Two of Glen's cousins, brothers Kerry and Kory, farm together, yet separately, on the same farm. Kerry has his own cows, housed on one side of the barn, and Kory has his own cows, housed on the other side of the barn. The holding area is divided in half and Kerry's cows are milked on one side of the parlor, Kory's on the other. They divide the milk check based on DHIA test weights. The set-up seems to work very well for the brothers.

Recently, I heard a story about a husband and wife who each have their own cows, as well. Except the cows are housed and milked on two separate farms about a mile apart. Why? I don't know for sure. But I can understand why this couple chooses to farm separately. Farming with someone you love can be incredibly challenging.

As my high school track coach used to tell us during practice, "If it doesn't kill you, it'll make you stronger." Overcoming the challenges of farming with someone you love can cement a relationship into an unbreakable bond.

But first you have to survive. I will never forget our first summer farming together. Our relationship was put to the test more times in those first five months than it had been in the five years we'd been together. We came from significantly different farming backgrounds; farming together was our first major lesson in learning to compromise. We also went from sharing only our evenings and weekends together to working together nearly every hour of every day. We had our first, and only (to date), real fight the morning Annie delivered our first set of twin heifer calves. I named them Hope and Pray.

Speak clearly

Communication, for various reasons, is often the place relationships break down.

For example, most conversations on the farm are held over the drone of an engine, pump or fan of some sort. Or, the two people talking (yelling?) are at opposite ends of the barn.

The conversation goes something like this:

Wife asks: "Do I need to feed the dry cows yet?"

Husband hears: "Did you feed the dry cows yet?"

Husband responds: "No," because the dry cows haven't been fed yet.

Wife hears: "No," and goes to the house because the rest of her chores are finished and husband said he already fed the dry cows.

Notice that there was only a slight difference between what the wife said and what the husband heard, but the end result of the conversation was huge: husband comes into the house later, annoyed, and says to wife, "I thought you were going to feed the dry cows."

Wife replies: "You said they were already fed."

Husband: "No, I didn't."

Wife: "Yes, you did."

And you can about imagine how the rest of their evening went.

How did this happen? Husband most likely only heard the last five words - feed the dry cows yet - and, instead of asking for clarification, assumed what the question was.

And we all know what happens when someone assumes - they make an ASS out of U and ME. (Pardon the language, but I first heard the expression from my high school physics teacher (who was also my track coach); since he deemed it appropriate, and important enough, for the chalkboard, it bears repeating here.)

Please note that this sort of miscommunication has happened a million times between Glen and me and I've been guilty of the assumption just as many times as he has. Know, too, that these miscommunications are not limited to husbands and wives; they occur in all partnerships.

Speak up

We were lucky enough to hear Dr. Ron Hanson, a professor of agricultural economics from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, speak about farm family communication a couple years ago at a conference. Dr. Hanson offered the following during his presentation, "The Unspoken Words".

Many times in a family farming operation, the efforts and contributions of individual family members are quite easily taken for granted. Too often the hectic pace, the burdensome workload, and the numerous stresses of the farm business prevent family members from expressing their actual feelings and need for each other. All too often individuals involved in a family farming operation (or even in a farm marriage) have the definite feeling of being "taken for granted" by others.

It is not that these words of appreciation are not meant, but rather that they are often never expressed or shared between family members farming together. Yet even the simplest expressions, "I love you," "I need you," or "I appreciate you" are often left unsaid between these family members. Sadly enough, these words are sometimes said too late and the other person is no longer there to hear them.

It takes a real effort and commitment to express and share personal feelings between family members farming together. Everyone needs to know that someone else cares about you and worries about you. Sharing a few simple words of appreciation and love can make a dramatic difference in any farm family relationship.

Being that it's Valentine's Day and the status of your relationship is on the top of your mind, give some consideration to the maintenance of your marriage (or partnership): be willing to compromise, ask for clarification, communicate your feelings and be courteous - it's amazing how the use of such courtesies as 'please' and 'thank you' decreases in direct proportion to the number of years a couple has been married.

And if you're still trying to figure out what to get your honey for Valentine's Day, may I suggest a hug and a kiss and these ten words: "I love you, I need you and I appreciate you." Just remember to say it more than once a year.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn., with help from their 3-year-old son, Dan, and their infant daughter, Monika. When she's not farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks[at]meltel.net.