In this section of the newsletter, we talk a lot about how to handle stress and take care of one’s self.

You’d sooner rest your cows than yourselves. How’s that working out for you?

There comes a time in a CEOs life when it’s not so much a question of whether he’s suffering from burnout as much as it is how long he has left before he starts laughing hysterically and can’t stop. Much the same could be said of dairy CEOs, though my observations point to dairy farmers succumbing to stress in a quieter fashion, through things like depression and withdrawal — or simply by not taking chances with his business, when taking those chances is the only thing that will keep the farm competitive in the years to come.

Still, when farming CEOs do step away from work — and co-op meetings don’t count — they often only do so for a few days at a time. This is completely understandable… Even if your farm has a reliable, intelligent herdsman to manage the day-to-day operations, very little else will get done in the meantime. Preparing to go on vacation and then coming back to a ton catch-up work hardly seems worth it.

But it is absolutely worth it, according to author and CEO Tony Schwartz, who says that not pausing to recharge your batteries can be “a costly mistake.”

“Each day, I felt a little more rejuvenated, much the way you sense your strength returning after an illness,” Schwartz says of finally taking that lengthy vacation after abstaining for too long. “I had time to truly reflect and think strategically rather than tactically.”

He cites a 2006 Ernst & Young study, which found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation that employees took, their performance reviews were 8 percent higher the following year.

Schwartz suggests not only taking all of the vacation you can, but also to make sure to really disconnect. He also says taking some sort of vacation at least quarterly is crucial, but to make sure one of those breaks is at least two weeks long. Otherwise, you’re not really unwinding sufficiently so much as marking time until you can get back to the farm.

And Virginia Tech extension agent Peter Callan wonders if putting in non-stop long days is worth the price.

“What are the costs of working longer hours?” he asks. “How many dairy farmers routinely attend their children’s school events, consistently spend time with the family and annually schedule a family vacation? Who comes first: the cows or the family?

Callan also notes that dairy farmers need adequate rest to work safely.

“How many farm accidents could have been prevented because the owner was ‘overtired’ and did not pay close attention to the task at hand?” he asks.

Sounds like it’s time to start a dairy farm version of a babysitting co-op in which a group of dairy farm CEOs agree to look after each others’ farms in turn, giving everyone a well-deserved break. Stranger things have happened…