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HERd Management: We all need to be able to get off the farm every now and then

Morgan Kliebenstein for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 August 2018

When was the last time you or your spouse left the farm? Running into town for parts, drugs or groceries doesn’t count. When was the last time you physically removed yourself from the place and went somewhere with a purpose other than what I just mentioned?

If it’s taken you this long to come up with a response, then it’s probably been too long – or never at all. Why am I asking? Why should you care? There’s work to be done, and the list of tasks and responsibilities never ends; getting away is a non-priority. The simple answer is: mental health and well-being.

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There’s this joke I make when talking to other farmers and clients about today’s dairy market situation. I say something to the effect of, “Some years we make money and, other years, we are simply volunteers. Lately though, it seems like we are all paying admission just for the experience.”

It’s usually good for a laugh, and the subject matter eventually moves on to lighter material. We know it’s bad – really bad in fact. The simple truth of the matter is: These are some dark and twisty times for our industry. With so much pressure and such high stakes, why in God’s name would anybody want to take time off or leave for a purpose other than continuing to get work done?

Mental health is the forgotten element of success in desperate times. Under pressure, we can only focus on working harder and longer, tweaking and perfecting, just trying to stay afloat. There’s no time to stop and do a reality check on one’s state of mind.

The important thing to remember, however, is: Hobbies and interests beyond the farm fall into the self-care bucket and actually can provide stress relief, feelings of fulfillment and meaningful relationships with other farmers. Activities that take us off the farm can be outlets for us to share what we are going through with other farmers or to leave it all behind and focus on a meaningful distraction for a couple of hours a week.

Opportunities to get away are endless and don’t even have to be huge, elaborate family vacations. Get involved in a committee, volunteer, join a church group, start a monthly date night, join a bowling league … I could go on for days. Find what works for you and your schedule, and make the commitment to getting off the farm.

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If the idea of recreating doesn’t appeal to you, get involved in something that directly impacts the dairy industry. Help coach a judging or quiz bowl team, apply to Young Dairy Leaders Institute, join Farm Bureau, get into showing cattle, participate in your county’s dairy promotion committee or fair board. While committing to these kind of responsibilities seems daunting, I promise you there is always time for something.

Speaking from experience, my husband is a board member for Rolling Hills Dairy Producers. When initially approached about running, he balked at the idea of having to leave the farm for “so many meetings,” but he ran nonetheless and now participates in monthly board meetings.

He would admit now those meetings are a good outlet for sharing with other farmers in a similar situation while also working together and serving a meaningful purpose for his own profession. A farming couple we are friends with recently went on a trip to D.C. with Farm Bureau and met with several legislators there.

They would say getting away for the week was both meaningful and beneficial, as they had an opportunity to get a much-needed break while also promoting their cause in Washington.

Recent data from the CDC shows us suicide rates among farmers are higher than ever and climbing – the highest rate among any other occupation and nearly five times the national rate. One of the biggest things that can help prevent suicide is simply being able to talk to others.

By getting yourself off the farm, you are putting yourself in a situation where you have access to talk to people – maybe even people in situations similar to yours.

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You can also have a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Maybe things aren’t perfect back at the farm, but you just taught a group of third graders about where their milk comes from, or you just helped serve 3,000 people cheese at your county’s dairy breakfast.

Things like that are good for lifting your spirits and will help continue to propel you along on your list of daily chores when you get back to the daily farm grind that afternoon.

Lastly, if you do find yourself alone and in need of some listening ears, know you can always find somebody to talk to, and there is always somebody out there willing to listen. The national suicide prevention hotline is a 24-hour service, just a phone call away by dialing (800) 273-8255.   end mark

Morgan Kliebenstein
  • Morgan Kliebenstein

  • Dairy Producer
  • Darlington, Wisconsin
  • Email Morgan Kliebenstein

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