Uncontrollable factors, such as unpredictable weather, untimely equipment breakdowns, and the dairy market, cause stress for dairy farm families. This stress is a physical response to perceived threats to the family’s well-being. Since our brains do not recognize the difference between psychological or physical threats, our bodies compound the results of fatigue, injuries, feed wagon breakdowns and a milk check that doesn’t cover all the bills.
While we all react differently to stress, some common symptoms of chronic stress include changes in a person’s sleep patterns, fluctuation in a person’s weight, fatigue, restlessness, and physical health conditions such as headaches, ulcers, or high blood pressure.
Maybe more important is how stress effects our relationships at work and with our family. The popular press is full of suggestions to decrease stress: exercise, reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption and getting enough sleep. However, there several things we can to in our enterprise management that can also help to change perspective and but some control back into the hands of the dairyman.
First, if you don’t have an advisory group, create one. The obvious members are your veterinary, nutritionist, banker and key managers and family members who are involved with the dairy. I’ve also seen the family’s pastor, peers in the local dairy community and Extension specialists included. Regular monthly meetings give each member the opportunity for input and identifying emerging issues. Trust is key. Each has to understand the confidentiality of the discussion and know their opinion is valued. The real value is then acting on the suggestions as a group.
Second, create and use a farm plan. The most important word in the previous sentence is “use”. It’s not just a way to prevent expenditures, but includes evaluating production practices, marketing and risk management. While many producers don’t use a risk management tool, they are available and useful. The new Farm Bill’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program permits participation in both DMC and Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy (LGM) on the same production. In addition, the new Dairy Revenue Protection (D-RP) can be used with DMC. The DMC program is vastly improved from the old MPP under the 2014 Farm Bill and when combined with LGM coverage, should be considered by every dairyman, no matter how many cows they milk.
Third, look up and be proactive. With December Class III at around $13.85, the average for the year will be close to $14.60, the lowest average of the past four years. 2019 forecast seems to be more of the same barring changes in exports and domestic consumption- maybe $16.00 milk later in 2019. Start talking early to your banker, feed mill and equipment dealer, before you’ve missed payments. Most of the time they would rather make an arrangement then lose money calling an account.
Finally, every farm needs to have an exit strategy, I harp on this a lot. Setting a point where the owners no-longer will accept equity loss and will exit the industry or reallocate resources to another enterprise.
The easiest route is to do nothing and hope things resolve themselves. Unfortunately, that hardly ever works, and with the milk markets the way they are right now, it is unlikely to happen in this situation.
Remember, there is life after the cows leave the barn.
You have resources, so consider how else they can be used. Can you raise heifers, finish dairy steers or convert to a cow/calf operation. Often, a conversation with someone who has gone through an “exit” can be helpful. Sometimes bringing others into the conversation can help you think of something that you may never have considered on your own. It might be that even your Extension dairy specialist can be helpful.
Sometimes things are just too difficult. If someone asks if everything is OK, don’t be offended; they are asking because they are concerned, they may even have had the same experience. However, you might need professional help. Professional help can include your family physician or health care provider, a mental health professional, or a support group. The most devastating outcomes result from doing nothing.