Recently, I have noticed a major boost in mental health wellness, and even more commonly see the phrase “It’s ok to not be ok.” I feel as if at some point or another, everyone goes through phases where maybe their mental health isn’t at its peak, but yet it’s not really a major issue. As a full-time dairy farmer, I feel it is easy to get overwhelmed, bogged down by a to-do list and in a rut at times if you aren’t conscious about your actions and well-being. With that, there are a couple of major ways that, as a female dairy farmer, I feel may help others in the industry to still enjoy their work, be productive and make the most out of ourselves, while still being mindful of our own personal health and a positive mental state.
Many times, when I engage in conversation with a non-farm-related person and my occupation comes up, I get the response, “How do you do it? Farmers don’t get vacations or time off.” This phrase really hits me hard. Oftentimes as farmers, our animals and crops come first. We may have to miss events, arrive late, leave early, etc.
Yes, there are times when we really cannot go on vacation or we cannot attend a function because no matter how hard we try, times cannot be juggled to balance the event and milking or we cannot find relief help. Anyone in the occupation of farming knows this and accepts this. It is just part of the business. But on the other hand, as times change and life moves forward, I believe now more than ever that farmers do need to get time off the farm, and a vacation.
Getting off of the farm even for just the day can be extremely rejuvenating. Even if said farmer leaves the farm to go to a farm-related event, or a family party, just being in a different environment and making yourself take a physical and mental break really can do a lot more than you think. I know personally when I am off for even one milking shift, or one day, often when I return for the next milking or the next day I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next set of daily chores or get ahead on my to-do list.
Just a few weeks ago, I felt like I was starting to get overwhelmed. Spring and summer already come with extra tasks that need done in addition to daily chores, and I had my own personal list of extras that needed done as well. As much as I tried to balance my time and priorities, it seemed as if I wasn’t getting ahead on anything, or something else was getting priority. It seemed as if the harder I tried, the less productive I was. At this point I decided to take a step back, do something I wanted to do that would give me a small break and come back to the list refreshed and ready to go. With that, I called up a few of my friends who I haven’t seen in a while and made plans through that week to meet for lunch and dinner. I found coverage for a couple of shifts at the farm and really enjoyed myself and catching up with friends over a good meal. It may have been a fairly simple break, but it was really refreshing, and I was ready to go back to work and tackle the next set of projects.
It seems as if anywhere you go these days, there are “help wanted” signs hanging. In the industry of farming, I feel finding good, reliable help that is willing to work long hours in a physically demanding atmosphere is even harder to come by. This alone can be an obstacle for farmers being able to get off of the farm. If no one is able to feed, or milk the cows while the farmer is gone, then vacation time is pretty much nonexistent. But if you are fortunate enough to have a team of help lined up so you can get away for a vacation, whether it be a long weekend or a full week, even every other year, the benefits not only to your own well-being but those around you and for your plan moving forward will also benefit tremendously.
As you can tell, I am a strong believer in taking time for yourself. Choosing something that interests you and making time for it whenever possible is really the best investment that you can do for your mental health and well-being. Thankfully, I have a small but wonderful team at the farm that is willing to milk and feed calves for me when I am away. Knowing the animals are in great hands when I am gone makes it slightly easier to leave.
Maybe in this season of life you aren’t able to take an entire day off the farm or a week’s vacation; that’s ok. Sometimes we really aren’t able to get a real break. If this is the case, I urge you to try and do something for yourself. Even if it is just getting in the truck and going for a special coffee or wandering around Target or your other favorite store for an hour or so. No matter what that “treat” may be for you, do it. Life is too short as it is, and as dairy farmers we are faced with a lot of physically and mentally exhausting challenges regularly. As a result, we often prioritize the farm and our animals, which are of extreme importance, but we also need to prioritize ourselves and what makes us happy. We as farmers need to be healthy and happy for the farm to go on.