to have a wife, children, and other family members to get my mind off of things but in the end, I realize the sun will come up tomorrow and bring a new set of challenges. But they’re challenges I accept as part of dairy farming.” Comments David Brand from Waterloo, Indiana.
  10. Let GO and Move On
    “Years ago, a lot of years ago, I realized that stressing or being pissed about things I cannot change was just not worth it. You need to learn how to let go of emotions and move on, quick. It’s not easy.” Comments Cindy Gallagher Bahr from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

No doubt, many dairy farm families are going through some difficult times right now and are challenged by their financial situation. We can talk or read about low milk prices and the economy to the point of extreme stress or create even more anxiety for ourselves.  Keeping friends close, expressing gratitude and channeling anxiety and stress in healthy ways will go a long way to having a positive influence on your relationships and will help you deal with the difficult economic situation you and your family may be facing. (Read more: THINKING ABOUT ENDING IT ALL… and DOING NOTHING CAN BE FATAL TO YOUR FARM)



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