Be Observant! Be Present!

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Jay Beidel, dairy nutritionist and feed management consultant in Carlisle, Pa.

How simple that sounds, but how complicated it is in reality and practice.

When driving onto the farm, it is important to have a mental presence. Whatever has happened before I enter this farm can't be a distraction because my focus needs to be completely with the current customer. Attention needs to be on his perceptions. When there is a challenge encountered, I need to listen to his concerns and his remarks; however, I have learned that I also need to see the cows.

I have found myself many times actually spending hours simply watching the operation of a farm. I have had ideas what problems may be an issue, only to find after watching the cows and their habits that something else may be the roadblock at that time. The question in mind always is "WHAT HAS CHANGED?" as I ponder the challenge.

For example, one of my client farms obtained hay from a neighbor. Samples were very similar to the farm's own hay supply, so the hay was incorporated in the diet. Within a week, it was clear that something was different. Body scores among the dry cows began to decline and feed intakes dropped. The manure looked like there was a shortage of protein. We noticed that the neighbor's hay was not chopped as finely and consistently as the client's hay. After discussion, the farm owner agreed to replace the knives in the mixer. Immediately, intakes improved. Instead of needing to add protein, the challenge was corrected because of better mixing. Being observant helped to overcome what might have been a train wreck down the road.

Over the years, I have also found that you need to be observant and mentally present when talking with a client, especially when times are tough. I have found myself wearing many hats in this regard. Relationships are developed over the years, and I have found myself rejoicing when the client rejoices and crying when they cry. Empathy is an element that I pray for daily.

I remember one night when the phone rang and I encountered something that I had never encountered before. At the other end was someone who was desperate, someone who was ready to end his life. How do I respond or how would you respond to a suicide call? I have heard of someone else having that call, but now I am the one in those shoes. Why did he call me? What do I say? What will I find in morning with him? Will he trust me in my answer? Fortunately, things worked out OK. But it goes to show that some people are now being stressed by factors beyond their control, and current challenges in the farming industry may lead to things that we have not seen in our lifetimes.

Being observant and mentally present is a prayer for my life as I try to help my clients deal with challenges.

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