The winter months, to me, are some of the most peaceful on our small dairy farm in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Because of our milking schedule, I often go to the barn when it is dark out, and the stars are bright in the sky. The cows are often peacefully lying in their beds by the time I make my way into our freestall barn to bring them into the holding pen. The air is cool and crisp, and the moonlit sky creates a glow across the icy ground in our valley. Being out there amid that stillness is all I need to calm my soul.

Sebright jayne
Executive Director / Center for Dairy Excellence / Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania

When I tell people that I spend many evenings in the barn after working all day in my center role, they often question my sanity. “Aren’t you exhausted?” they ask. But the truth is, for me, my evening milking routine provides the “alone time” I need to destress from a job that requires me to be “on” for most of the day.

To be honest, there are nights when unexpected calvings or moody first-calf heifers can derail my sense of calm. But, often an evening in the barn is exactly what I need after never-ending meetings, mental challenges, computer frustrations and a nasty commute. That’s because, the way our parlor system works, it only requires one person to milk. It’s just me and my girls and plenty of time to work through whatever is causing chaos in my brain.

I am not the only one who feels this way about being in the barn. The past couple of years, the center did a holiday social media campaign in which we asked farmers to share something that brings them joy. Last year, a dairy farmer named Casi shared how it’s the quiet moments in the barn that bring her peace and the ability to reset and start again. Her post was one of our more popular on the center’s social feed, which predominantly reaches farmers.

The truth is we live in stressful times, as farmers and as a society. We are all so busy moving from one place to the next, one task to another, that we become hyper-focused on just checking things off our list. Finding time to rest and relax is often the last thing we have time for on that list.


Instead, we try to power through, which can lead to lashing out against whatever gets in our way. Think about it. Have you ever found yourself late for an appointment or event? You rush around trying to leave on time and find yourself stuck in traffic. Instead of recognizing that there is nothing you can do, your driving suddenly becomes more aggressive, and your foot gets heavier. I can remember a couple of instances where I found myself with a speeding ticket because I was too stressed rushing to get somewhere.

This can also happen on our farms. The day starts OK until you find out that the milk didn’t get picked up on time and your tank is nearly full. You have a cow who is struggling to calve, and the repair man can’t get there in time to fix the feed mixer tractor before the cows are out of feed. Your son walks into the barn, and suddenly you find yourself in a full-fledged argument about something that really wasn’t that important because both of you are overcommitted and overstressed.

The reality is, with mounting financial pressures, weather woes and a host of other things causing us stress on the farm, finding the space for whatever it is that allows us to reset is essential, not only for our own well-being but for the relationships we share with those around us. So, how can we do that?

Here are three simple things you can do when you find yourself overwhelmed.

1. Take a deep breath

You may think it seems silly, but simply taking a deep breath can signal a sense of calm in the brain. That’s because the process of deep breathing can slow your heartbeat and calm your nervous system. Have you ever tried it? Next time you feel anxiety creeping in, stop yourself and take a few minutes to intentionally breathe deep. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your abdomen move forward, and hold it for 3 to 5 seconds. Then, let the air out slowly. Repeat the process a few times until you feel your body relaxing.

2. Find what feeds your soul

That is what an evening alone in the barn can do for me. It is time by myself to listen to music, find a podcast I like or even just be in the rhythm of the milking routine. Everyone is different. Some farmers enjoy spending time in the tractor cab, while others might find an evening away from the farm is what they need to reset. No matter what it is, the most important thing is to intentionally find what feeds your soul and make time for it.

3. Give yourself grace and space

“Farmers juggle many hats” is a phrase we hear often, and it has become a badge of honor that we wear proudly. So, the idea of putting down one of those hats can feel uncomfortable. When we give up a responsibility or say “no” to something, we feel like we are letting someone down. But, the reality is we are all human, and we can’t do everything. Make sure you give yourself grace and space to recognize your limitations and let go of what you cannot carry.

For those who are managing thousands of cows, the idea of going to the barn to calm your soul may seem crazy. But, especially in the wintertime, that is all it takes for me to reset and reframe my mind after a chaotic day. I often leave the barn in a much better place than where I was when I first walked into it. Whether we are on or off the farm, we all have plenty of stressors causing chaos in our lives. Hopefully, you can find whatever it is that brings you calm in a chaotic world.