Last fall, I hit a wall both mentally and physically. I was deep in the throes of my busy season, both as a farmer and a photographer.

On top of the usual day-to-day stressors being a dairy farmer can create, in tandem with juggling multiple photo sessions a week and tearing up the back roads, highways and hollers of western Wisconsin in the process, we had also completely gutted our barn days after wrapping up chopping corn silage.

Then, on the same night we were set to begin milking cows in the freshly renovated barn, one of our silos started on fire.

Needless to say, the fall of 2021 was fraught with crippling panic attacks, chore-time meltdowns and a whole lot of soul-searching. Of course, all of this might have been easier to manage if I wasn’t also trudging and fumbling through the crushing exhaustion the first trimester of pregnancy is known all too well for.

While I love all of what I do nine days out of ten – and last year was my best year yet from a financial standpoint – I pushed through the mental and physical fatigue when I definitely should not have.

Advertisement

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I’m far from alone. Scores of women in agriculture, especially those who are farmers and married to farmers, know all too well the feeling of being pulled in too many directions.

Whether that comes in the form of off-farm employment for health insurance and disposable income, or starting a business that either piggybacks off the farm or is totally separate from it, a lot of us have had to get really creative in the face of continued market volatility and overall uncertainty.

There’s almost a silent yet screaming expectation of farm women to be able to work like they don’t farm, farm like they don’t have an off-farm job or business, and raise children and manage a household like everything else doesn’t exist.

Just one of those aforementioned items is all-encompassing. We’ve been told all our lives we can have it all, but does trying to do and have it all come with some consequences? I believe it might.

I have a hard time slowing down. I have an especially hard time saying no to every opportunity that presents itself. After all, the opportunity of a lifetime only exists within the lifetime of the opportunity. Now that I find myself in a position where I’m being encouraged and forced to slow down and say no, I wish I’d started doing both of those things much sooner. After all, even the cows you and I cherish so much get some time off before their next lactation.

With all the balls we find ourselves juggling on a daily basis, it’s good to know some balls are made of rubber, and some are made of glass. The rubber balls are things that can probably wait a little longer, while the glass balls represent pieces of our lives that are much more important. It’s all right if one of the rubber balls slips out and bounces away from us, as long as we hold onto what truly matters.

It is healthy and necessary to slow down when your brain and body are telling you to do so. If that looks like cutting down on the number of off-farm extracurriculars you’re involved in, attending fewer events for your side hustle or delegating some farm responsibilities to someone else on your farm team for a time, putting your mental and physical health first pays dividends you can’t find in a bank account or on a balance sheet.

Bottom line: If we get so lost in the process of making money we lose sight of what and who we love, we won’t have time for either of them. Choosing to say no and slow down are far better than being forced to say no and slow down because we’re crashing and burning.

With that being said, if you need someone to give you permission to take a break, you have mine. end mark

Brittany Olson is a dairy farmer and freelance writer from Chetek, Wisconsin. She and her husband, Sam, milk 40 registered Holsteins and Jerseys on their 116-year-old farm.

Brittany Olson