Marilyn Hershey

Rest is one of those things we don’t always talk about. Honestly, I almost feel a twinge of guilt when I do talk about it. I am not convinced that life was always this way.

I remember my dad coming in from the barn for breakfast and as soon as he was finished eating, he would stretch out on the recliner and take a nap. Most times it was a few-minute snooze, just enough time to give his body a boost. When the harvest crew came to harvest crops, the entire crew would take a nap under our maple tree after stopping for lunch.

Duane also had that habit when we were first married, he would take a short nap after eating breakfast. Somehow over the course of time, that hiatus went away and unless he has a hidden couch in the barn that I don’t know about, I would say he stopped taking that morning breather.

Getting up before the sun breaks through is normal for dairy farmers. Cows are demanding creatures and require a lot of time, energy, and physical interaction. They ask more from farmers than a lot of other agricultural animals just because of the fact that they need to be milked two or three times per day.

Interestingly, cows need rest, too.

Science shows us that after they eat feed and drink water, the best thing for them to do is lie down in a stall. It is during this lying time that their bodies are making milk. If they do not have that time of stillness, they do not milk to their potential. It is so peaceful to walk through the freestall barn and see the cows comfortably lying down and chewing their cud.

That peacefulness must come with maturity and making milk. Right now, there is a particular heifer calf at our farm that seemingly never rests. The calf is on constant alert, and its high pitched, squealing bawl changes at least five octaves and lasts for 30 seconds. No, I am not going to demonstrate, I think you get the picture. There is no chance for calmness and tranquility on the farm when this calf is hungry, and it seems that it is hungry every time it sees someone walking around the farm.

The calf’s special pedigree gives it a pass to be loud and obnoxious, but I know everyone on the farm will be happy when it is this calf’s turn to move on to the other heifer pasture. Our neighbors might have a rude awakening, but at least there is letup on the way for our ears.

The calf isn’t the only thing on the farm to get in the way of a nap. The other day it was midday and my morning had started earlier than normal. I was really tired, and I decided to take a 10-minute nap. Years ago, I could do that with minimal interruptions — but no longer.

Now, there is a constant connection in my back pocket. The ding, the vibrate, the constant reminder to check emails, and since it’s open, I should see what’s happening on social media — keep my thoughts rolling. My phone is a constant connection to the world at the end of our farm lane, and some days that is not a positive thing. That day, the instant network to the world made it difficult to shut down and unplug my mind, body, and soul.

I truly believe that our bodies need a workload intermission from time to time. Speaking for myself, those snippets of hesitation are further apart as the pace of life picks up. That means I need to be more intentional in finding rest.

One of the ways that Duane and I try to reset is by taking Sunday a little slower than the rest of the week. We go to church, stick to the farm chores that are necessary, and enjoy more of our day relaxing.

Granted, we have a dairy farm and with animals to care for, we can never count on every Sunday being tranquil, but giving that day a bit of respect does help us reset for the week. I see a difference in my week when I start with a deep breath.

When I don’t listen, my body is really good at letting me know when I have been pushing too hard. There was a particular time that I did not pay attention and found myself being carried in from the calf hutches on a piece of plywood because every move I made threw my back into spasms. I got a lot of time off that I did not want, and that is never easy.

I also want to point out that unplugging in life doesn’t always equate to closing my eyes and sleeping. When our children were younger and we lived off of the farm, I hired a babysitter during the evening milking. That was my alone time. With four young children, time alone was not an option. They were great kids, but they had needs to be met and finding a quiet time alone did not happen. Milking in the evening gave me that time to reflect and balance out my day.

There is no doubt that we have one of the most stressful occupations. Dairy farming in these times does not leave many moments free for us to rest. I am certainly not suggesting that farmers should be stretched out on hay bales and lounging around all day; however, our lives need balance so we can readjust, realign, and recharge.

The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.