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HERd Management: What a tree taught me

Jayne Sebright for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2021

Last summer, in the height of the pandemic, a bad storm with straight-line winds went through our farm. The winds took out nine trees and a garage roof.

Trees that towered over our house and had been there for generations were pulled out of their root beds in a matter of seconds. They ended up lying over on their sides with the roots fully exposed in the air. Fortunately, all the trees narrowly missed our house, so we considered ourselves fortunate it was not worse.

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For about three weeks, the trees stayed on their sides, with our front yard looking like a jungle of branches and limbs stretching out across it. After planting season was over, my husband finally had time to tackle the cleanup. Some of the trees were easy to pull away. Others needed to have their branches trimmed and carried off piece by piece.

The final tree we tackled that weekend was the largest by far – a huge black walnut with its branches seeming almost like five smaller trees connected by the base. My husband trimmed each branch off at its base one by one. Just as he cut off the final branch, the trunk of the tree stood right back up in its original root bed, while we quickly moved out of its way. We could not believe it stood back up on its own. At that point, we knew the 25-foot trunk was much too large to pull out with the skid loader. So we decided to wait until our largest tractor was free to pull it out by its roots and get rid of it.

Another month and a half went by, and suddenly, we began seeing small branches growing again. If you look at that tree today, the top is full of green branches coming out from all sides. Honestly, if you would have asked us whether that tree could have survived that fall and the following three weeks lying flat on the ground, we would have told you it was impossible.

For me now, each time I look across our lawn, that tree has become a gentle reminder to practice resiliency in my own life. Just like the tree illustrates, the most important step in surviving and thriving in life is being able to get back up after you have fallen and to bend, not break, when life throws high winds your direction.

The health community defines being resilient as adapting well to change, adversity and other significant sources of stress that can throw you off the roadmap you had planned. Becoming more resilient can not only help you get through difficult circumstances, but it can also help you grow and develop a more positive outlook on life in general.

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We all know life does not always go as planned, especially on a farm. And I know that many of us in agriculture pride ourselves on being resilient. But it is not always easy to “walk the talk.” So here are some steps I have found recently that have been helpful in developing more resiliency.

1. Reframe your thoughts. Recently, I read a statistic that the average person has 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. Of those, 80% are negative, and 95% are repetitive. It takes intentionality in your thinking to seek the positive in every situation, even when life seems to constantly be throwing you curveballs.

2. Foster wellness. I belong to a few “farmer” social media groups, and sometimes I see posts about people falling asleep on tractor wheel wells or working 36 hours in a row. We wear our long hours like badges of honor, but we need to realize how essential getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet are to our wellbeing. It is also important to take downtime to relax – go for a walk, sit with your family on the porch or just take a few hours to read. Just like an engine, not taking enough downtime can lead to tremendous wear and tear on your body.

3. Find purpose. Those in agriculture are fortunate in this area because we love what we do and are so passionate about our role in feeding the world. However, work should not be your only purpose in life. Finding purpose could mean getting involved in something bigger than yourself – volunteering at church, helping with your children’s activities or donating to those in need. A sense of purpose can be your anchor in times of trouble.

4. Learn from past experiences. They say we learn the most from our mistakes. Those who are truly resilient reflect on the past to identify positive and negative behaviors in how they handled situations. It’s all about perception and the willingness to grow and learn from experience instead of letting it define you.

5. Remain hopeful. This may be the most important piece in remaining resilient. What do you see when you look across your farm: challenges or opportunities? When something goes wrong, do you only see the headache it caused, or can you find the silver lining in the situation? Romans 8:25 KJV says, “But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” To me, hope is about having faith in God’s greater plan for each of us.

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One article I read said being resilient should not be confused with always being happy or being completely numb or devoid of emotions. People who are resilient still feel things – both good and bad – deeply but have developed coping mechanisms to work through their emotions.

In my mind, I can picture that tree in my yard generations from now still standing proudly as a testament to its resiliency in all it went through. Somehow, that inspires me to make sure I am practicing resiliency in my own life and passing those traits down to the generations to come. I hope this story inspires you to do the same. end mark

Jayne Sebright
  • Jayne Sebright

  • Executive Director
  • Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence
  • Email Jayne Sebright

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