Marilyn Hershey

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want later.”

This sums up what we do every day on our dairy farms. Now, more than ever, farmers are keenly aware of discipline and decisions. Disbudding calves, fixing a drooping fence, and greasing equipment are a few chores that come to mind when I think of discipline.

A job that is staring me in the face right now is one of my least favorite chores: maintaining the numerous flower beds around the farm.

Some people love working in their flower beds and find it relaxing and therapeutic. I look at the many beds and instantly see an overwhelming chore that takes a lot of time and a habitat that harbors ticks.

However, if I do not take care of it early, weeds will take over and the eyesore will be daunting. This particular discipline is not highest on my priority list, but it is one that needs attention more often than not. It is also one that is better tended to on a more regular basis than left to do once and a while.

Registering calves is another chore that is daunting if left unattended. When the children were younger and life was full of sweet chaos, the registration job did not get the proper attention until it was a huge undertaking. Thankfully, the Holstein Association was helpful in getting us caught up and back on the right track. If my registration discipline is in full focus, the animals are registered within a month or six weeks at the longest.

It feels great to be disciplined and caught up with daily chores. It is not a great feeling to play catch-up.

The other day I was reading a book about discipline. The author mentioned that distractions and a lack of focus are two roadblocks that keep us from reaching our goals.

Although I wholeheartedly agree with him, this made me smile. Distractions are part of everyday life on a farm. The birth that requires help is never at a convenient time, equipment needs constant oversight, and the unpredictable and changing weather interrupts our chores. Farmers have to be flexible.

I have never been properly tested, but I am fairly certain that a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) goes with my creative side. Focus is always difficult, and it takes more intentionality to stay the course. I guess that is why staying disciplined is a win for me, even for little things.

A personal area I decided to become more disciplined in is my overall health. A number of years ago, I had a bone density test to document or measure my risks of osteoporosis. The test showed that I was clearly heading down the same path as my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

This was not a shock to me. I am at least 2 inches shorter now than when I was in high school, but this test result concerned me. Watching my mother suffer from osteoporosis and poor bone density has not been fun. She is phenomenal and does amazingly well for her nearly 90-year-old frame, but she has struggled with bone strength for decades and has several surgeries to show for it. Knowing that she suffered uncharacteristically at my current age made me look at my lifestyle, health choices, and the lack of discipline.

I heard from several people that strength training is good for bones and building mass to offset osteoporosis. I decided to give it a try.

Losing a few pounds was also on my radar. I started a journey with a fitness trainer; this is someone who watches over the food I eat and the strength exercises I do each week. It has taken me to a new level of discipline. I have to constantly remind myself that I am working toward a long-term goal, and that my short-term decisions matter more than ever.

My trainer, Emily, is forgiving, but she reminds me of my goals and makes me think through the importance of paying attention. She also recognizes the value that dairy brings to bones, muscles, and overall health. Encouraging a dairy farmer to take advantage of all dairy products is like hearing the hallelujah chorus.

I have always prioritized and understood the value of dairy in a diet, but I never followed my intake so intentionally. Of course, dairy is not the only food group that I prioritize. All of the macros, carbs, fat, and protein are important, but I pay special attention to my favorite protein, which is dairy.

Last month, I had the chance to participate in a health screening, and a bone density test was part of the evaluation. I eagerly anticipated the results, and I was thrilled and slightly shocked that the test showed significant progress in my bone density. My previous test showed that I was moderate to high risk for osteoporosis, while the latest test came back at a low risk.

Is it the strength training? Is it the dairy products? I would stand behind the fact that it is a combination of both. One thing is sure, it takes a constant reminder from Honest Abe to keep my discipline in check.

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