Sometimes, you need to leave the farm to keep it going
It can be hard for farmers and ranchers -- and in particular those with livestock -- to truly take a break. But getting away makes you better at what you do.
If you have livestock, you know how the routine goes. Every day — rain, shine, snow, wind — you have to care for them. They need food. You have to look for signs of sickness or problems. Even when they're out on pasture, fences need to be checked or you'll get the dreaded "cows are out" call from the neighbors.
The result of all this work should be well-cared-for animals in a thriving business. But sometimes, that day-in, day-out grind leaves the business struggling because the humans involved get less care than the livestock.
I grew up on a farm and ranch, and we squeezed in vacations as we could. Usually it was a couple nights at not-too-distant locales, but there were a few longer trips to Disneyland or Las Vegas. It was stressful to leave, and I remember Mom and Grandma rolling their eyes as Dad and Grandpa would discuss the work being done on other farms we passed.
But the stress of being gone was nothing compared to the stress of staying. A little time away from the grind — even when vacations were jam-packed with activities and little downtime — put things at home in perspective and made the work a lot less draining once back in the normal routine.
My husband runs a small feedlot, feeding both purchased cattle as well as cattle for customers. While the fall and winter are the busiest times, he's had cattle in the lot nearly year-round for the past few years, as well as cattle on pasture during much of the year. Plus, field work and haying need to be done besides the cattle chores.
That means both he and his dad feel guilty leaving the other with all of the work. My husband went about three years without leaving the farm for more than a single night. My daughters and I have taken trips to basketball tournaments or 4-H events or to visit my family, but he has either stayed home entirely or cut his portion of the vacations short.
That was his choice, and it's a choice many self-employed people make. Keep working or things will go wrong. Keep working or you'll get farther behind. Keep working because there is no one else to do the work.
But the problem with that is, things will go wrong if you're there all the time, too. Things will happen to get you farther behind. And if you never take a break, you lose perspective on why you're doing any of it in the first place.
This summer, my husband and I talked, repeatedly, about going to Minneapolis to see a couple Twins games. We're both big baseball fans, and he's cheered for the Twins as long as he can remember. The timing was never right, and a few weeks back, he said maybe we'll just go next year. But I kept pushing.
We pulled the girls out of school early to catch the first two games of a Twins homestand against the Texas Rangers. We visited the amusement park and the Lego Store at the Mall of America. We got to take pictures with newly minted Twins Hall of Famers Ron Gardenhire and Dan Gladden. And more than anything, my husband got to do something that didn't involve cows or fences or equipment for a few days.
Burnout is a real thing that happens, I assume, in every facet of life. When you give too much of yourself to one thing, you leave too little for the other parts of life. This has become more of a conversation in many workplaces, and it's one we need to have more often in agriculture. It's not weak to need a break, and the farm or ranch isn't more important than the farmer or rancher.
When you have livestock, there are certain times when it really is next to impossible to leave. Taking vacation during calving would be ill advised. But there are plenty of less busy times when things can be managed.
If you are having trouble getting away, think of who you would call to help if you had an emergency and needed to leave. Then, call that person and see if they'd be willing to keep an eye on things for a couple days. They probably will do it, just as you would for them. Do whatever you can to get things ready for when you're gone.
And then, get away. Leave. Do something new or different or exciting or relaxing. And come back ready and excited to take care of your operation and yourself.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.