Being involved in the cattle business, for me, is a blessing and a privilege. As a fifth generation rancher, it feels like a birthright to continue this family tradition; however, as the times have changed, so have the challenges. Overcoming the difficulties of this business — unpredictable weather, volatile markets, increased regulatory pressures and huge capital risks, just to name a few — are unfortunately the reasons why so many farmers and ranchers are calling it quits, leaving less than 2% of the American population involved in production agriculture.
With young children to support, cattle loans to pay off, a predicted drought headed our way and prices not where we would love them to be, there is plenty of stress in this business. What’s more, it only takes one disaster, accident or something unexpected to throw the delicate balance upside down, so it’s no wonder producers are often feeling overworked, tired, stressed, frustrated, pressured and depressed.
So what can we do to get more accomplished, ward off stress and have more fun when we’re so deeply invested in this business?
I recently read an article on CountryFolks.com titled, “A farmer meltdown,” that talks about the prevalence of depression in farming and ranching families, with producers burning candles at both ends and getting burnt out in the process.
Written by Troy Bishopp, the article acknowledges that today’s farm economy is increasing the stress on farmers and creating vulnerabilities to a financial crisis if things turn for the worse.
Bishopp writes, “Couple an unrealistic work-load with financial stress, no time off, stupid stuff happening, lack of sleep, lousy eating habits and farmer’s pride, and you have a recipe for a personal trickle-down disaster. You trick yourself into thinking that if I just put in more hours, I can catch up and all will work out. It’s a fallacy.
“The melting creeps in subtly, as negativity and the feeling of being under-appreciated eventually transposes into physical fatigue, worry and the debilitating notion that it’s all my fault. It creates a negative work environment, an air of chasing fires and eventually depression.”
Bishopp listed eight ways (I added a ninth) to relieve some stress and drive away the negative feelings folks may be having as they navigate in this sometimes difficult business, including:
1. Reassess your goals and prioritize in importance
2. Schedule time off away from the farm
3. Get some sleep
4. Focus on doing less and doing it well
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your network of friends
6. Delegate duties to others on the team
7. Hug and love your family in the time of need
8. Have a financial advisor you can trust to help in critical thinking
9. Maintain a balance between work and play
I added the ninth tip on maintaining a work and play balance because it seems like so often we get into the daily grind — wake up, chug coffee, do chores, put out fires, pay bills, answer phone calls, do chores again, work outside until dark, scarf down a meal and fall asleep — and this work, work, work mentality can lead to fatigue, mistakes, negative feelings and even the breakdown of a marriage.
Agricultural consultant Elaine Froese addresses this issue in a column titled, “Help us have more fun.” She lists the common excuses why ranchers don’t take the time to enjoy their hobbies or their loved ones.
The excuses are many. There is too much work to do on the farm. My health is failing. I’m too old to have fun. My friends have all moved away. People don’t just visit anymore. I think I might be depressed because I haven’t laughed in months. My wife thinks dancing is fun, and I don’t dance. I’ve forgotten how to be present.
Sound familiar? Froese offers some solutions to find that balance between work and fun.
“Why aren’t you having more fun in your life? This question makes you feel uncomfortable, so you might as well just stop reading now. But hang on. ‘Why?’ is the question of intent. Your intention to grow a profitable farm is honorable, but what are you sacrificing on the journey to build your empire? I coached a young couple desperately trying to create new boundaries to protect family time on winter evenings and weekend Sundays. They risk a crumbling marriage and possible divorce if the marriage relationship is not repaired. Answering the ‘why’ is a good step toward solutions. You get to choose how you spend your time and who you want to connect with.”
Perhaps you’re content with all work and no play, but how about your wife or your kids? Schedule some time in your busy schedule to enjoy one another, so when you look back on your life, you haven’t just built up a successful business, but you’ve created lasting memories with the people who matter most.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.