Aug. 20 2021 08:00 AM

Farmers usually have to do a lot more than the average person to prepare for a vacation day away from the farm.

Leaving the farm — whether for an afternoon or for the weekend — requires a lot of preparation. Our young stock and cows rely on a consistent and frequent feeding schedule, so we make sure their routine isn’t disrupted if we’re gone.

Spending a weekend in the city celebrating a wedding, attending the state fair for a day, or just taking a quick road trip are all simple getaways that most people wouldn’t bat an eye at. Many people are able to take a vacation day for those activities or just do them over the weekend.

The reality for those of us living the dairy farmer lifestyle, though, is that leaving the farm — even for an afternoon — is a massive commitment. It can take a great deal of consideration, coordinating schedules, and doing a ton of extra preparation to ensure daily chores are covered while we’re gone, even if it is just a one-day trip somewhere.

Now, I want to be clear. I am not complaining about this situation, but I want to bring it to people’s attention that may not realize the 24/7 mentality and responsibility that comes with being an animal caretaker. The lack of free time and flexibility dairy farmers have is definitely something we choose to sacrifice in order to live out our passion for farming.

My boyfriend, Sam, and I recently took an overnight trip to attend a friend’s wedding in the city. This was the first time we’ve been gone overnight since moving to the farm and jumping back into my family’s dairy farming business about one and a half years ago. Luckily, my parents and brother are more than capable of handling chores if we’re gone, but there is always a feeling of guilt when you take a break from the farm. That’s the kind of deep-lying responsibility we feel toward our animals and chores.

Anyone truly dedicated and immersed in dairy farming knows it can be difficult to take time away from the farm. Our animals are on a strict schedule to ensure they are healthy and comfortable at all times. So, despite our schedules shifting occasionally for off-the-farm obligations, it is vital that our cows’ routine doesn’t change. Feedings and milkings need to be consistent for cows to stay relaxed and comfortable, as cows really dislike surprises and anything different than their established daily routine.

When the time comes for us to be gone for a day or shift our schedules to attend an event, we have to prepare with the cows in mind. This is when having other family members (in my case) or trusted employees is so important. For the things that must get done at the same time every day (such as feeding and milking), we rely on others to cover those tasks when we can’t be there. But that may require extra cleaning and replenishing supplies in the milking facilities or preparation for feeding, like breaking new hay bales to be ready to mix with the ration, fueling the tractor and skid loader, making sure mineral and other feeds are in ample supply, and leaving detailed instructions. This is needed to make sure everything is efficient, straightforward, and manageable for the people covering those chores when we’re away.

My boyfriend, Sam, and I recently took our first overnight trip in one and a half years to celebrate our friend’s wedding in the city.
Other ways we prepare to be gone from the farm include putting fresh bedding down for all the animals, cleaning areas that don’t need attention on a daily basis, updating herd records as needed, and so on. Every farm is different, but there are chores that must be done daily and then there are the other tasks that are done on more of a weekly or as-needed basis that can be handled before we leave or right when we get back.

With all our preparation and instructions ready to go, we took off for a fun-filled weekend wedding celebration with the trust that things were covered on the farm. We were definitely ready to get back to the cows and our schedules when we got home, though. Just like our cows, farmers can appreciate a steady routine; however, every now and then, we need to put in the preparation work and be willing to let others cover chores so we can take a break, reconnect with friends, and recharge.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.