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  • Stress of a Dairy Farmer

    Stress of a Dairy Farmer

    When many people not raised in a rural setting or on a farm think of farming they see the picturesque farmstead, a light mist over a field of green in the morning light, cows making their way to the barn for morning milking, the tractor working the land and the promise of a bountiful harvest.

    Farming can be very rewarding, but it can be hard - extremely, extremely hard.

    Most people don’t think of the daily challenges and dangers that accompany the dairy farming profession.

    Farmers are exposed to a multitude of dangers, such as chemicals, gasses, dust, and mold.  They spend long hours outside exposed to UV rays increasing risk of skin cancer.  Joint damage is very common problem - arthritis and mobility issues plague many farmers. Weather related injuries like frostbite and heat stroke are very common. The biggest dangers are livestock injuries, equipment accidents, and suicide.

    Suicide Rates Among Dairy Farmers

    It may surprise you to know that the suicide rate among farmers is the highest of any other profession.  Farmers in the USA have two times the suicide rate of the general public.  In the UK, one farmer per week takes their life and in France one every two days.  It has been called an international crisis.  The numbers are shocking, but as a farmer, I understand all too well.

    What Causes the Most Stress?

    Farmers are under an enormous amount of stress. It’s a 24/7 job.  Isolation, like most factors that contribute to a farmer’s stress, can be out of their control. 

    Weather, either too much rain, not enough rain, not enough heat and so on, is always a concern.  Fatigue, long hours and exhaustion can mentally wear you down, which in turn can lead to human error contributing to other dangers. There is no vacation pay, no sick days, and when you do arrange time off you have to pay someone to take care of the farm while you are gone.  Financial stress is always there. 

    Farmers are Rich

    Often, we hear the phrase "rich farmer" thrown around.  The only thing most farmers are rich in is debt. We may have big tractors, a fleet of machinery and a barn full of cows, but after all of these things are paid for there isn’t much, if any, left.  One bad year can plunge a farm into huge debt. 

    Asking Other Dairy Farmers for Help

    For the most part, farmers are a little old fashioned.  They are tough, and things like mental illness should not affect them.  It’s a sign of weakness.   lay the blame on ourselves.  We value strength of character to a fault.  Most farmers are very reluctant to ask for help when it comes to mental issues, and decide to suffer alone. 


    My Personal Experience with Stress

    I have been there.  My family suffered for a number of years with stray voltage on our farm.  Our dairy herd was badly affected and not producing well and we were taking on additional debt.  No matter what we did we could not figure out what was going on and once we did we could not find a way to fix it! 

    Despite thousands spent on numerous electricity filters and blockers we saw little improvement.  From time to time, it seemed to go away, but without warning it would return.

    My husband and I suffered alone for the most part; some people blamed us for the problems and others tried to be supportive, but didn’t know how to help.   Although we were definitely depressed, suicide was never in our thoughts, but we have a very strong support system.  We talked about our problems with pretty much anyone who would listen.  We knew we would get through it somehow.  

    We Were Not Alone

    We finally moved our herd to a new farm.  We have seen firsthand what fellow farmers and businesses in a small community are willing to do to help out their own.  The day we moved we had so many farmers show up with cattle trucks we had all cows moved in before noon.  Local businesses showed up with coffee and lunch.  Cattle buyers and farmers turned up with cows!  Just said, “pay me when you can.”   All to help us?  It was a very emotional and humbling time for our family.  That day we knew that we were not alone. We saw the kind of support we had behind us.

    It has not been easy - anything but.  We still struggle to try and rebuild the herd to what it was and gain some financial ground.  I truly believe that talking about our problems helped us get through our darkest times.  A friendly shoulder can relieve a huge amount of stress.  Farmers need to talk about their problems.  Being alone is your worst enemy.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. 

    In my eyes, it is the opposite!

    Do you have your own experience with stress? Connect with me on Facebook and let me know about it. 

    Shannon McFadden • Quality Milk Specialist

    Who better to have as customer support than a dairy farmer? Shannon has been in the dairy business for 18 years. She holds a certificate in Dairy Production and Management from the PennState College of Agricultural Sciences. Together with her husband and children, she operates a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario along with her work at Dairy Quality Inc. She’s an avid advocate of the RT10 and has made the device part of their routine for over 3 years.


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