In six months, will you remember why it was more important to work than to: a) Take your kids on vacation; b) Go to a ball game or wedding; c) Take your spouse or friend on a date; d) Voluntarily take a hike (not because someone told you to!); e) Spend some time on a hobby.
While this may sound like something straight out of a women’s magazine (it isn’t), it is a summary of a discussion held on our annual Ladies’ Card Club weekend trip.
Since all of us who are married seem to have chosen workaholics for husbands, it is not surprising that the topic came up. Unfortunately for the dairy industry, this work ethic is alive and well.
Part-time work. Put it together with an all-too common attitude that 40 hours a week is part-time work, and we have a problem.
I kid you not, several years ago I visited a farm where the owners thought anyone working less than 80 hours a week was a part-time employee.
These were nice people. But they truly considered themselves good employers because they would give employees time off to go to “family events” like weddings. They didn’t get the whole day off, but they did get time to take a shower before showing up at the wedding.
It is little wonder that prospective employees are not flocking to every available dairy farm looking for work.
One of the questions I like to ask dairy families is “Where are you going on vacation this year?” or “do you take family vacations?”
This is not to be nosy. The fact is too many dairy families, particularly those with smaller herds, rarely if ever take a day or two or, God forbid, a whole week away. I will agree with you up front that this is not always an easy thing to do. It is possible.
Actually, I also like to ask the same question of single dairy people. Again, not to be nosy but to encourage them to take a vacation. Single folks need to get away just as much as married folks do.
It is necessary to rest, rejuvenate, challenge yourself, see new places, and meet new people. We have so many really nice single folks working on and managing dairy farms. Exactly where are they going to meet prospective friends and spouses if they don’t have a life besides milking cows? Would you introduce a son, daughter, friend or relative to a prospective mate so they could spend the rest of their life working, working and working … for free?
One of the answers I care for least is “yes, we just went out to California, Wisconsin, wherever, because that is where company XYZ paid our way.” Well, isn’t that exciting! Those trips are business trips where you are studying facilities, management, whatever.
There might be a side trip to see Niagara Falls on the way. Great. Study trips are important ways to see new things, learn from folks you meet on the trip. and build new relationships. It is great that companies are willing to invest in the future of your business by sponsoring these trips. BUT THEY DO NOT QUALIFY AS FAMILY VACATIONS!
Fortunately, one I don’t hear too often anymore is older fellows bragging that they haven’t missed a milking in the last 36 years. The fact that they had to walk their daughters down the aisle sometime between noon and 3:30 p.m. and leave the reception early doesn’t seem to be important. The only family event they will be attending from beginning to end is their own funeral.
Will the cows remember or appreciate that dedication or will the kids? How happy will those memories be?
No doubt, getting away for a day or two or seven can be problematic.
One reason farms are growing is so that families can get more time away. Good, well trained employees are critical for this to happen.
How can smaller operations get away? There are a number of options available. One is to have good, well trained employees. Employees that are willing and able to take on temporary extra responsibilities for additional pay. If they aren’t there, then take a hard look at who is on your payroll.
Another option is to hire temporary help. A monthly Pennsylvania dairy paper had a quarter page advertisement listing relief dairy workers. We need to encourage and support similar services in Ohio.
Support means encouraging folks to look at building a full or part-time career this way. It also means being willing to pay them what they are worth. This type of service is not going to be available for $7 an hour.
Anyone who you would feel comfortable leaving your farm with is going to be a professional. They should be able to see that the chores are done right, recognize and help a cow that is not feeling well, and know how to deal with a calving heifer.
You will have to pay them for the time they work while you are away and the time they prepare for you to be away. You will need to work together learning your system and developing the work plan for your absence. Ideally, you can develop a long-term relationship with less and less time needed to prepare for that time away.
I know of few dairymen who do not have a neighbor who is more than willing to be available to help or provide advice for relief workers if an unexpected situation came up in their absence. Likewise, neighbors, relatives, or friends may be around that would love to help out on your farm while you are away, but couldn’t or didn’t want to make milking cows their career.
Finally, to successfully get away, dairymen have to accept that sometimes bad things happen whether they are at the farm or not. And, that it may not be the fault of the folks who were at the farm or the folks who went away.
Quite a few years ago, when asked how his vacation was, a dairyman said he was disappointed because a couple of cows had had problems while he was gone, and he felt his son should have done a better job. Why did he (the dairyman) go away, etc. Two years later, after the son had left the operation to start a dairy of his own, the father related that he had not fully appreciated that his son did do a good job and those things would have happened whether he was there or not.
Like the credit card advertisements we can look at it this way:
Tent and camp stove: Borrowed
Camp Site: $30
Bug spray: $3
Food and S’more supplies: $50
Sleeping bags for four: $200
Boat ride on the lake $30
Relief milker and feeder: $300
Weekend camping with family and friends: Priceless.
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)