Dairy farming is ranked as one of the most demanding businesses in terms of time and self-commitment, not to mention the possibility of physical injury from animals or equipment. It requires constant vigilance to maintain herd health, financial prosperity, and operational integrity. Juggling all of the demands necessary to be an effective manager or owner requires one to be both physically and emotionally fit. If you aren’t careful, all of these demands and the resulting stress can rob you of the skills and attitude required to successfully manage your business.

Personal health
How is it that we can be so concerned about the health of our animals, but neglect our own? Dairy producers as a group are probably no different than the rest of the population in terms of obesity and improper nutrition. Illness can greatly affect your ability to maintain a functional operation. Sick managers are not effective managers, and the business suffers.

Make a resolution to have a thorough physical examination soon.  It will benefit you, your family, and your business.

Mental health
We must all be a little crazy to endure the long hours, hard work, and often times miniscule returns. We do it because we like dairy farming. But some of our colleagues have reached a point where it is not fun any more. Fatigue, stress, financial problems, and family issues can take their toll on your enthusiasm for the business. Have you recently had days where you didn’t want to go to work? 

If life and work have become a chore, then stress has taken its toll. Your family, friends, and employees have probably noticed your slump for sometime. If you do not address the problem, you may find your operation suffering from employee turnover, high cull rates, lower milk production, and financial loss. A stressed-out owner/manager cannot sustain the effective management protocols that are necessary to keep the business on track.

Take time to discuss the pressures and strains you feel with your physician. Many health problems can be attributed to workplace stress.

Valuable lessons
I have been a dairy owner for seven years now. And I came to the realization a couple of years back that you can never get caught up with all of the work on a dairy farm. It became apparent that I needed to re-evaluate my daily role in order to survive in this business. I came to several conclusions:

  • Get a physical exam and try to stay healthy.
  • Learn to delegate. You can’t do it all.
  • Prioritize what has to be done today.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Try to stay organized and focused on your business plan.
  • Learn to effectively deal with failures and breakdowns. Focus on the things you can control and try not to worry about the things you can’t.
  • Have good friends outside the family that you can talk with about problems.
  • Get a hobby. Go fishing, hunting, golf, jogging, or whatever you like to do. When you take your mind off the day’s challenges, it allows you to come back later more refreshed and eager to face the problems of the day.
  • Take time off to spend quality time with family and friends. Vacations are great, and the dairy will still be there when you get back.

Don’t short-change yourself or your family by allowing work to consume you. Life is too short. Be enthusiastic, cheerful, and play the hand dealt you to the best of your ability. Your family, friends, and employees will appreciate you more for the effort.

Paul Johnson is a veterinarian and dairy producer in Climax, Ga.