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Why you need to be stepping away from your farm for a day

Bob Hagenow for Progressive Dairy Published on 07 February 2020

Numerous agriculture meetings and events are held this time of year, as it’s the “slow” time. Of course, it seems no time of the year is slow anymore, especially if you are a dairy owner wearing many hats, such as milker, feeder, crop manager, people manager, “waste management technician,” repairman, marketer and more.

All that mentioned, no matter the size of your dairy business, the meeting season does present a great opportunity to get off the farm, and it can offer numerous benefits.

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The benefits of stepping away

  • Different perspectives: One of the main reasons to step away from your farm and attend an industry event is to give you a different perspective of your business. Getting away can often give you a picture of your farm from the “30,000-foot level” as compared to the “on-the-ground” picture you see during day-to-day chores. Many people have gone to a meeting with one way of looking at an opportunity or challenge and have come home with a completely different approach.

    Looking at a situation from a different perspective helps you take note of more factors and potential benefits available and can help you make the best decisions for your farm. This is the essence of perspective, and it tends to be a refreshing phenomenon. Gaining a different perspective can even be life- or career-changing.

  • Financial benchmarking: Some industry meetings address your farm’s financial status. This could be a vital meeting to attend if you have not completed a balance sheet or done a cost-of-production analysis in a while. You may need to do some pre-meeting work and collect some of your numbers to get the most out of the session. By attending a financially focused meeting, you may see how your business stacks up to traditional herd benchmarks or how you fare in other financial health measures.

  • Planning for the future: Other meetings can focus on succession planning and goal setting. If you are at a crossroads concerning the future of your dairy, a planning meeting can really help you define future wishes and options and construct a plan to get there. These meetings can give you a clearer vision of your dairy in the future, which may come to fruition through modernization, niche marketing, specialization, robotic integration, transference to the next generation or maybe even a proper exit from the industry.

  • Practical learning: Still other meetings cover a wide range of topics from current trends to ag advocacy to herd management techniques to cow comfort issues. No matter what type of meeting you attend, it is important to determine what knowledge you need to acquire, what information you want to take home to study further and what resources you may need to have in hand to help move forward.

  • Refocus: Another great benefit of getting away is to recharge and refocus. A different daily routine, an enlightening conversation, an optimistic person or viewpoint, or finding a new industry peer are all great ways to gain energy and leave an event with an extra bounce in your step.

    Finally, attending a well-organized dairy event reminds you that you are an important cog in a worldwide marketplace, producing wholesome and abundant food for an ever-growing population. This is noble work.

How to do it

It’s not easy to free up time to travel and attend a conference. The first step – and, arguably, the hardest – is to make the mental commitment to get away and realize the farm will be there when you return. It can seem overwhelming to plan for help; organize the details of feed, equipment and emergency plans; have provisional plans in case of changing weather; and then make all the travel arrangements. Just remember, the benefits of stepping away make the planning worthwhile.

When it comes to finding help, put together a group of people who can be trusted to accomplish the established routines successfully in your absence. Have at least one person who can adapt well to changing circumstances or emergencies, which is no small order. Retired farm operators, people in the community who grew up on farms and are now in other businesses, high school students looking for training opportunities in agriculture, former owners of the farm and hired services are all possibilities for putting together this team.

It is ideal that your team has both written protocols and at least one opportunity to go through the routines with you in person. Certain tasks are best communicated by a demonstration or the chance to answer questions from the team.

Once you go through the effort of making plans and getting to the meeting, it is important to limit the distractions of the home front to ensure you can fully engage. Sure, we need to stay connected in case of an emergency, but the whole idea is to be in the moment, get those benefits mentioned and find that different perspective.

If you absolutely cannot attend in person, you may find virtual opportunities to attend events. To hear and experience an inspirational speaker or attend a breakout session on an important topic via virtual technology can also offer that different and new perspective. But you do still need to limit distractions to get the most from a virtual meeting.

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It really can make a difference

Though it wasn’t a dairy event, this reminds me of a personal experience from a couple of years ago. The gentleman who purchased my family’s home farm milked about 40 registered cows and wanted to travel out-of-state for an important wedding event. Knowing the operation from years ago, he asked me, along with his sister and his brother-in-law, to step in for the weekend. We had it on our calendar more than eight months in advance so we could all plan around it. We met as a team the weekend before his departure, went through all the protocols and asked our questions for the numerous “it depends” situations.

Though a bit apprehensive, the owner left on this trip. He returned three days later with everything indeed in its place and cows doing well. He had a smile on his face I will always remember … one of refreshment and happiness. He connected with family and friends, allowing for a new perspective on his life after hearing about others’ challenges and life journeys.

He couldn’t have done this via the phone, email or texting; he needed to get away from his farm and be there in person. And, truth be known, I had a great time putting on the chore clothes and returning to my roots for that weekend, playing a small role to help get this done.

If you are looking to see something in a different light, gain new ideas for your farm, meet new industry peers, find a new way of doing things in the future, or you just want to recharge yourself, commit to stepping away from the farm to attend an industry event. Spend the time planning to get away. Plan how you will spend your time when there. The farm will be there when you return, and you may just have that new and different perspective you have been needing. You might also come back with a smile of happiness and refreshment and have great direction for the future to boot.  end mark

Bob Hagenow
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