Sometimes the endless, seemingly inconsequential details of running a dairy operation can be overwhelming. There are so many steps involved in twice or more daily tasks that we do that explaining it to others is tricky.
    When our family took a recent Saturday away to see my family at my brother and sister-in-law’s lake cabin, I asked a friend to feed calves. I made a detailed list so she would know what to do. It included how to cool the milk in the pasteurizer, how much milk each calf receives, watering instructions, how much calf feed, bedding, which calf might not be eating well and what to do about that, which ones get hay, how to clean and sanitize bottles and buckets, and setting the pasteurizer for the next feeding, etc.
    Calf feeding went well for my substitute. She knows calves and replied to my text about how things went with, “Calves are happy and full.”
    The work I do on our farm and in our farmhouse can feel like many small tasks that don’t have a lot of value when I have finished each day. And what isn’t done is still there to try and get to in the days ahead. The tasks fill my days, especially in the summer when there’s more to take care of outside. It can be frustrating and a bit disheartening if you let your attitude defeat you.
    No doubt people everywhere, no matter the type of work they do, feel the pressure of the long line up of items to accomplish. This is likely why there are so many materials available to help us get more done in more efficient ways. I’m guessing there are people who profit by selling the self-help concept of better organization, time management and the key steps in doing more with less, for example. This type of inspiration can help, although keeping a larger goal at the forefront is also needed.
    I never look at my horoscope, though for some reason I read it one day when glancing at the comics in the paper on our table. It said, “Virgo: The work feels like a grind because it is. But at least it’s a grind that matters, as it feeds and fortifies you and others. This gets harder before it gets easier, but heavenly forces will come to your aid.”
    That one certainly hit close to home with the thoughts I had been having lately. I had been discouraged with no time to plan for big picture changes that we might possibly want to pursue for our operation in the years to come. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get all of the cow, calf, heifer, crop and business management chores done, much less try to have a meeting to ponder what we may want to consider to make our dairy farm suitable for future owners to operate.
    This horoscope tidbit gave me some hope that all of these small endless tasks are not for naught. Every tiny task that goes on in our farming, household and business management day adds up. We can do small things to improve what we have, and it keeps the operation going for now. What we do each day contributes to healthy and delicious food to ultimately sustain others. The work and the lifestyle also sustains us because it is our calling. Honestly, it has taken me a lifetime to figure that out, and I often forget. I have to do a lot of praying, positive self-talk and deep thinking to remember what the larger picture is when mired in work.
    It is best to focus on doing the humble, kind, necessary things to make animals and people happy. Just doing small things every day can bring us closer to the larger goals. It’s important to keep that in mind and be content.
    It is also good to take short mental breaks to appreciate the place where I am. I can notice the cows grazing on the grass outside the calf barn, the line up of young cows with full, beautiful udders, and the recently planted field of sorghum and pearl millet that is pushing up lush and green having had just enough rain. There are tomatoes ripening in the garden and maybe a few pole beans to pick and potatoes to dig in the late summer. Some of my most favorite perennials are blooming now in the patch of flowers between the house and barn. I can admire them when I go past and maybe tug a couple of weeds out as well. Here goes trying not to be overwhelmed with all there is to do and realizing it is OK to accomplish only what is essential. If I do that, maybe I can take a tiny step toward a larger goal each day as well.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.