Dairy Information: Center Focus Column

Eat More Ice Cream

July is National Ice Cream Month. All I can think of as I write this column is a reading I first heard 25 years ago at my high school graduation. It was called “The Station,” written by Robert J. Hastings. The reading talked about how life is like being on a train and, too often, we spend all our time waiting and watching for that next station, rather than enjoying the ride. The last paragraph of that reading concluded with “Climb More Mountains, Swim More Rivers, Eat More Ice Cream… Life must be lived as we go along. The Station will come soon enough.”

JayneRight now in the dairy industry, we are at a point when we are waiting for that next station to arrive. “When milk prices improve, things will be better.” “When we can finally harvest our crops, then we’ll be good.” Or, even in some cases, “When we transition our dairy,…”, “When we build that new parlor,…” or “When we get that final permit approval,…” Then we will have finally have arrived. But while we are waiting and worrying about that next station, life goes on around us.

New Zealand has been in a period of depressed milk prices for several more months than we have had here in the US. A recent article indicated farms in the New Zealand region are struggling significantly, with many of them approaching a state of complete equity loss. Reports of increased incidents of domestic violence and suicides are coming from the farm sector because of the significant stress resulting from the situation. It can become a dangerous side effect of a volatile marketplace.

Your Health Is What Matters Most

When milk prices fall, the industry experts spend a lot of time reminding producers about protecting the health of their operations. We’re constantly reminded to monitor our bottom line, know our cost of production, and watch margins even more closely to make sure we are being as efficient as possible. But sometimes we forget that the most important thing to keep healthy is ourselves.

Farming in general is a high risk, high stress job. And, when you add financial stress on top of the daily stresses of managing a multi-faceted business, overseeing the herd, and just keeping up with the day to day responsibilities, it can seem almost overwhelming. But, at the end of the day, you have to remember what is important. Remember to take time off to spend with your family, celebrate special occasions and small successes, and just relax and regroup when you need it.

The Center for Dairy Excellence recently joined with the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania and Penn State to emphasis on-farm safety, offering monthly safety shares and providing resources to communicate safety protocols. Too often, though, when we think of farm safety, we think only of protecting our physical selves from farm accidents. But part of farm safety is also protecting your mental and emotional health.

People are drawn to farming because they like working independently, which means they are used to working through problems on their own. They are less likely to talk about issues that are frustrating them. However, if you don’t open up and communicate with family members, trusted advisors or friends, sometimes those issues can weigh you down, leading to increased stress, health complications and even farm accidents.

Know the Signs

Many of us know of a neighboring farmer or family friend who has struggled with depression or even taken their life because they couldn’t deal with the pressures of farming. The farming community is a small world, and we need to look out for each other.

You need to recognize the symptoms of significant stress in both yourself and your family members and be prepared to intervene when someone seems to be struggling. Five of the most common signs to look for include:

  • Increased agitation and restlessness.
  • Fatigue and decreased energy levels.
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Sleeping too much or not enough

If these symptoms are becoming increasingly more evident, it may be time to take action and get help. Sometimes just walking away from the farm for a day-long outing with your family, like going hiking or visiting a local lake, may be all it takes to reset your frame of mind. In other cases, it might take opening up to a trusted advisor or friend. In more serious situations, professional help might be needed. Whatever it involves, make sure you are taking the appropriate steps to protect both your emotional and physical health as you work through the stresses that farm life can bring.

Robert J. Hasting’s “The Station” is a good reminder of what matters most in life. We know that eventually milk prices will rebound, the rain will come, our crops will grow, and we will get a harvest. We need to put all of that worry aside and remember to enjoy each day, celebrating the blessings we have. A bowl of ice cream always helps.

If you would like a copy of the “The Station,” I would be happy to share it with you. Our farm safety shares can be found under “Programs and Events” at www.centerfordairyexcellence.org. If you are looking for help in coping with stress, we can also provide contact information on local help centers.  Call the center at 717-346-0849 or email me at jsebright@centerfordairyexcellence.org to learn more.

Editor’s Note: This is a monthly column written by Jayne Sebright, executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence.