Managing the stress of running a dairy farm

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cattle in pasture

You have faced several years of poor commodity prices, depressed milk prices, increased input costs, and wet weather. You have looked for areas to reduce costs, evaluated options, implemented changes — and the financial stress continues to take a toll on your physical and mental health. What can you do?

You are what you think. According to the Michigan State University Extension publication How to Create a Productive Mindset, the mind has 70,000 thoughts per day — that’s 70,000 opportunities. The brain is about 2 percent of your body weight, but uses 20 percent of your energy.

Eighty percent of repetitive thoughts are negative, but don’t have to be.

In addition to the Michigan State University Extension publication, Iowa State University Extension Dairy Specialists Dr. Fred Hall and Dr. Larry Tranel provide the following suggestions for coping with stress:

Self-Talk

  • Remind yourself that you have been through difficult times before and will do so again.
  • Choose words like “calm,” “capable,” and “controlled” to maintain a positive mindset.
  • Use deep breathing; do this five times and release slowly.
  • Accept the situation and focus on solutions instead of focusing on the problem.
  • Avoid negative people.
  • Check in on your friends and family. Men generally don’t communicate as well as women. Phone calls or texts to friends and family are simple gestures that can be very comforting and meaningful.
  • Don’t shut out family — communicate with members about your worries and concerns. Family can provide support.

Advisory team

Assemble a team of professionals to help you analyze your situation and provide suggestions. The team may include your veterinarian, nutritionist, agronomist, lender, accountant, attorney, and Extension educator.

Have these professionals come together to review your past performance, present situation, and goals for the near and short-term. Each professional brings a different perspective to the meeting based on his or her experiences and can be a valuable resource to analyze, answer questions, and provide recommendations.

Look ahead

What are your plans for the short-term and long-term? What Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timed (SMART) goals will get you where you want to be? Do other members of your family share the same vision?

What if you decide to exit the dairy business? Do you have a written exit plan? There is life after exiting the business. Talk to your attorney and accountant about the sale and tax liabilities.

Seek professional help

There are trained counselors in or near your community available to help. These professionals provide confidential counseling and can suggest options to best manage your situation.

Names of counselors available in your area are available by contacting your physician, local health department, pastor, or conducting an online search. Do not be ashamed to seek help!

Take action

The items presented here are not going to increase milk prices or lower input costs. However, understanding your mindset, assembling an advisory team, developing a plan, and, if necessary, reaching out to use the services of professional counselors can help you better understand your situation and make well-informed decisions.

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