I use my smartphone a lot. I use it to take pictures, manage social media, check the weather, monitor school happenings, and keep in touch with family and friends. My phone is on 24/7.
Every once it a while, my phone starts to act a little glitchy. The keyboard doesn't slide up like it's supposed to, a text message won't send, or an app won't open.
The first time my phone acted up, I got a little worried. But then I realized that all I need to do is shut my phone off for a little while. When I turn it back on, everything works the way it's supposed to.
Dairy farmers are a lot like smartphones. We're smart. We're incredibly capable of performing multiple tasks at the same time. The variety of work we can do is astounding: from veterinary care to machinery maintenance to financial planning to growing crops. Most of us are on call 24/7.
And, every once in a while, we start to act a little glitchy. We forget things, we make mistakes, or we get grouchy.
Many of us operate in this glitchy state for so long without rebooting that we begin to think this behavior is normal.
Unfortunately, it's not as easy to reboot a dairy farmer as it is to reboot a cell phone. But it is possible. Often, it doesn't require shutting down as much as it requires reconnecting with others, although time away from the farm does help.
We rebooted ourselves last week with a short trip to the Central Plains Dairy Expo. Our nutritionist has been encouraging us to attend the expo in Sioux Falls, S.D., for several years. We gave it some serious thought last year, but then Glen went down with influenza in mid-March and spent the rest of the month recuperating.
So this year we said we were going to make it happen. And we did.
The trip to Sioux Falls was great. We had a lot of fun at the concert and reception on Tuesday night. We enjoyed the trade show on Wednesday. But the best parts of the trip were all of the conversations with our dairy friends.
Some of those friends live far away, so we don't get to see them as often as we'd like. Some of those friends live just down the road. We got to joking that we all had to drive four hours to catch up with each other.
One of the comments that surfaced in those conversations, especially with friends from larger farms, is that it must be a lot of work for us to get away.
Does it take some extra effort to be gone? Yes, it does, but that effort is an investment in our well being. We realize how critical it is to step away from our multitasking for a while and reboot.
The year we started dairy farming, Glen's sister and four of his cousins got married. Those weekends away provided much-needed breaks from what had become an all-consuming way of life.
Those weekends also taught us a valuable lesson: The farm will go on even when we're gone. The cows will get milked. The calves will get fed. Not every job will get done exactly the way we would do it, but in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't matter. Life is too short to control every detail.
I used to leave pages and pages of chore notes behind when we left for trips. Do you know how many chore notes I wrote out before we left for Sioux Falls? None. Not one single sheet. We did leave some basic information, like the ration ingredients and a diagram of all the calves to feed, but that was it.
It helps that Glen's dad and brother were the ones mixing and feeding for us; they're here often enough to know how we normally do things. And our relief milker is here every Wednesday night, so it only takes a quick text message to bring him up to speed on which cows calved or how many switch cows there are.
Essentially, we've learned that getting away can be as simple or as complicated as we make it.
For our good friends, Nate and Bridget, getting away doesn't even need to be an overnight trip. A day trip is sometimes all they need to reboot.
Nate called shortly after we got home from Sioux Falls and said they'd like to get off the farm and come visit for the day.
In the past, I would have thought, "Oh boy, my house is way too messy for anyone to visit." Maybe your house is different, but ours looks like a warpath immediately after a trip.
Now I understand, though, that time with friends doesn't require a clean house. Again, having company can be as simple or as complicated as we make it.
What matters is the conversation, the being together in the here and now. We can communicate all we want via phone, text message, or social media, but there's nothing like face-to-face communication.
We can provide that opportunity for friends and family to reboot even if the house is a disaster.
After our little get-away to the Central Plains Dairy Expo and our day with Nate and Bridget, it's clear that Glen and I are both feeling less glitchy and more recharged.