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HERd Management: How I find balance while continuing personal growth

Julianne Holler for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 July 2020

When I started college as a freshman eight years ago, I never expected to be farming full time after graduation. My junior year of college, I had the opportunity to relief milk in a newly constructed parlor six miles from home.

I had just moved a few of my cows there, and getting to milk them myself occasionally was pretty neat. Who knew that a part-time job would set the stage for what was about to become my new way of life, as a dairy farmer after graduating college with my Bachelor of Science degree in 2016.

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Fast-forward to 2020, and here I am with a career in dairy farming and running a herd of dairy show cattle with my parents. Because I wasn’t active on the farm on a day-to-day basis during my childhood, the biggest challenge for me starting off full time in the industry was the fact that farming is an everyday event which does not pause for holidays, birthdays, etc. Sure, I grew up with 4-H projects, but they were housed elsewhere, so having to do chores twice a day was not in my regular daily schedule.

To say the least, my life nowadays is crazy busy, but on the farm doing hands-on work is definitely where I belong. The biggest challenge now is to find a balance between the farm and everyday life. Thankfully, a lot of my interests somewhat align with farming or can easily be incorporated into my daily schedule. For example, I really enjoy bicycling. With working long days, I don’t have tons of extra free time to go on a two-hour ride but, instead of driving to the farm, some days I bike there. Something as simple as that doesn’t take up a huge chunk of my time but yet fulfills my desire to ride.

My workday typically starts around 5:30 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m. In between those hours, I am guaranteed to milk the 100-head herd twice, scrape the milk cow barn and feed/bed calves. In addition, other chores need done, such as cleaning water troughs, cleaning pens, washing show calves and doing new calf registrations. As we all know, there is always something that needs to be done around the farm.

Hence, this is where I must find balance between my personal and work life. I am a very detail-oriented, routine-driven person. I sometimes tend to feel overwhelmed when I think of all the work I need to get done while still balancing everyday life. Some things I have found to be very beneficial to finding this balance are to map out my week and make lists. Having a visual guide of what I need to get done and seeing what days I have extra time to work with really helps. There is something very fulfilling about checking off completed tasks from a list. No matter how big or small the item may be, just seeing it being checked off can be relieving and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Subsequently, by the time I do all of my regular chores and squeeze in some extras like walking the dog or grocery shopping, there’s not a whole lot of time left in the day. But the biggest thing to remember is to make the most of it.

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The two biggest suggestions I have are to take advantage of opportunities to continue your education and to make tweaks to your daily routine if it results in being able to be present for something that is meaningful to you. The COVID-19 situation didn’t result in much extra free time for dairy farmers, but it did open up new opportunities. Some universities offered online courses free of charge. I did three of these courses to continue my education and to try and better myself for my job. It may seem overwhelming to have to do something else, but 30 minutes a day can lead to a great deal of new knowledge and be a nice change of pace from the physically demanding farm work.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to adjust your schedule. Yes, the cows need to be milked as close to a 12-hour interval as possible, but when family is in town for the weekend or you have the opportunity to meet a college friend you haven’t seen for months for lunch, I promise the cows will not break if you are 30 minutes behind. Sure, they thrive on routine, as I do myself, but with limited days off, making small adjustments to live your personal life is key to balance between the farm and life.

In conclusion, dairy farming is certainly not what I expected myself to be doing, but it is definitely the right fit for me. Being able to milk my own cows along with the rest of the herd on a daily basis is such a rewarding feeling. Staying in the barn to IV a sick cow after a long night of chores to see her rise just moments after you remove the needle is one of the greatest things to see. Dairy farming has its tough days and can be trying at times, but it is also very rewarding. So to all you dairywomen out there, don’t be afraid to try new things, plan your weeks as best as you can, allow for plans to change, and drink that extra cup of coffee if that’s what keeps you going. (I know I am powered by coffee!)  end mark

Julianne Holler
  • Julianne Holler

  • Dairy Producer
  • Sharpsville, Pennsylvania
  • Email Julianne Holler

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