It would be a massive understatement to say that this fall has been challenging. Nothing seemed to happen when it should.
We had to bring the cows in from pasture way too early. The combination of several inches of rain and 1,360 hoof steps a day churned both of our pasture-access lanes into the finest mud in the county. For probably the first time ever, I was the one who suggested we close the pasture gates.
We chopped our corn way too late. Don’t get me wrong; I am thankful we were able to chop the corn at all. And I’m more than thankful that it’s all done. But the prospect of feeding corn silage that’s several percentage points too dry makes me queasy. And those couple weeks that we should have been chopping, but weren’t chopping due to rain, felt like some of the most tense ever.
All of the extra rain filled our manure lagoon right up to the top and then some. And, of course, we couldn’t empty the lagoon until the corn was chopped. The manure overflowed into our cow yard, which made keeping the yard clean a monumental challenge. Every day I walked around the back side of the lagoon to see if manure was spilling over into the adjacent wildlife pond.
One afternoon while cleaning the barn, I went to start the manure pump and found the hopper full of water. ‘Oh shoot,’ I thought. ‘The doors gave out and the lagoon water is backing up into the hopper.’ Well, it wasn’t from the lagoon; the water in the hopper was just the extra that had run in through the gutters during the daylong downpour. Whenever we get a good rain, water runs in the front of our barn and fills the gutters.
I find this incredibly ironic, because, as a kid, the same thing happened in our barn. The barn was located just downhill enough for the runoff from the driveway and yard to flow into the barn. Our reference for how much rain fell was whether it was a gutter flooder or not. I still get to use that euphemism today.
We really need to look into better clean water diversion systems – for both our barn and our cow yard.
And now that all of the official fall fieldwork is done, we’re going to Cozumel for a week. Just kidding. In all honesty, we’re just going to try to catch up on all of the other tasks that got postponed – either by fieldwork or mud.
Conditions like the ones we experienced this fall can be seriously stressful. A couple days ago, after the lagoon was finally emptied, I felt like I finally let out the breath I had been holding. But even though I had felt tense for several weeks, I didn’t have any major meltdowns during that time.
I believe there’s something that helped me manage the stress better this fall than past falls – even drier, more timely falls: better breathing.
A couple months ago, my physical therapist gave me a breathing exercise to do as a warm-up before my hip and shoulder exercises.
I start by inhaling slowly through my nose and filling my lungs until I can’t fit any more air inside. The goal is to let the air inside my lungs push my ribs out, like an umbrella opening up. Once my lungs are full, I exhale slowly through my mouth, using the kind of breath you would use to fog up a mirror (not blowing). I exhale until my lungs are completely empty, contracting my lower abdominal muscles to push the air out.
Truth be told, a lot of my physical therapy exercises are boring. But I have come to absolutely love this breathing exercise. I started out doing this exercise on the ground, in fetal position, facing down. (This position keeps my belly from extending during the inhale, which helps stretch my lower back, ribs, and shoulders more.) Now I also do a couple breaths this way when I’m sitting in the tractor, when I’m standing up waiting for a milker to finish, and when I first lie down in bed at night.
Turns out, there’s a scientific reason why I love this way of breathing.
Most people – myself included – don’t completely fill and empty their lungs on a regular basis. We only use a fraction of our lung capacity. This lower capacity, faster breathing never stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, which runs from the brain and branches out to most of the major abdominal organs, is responsible for telling our bodies to chill out and relax. (No slow, deep breathing means no vagus nerve activity means no relaxation.)
When we breathe fully and exhale slowly – even for just 30 seconds or a minute – we send the signal to our bodies to slow down our heart rate and relax. This slowing down helps us feel more calm and less stressed.
If you’re feeling stressed, I encourage you to give this breathing method a try. It’s free, you can do it anywhere, and it doesn’t have any side effects. I hope you find it works as well for you as it has for me.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.