Dairy Excel/Channel: Arrgh! Cows will test your limits

I’m a closet cusser.

It would be more accurate to say I’m a closet cow cusser.

There is nothing like working with cows for more than a day or two to bring out the worst language in me. My unwritten rule is to try not to cuss when anyone else is around. It is, after all, not ladylike. I was raised in a home where four-letter words were just that – words like stop, down or pump.

Somehow, working with cows, I found my language horizons widening. Maybe deteriorating would be a better description. It is amazing how cows and their antics can bring those words just popping right out of your mouth. I soon decided that letting a good descriptive sentence rip in the privacy of my own milking parlor was better than hitting the cow who had just misbehaved. Talk about rationalizing.

In reality, cows – and farming in general – add more than a few stressors to the normal list that we all deal with. “Normal” stresses that farmer and nonfarmer alike have to deal with include marriage, birth, death, kids, kids starting school, kids, adolescent hormones, kids, teenagers, kids leaving home, kids, housetraining pets, kids, making major purchases, kids, health problems, and kids.

Throw a dairy farm into the mix and add cows, finances, cows, weather, cows, prices, cows, production, cows, machinery breakdowns, cows, employees, cows, family labor, crops and cows, to name a few.

Why ever would cows surface multiple times?

Dreaded phone call. It’s 11:05 p.m. The phone rings.

It’s the neighbor. Our respective herds have decided to party in the field of soybeans between our two farms (sorry Raymond!). Fred, Gayla, Steve and I meet in the dark and start sorting animals. The herds separate and go back to their respective pastures relatively well.

I get to stand at the edge of our field and be the temporary fence while Steve helps get the last of their beefers back into their barn lot. The fact that Gayla is more than a few months pregnant and I was heading to Cleveland in less than 8 hours for heart surgery just added a little spice to the event.

Push the right buttons. I had just started my first job managing a dairy herd in Hillsboro. The fact that no one who knew squat about cows had managed the herd for absentee owners for at least two years meant two things: 1) things are a mess; and 2) it can’t get much worse.

Fortunately, the cows and facilities have potential. There is just one cow who isn’t particularly friendly.

The first thing she does is run into the old parlor (which strongly resembles a dark, wet cave) and dives into the old pit which is filled with nasty black water. Being a survivor, defined a cow with a tremendous will to live (the opposite of Guernseys who have a tremendous will to die), she also climbs back out.

Unfortunately, she chipped the bone on the front of her right rear leg just above the lower joint. So, she begins a couple of idyllic weeks in a box stall. The vet just snaps the bone chip off and says to let it heal.

After two weeks, she goes out with the rest of the herd. In less than 30 minutes another cow pushes her and she does the splits.

My brother was visiting at the time and I broke one of my cow cussing rules. As he said to my mother later, “I didn’t know she knew all those words.” Nothing like a well-rounded education!

Take care of yourself. The added stresses of farming, if not properly managed, lead to health problems, accidents, poor relationships and general unhappiness.

People are very different in their abilities to deal with stressors. A series of events that sends one person into a tailspin may be all in a day’s work to someone else who thrives on challenges.

What are constructive ways (poor language aside) to deal with the stresses of farm life? Actually there are quite a few publications out there that generally suggest the following:

* Eat right – chocolate (ladies) and beer or potato chips (men) are not the foundation of the new food pyramid.

* Get enough sleep – The right amount will vary from person to person. If you fall asleep in your lunch plate or between groups in the parlor you need to spend more time in bed.

* Exercise regularly – you may be outside working all day, but are you sitting in a tractor seat or at a desk or really getting your heart rate up for 20 or 30 minutes by walking, throwing bales, etc.

* Get a life – spend time with your family, work on a hobby, relax occasionally (it is non-fatal).

* Plan ahead – minimize the opportunity for stressful events to happen. Repair equipment in the off season, put up a high tensile fence, hire enough help, file your tax return in January.

* Set realistic goals – don’t expect yourself or others to do the impossible. Enjoy the satisfaction of achieving a realistic goal.

* Ask for help – don’t try to do or deal with everything alone. Have a network of family, church, friends and business associates to help deal with small problems before they become big ones.

* It isn’t going to go away – don’t stress yourself thinking that any stress is wrong. Some stress is a normal part of life. It keeps us going, challenged and looking forward to tackling the problem.

Now, get out and work with those cows!

(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.)

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