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A week logging physical activity from a dairy farmer

Stephen Weststeyn for Progressive Dairy Published on 22 May 2020

Historically, farming was filled with manual tasks and labor that took a lot of physical effort and fortitude. Today, though, many of those tasks have changed because of technology and machinery.

We spend a lot of time working, but our tools (tractors, etc.) do much of the heavy lifting.

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Dairy farmers today use a lot more mental energy. Solving problems, finding solutions and critical thinking activities occupy most dairy farmers’ time. Fixing things is figuring out the holes in the system. Managing people requires creativity to manage different personality types. And a good memory is a requirement for knowing your cows.

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While the demand for physical labor may not be what it once was, physical activity is good and necessary to keep your mental focus and agility. One of the contributions made by the Greeks to classical culture was the notion of a mutual dependence between a sound mind and a healthy body – the mind-body synergy. And modern research is proving physical fitness to be important toward maintaining your mental acuity. In other words: A strong body helps you have a strong mind:

John Medina, a molecular biologist, says, “Research has consistently shown that exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving and fluid intelligence. When combined with the health benefits exercise offers, we have as close to a magic bullet as exists in modern medicine.”

Country Guide - Are you in good physical shape

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But you cannot just assume that because you are a dairy farmer you are getting enough physical activity. For one week, I kept a log of my physical activity as a dairy farmer. The results noted that the physical activity level varied tremendously through the week – mostly because of the changing nature of tasks. Here were some of the highlights from the week:

  • Monday – I spent most of the day driving to get necessary parts for our harvester so we could get back to harvesting our winter crop.

  • Tuesday – I had meetings with our insurance company about how to improve our safety program and topics.

  • Wednesday – I worked with consultants to streamline our protocols and improve our performance indicators for breeding and milking routine and procedures.

  • Thursday – I worked on office work, budgets, inventory reports, etc.

  • Friday – I monitored milking procedures, both shifts, morning and night.

  • Saturday – I relief bred cows for the herdsman and performed herd work.

  • Sunday – I monitored and worked with the milking crew.

Dairy tasks vary greatly in physical activity

What I found was: My physical activity did vary a lot depending on what was needed of me throughout the week. When I was doing more administrative tasks, my physical activity sank to the lowest end of the spectrum, walking only 2.2 miles, while it reached the top of the spectrum at 6.3 miles when I was performing herdsman duties.

Milking cows required more moderate physical activity and walking, but it also had some variance. The Friday working with the milking crews, I logged climbing only one floor but, on Sunday, I logged climbing 11 floors. According to the tracker, one floor equals 10 feet of elevation change so, at the peak, I had climbed 110 feet. If I would’ve gathered the cows, I would have easily added a few more miles to my day.

Feeding cows seems like it would be minimal in physical activity due to driving and operating tractors, but I know from experience that while miles walked would be low, the number of floors climbed would be high. Getting in and out of the loader tractor and feed wagon requires quite a bit of climbing.

Because the actual physical activity varies so greatly, it emphasizes the need to have some sort of physical routine to make sure that on the days with lower activity you would still get a good amount of physical activity.

While our work as dairy farmers has changed, dairy farmers are still doing a lot of physical activity. But the physical effort we are expending is the very tool that can be an asset in keeping us sharp and focused.  end mark

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ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Corey Lewis.

Stephen Weststeyn is a California dairy farmer. Check out his blog, Dairy Moos.

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