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

Marilyn Hershey
I recently ran into a person who told me she sets a “gratitude” alarm on her phone. Four times a day, her phone rings to alert her that it is time to be grateful.

I was not quite sure how to respond to this. Alarms are intended to wake us up, make us stop, or take notice. I never thought about setting an alarm to have grateful thoughts, but if that is her method to accomplish greater positivity and a grateful attitude, then more power to her.

Alarms have been a big part of a dairy farmer’s day since they were invented. Farmers need something to wake us up and get us moving in the morning, most times before the sun comes up.

I am no exception to this. I have used the alarm on my phone many times. Mostly it is set to make sure I wake up at the proper time in the morning. Some mornings, I will hit the snooze button and try to get a few more minutes of rest before I start the day. There are times when I wake up before my alarm goes off, but I make sure it is always set so I have that security.

When my grandson was younger, he would break into a quirky dance every time he heard a particular alarm on our phones. Of course, the family found many excuses to set our alarms, hear that ringtone, and get his reaction.

As I think about this young lady and her thankfulness monitor, I have to admit that this is the appropriate season to sit back and be aware of “gratitude alarms.” The setting of nature and animals that we work with every day make a dairy farm the perfect backdrop for alarms to go off and give us reasons to be thankful. If I pause and take notice of what is around me, the grateful radar goes off several times a day. These are a few of my favorites:

  • A sunrise and sunset are the obvious ones.
  • In our part of the country, the trees changing from green to various arrays of color will always make me pause and take notice.
  • The stars at night are high on my list. There is something so majestic about the nighttime sky sprinkled with stars.
  • Watching a full moon rise above the fields is another eye catcher that will stop me in my tracks.
  • Walking past the huge pile of feed that was harvested weeks before makes me stop and say a prayer of thanks for the silage that was brought in for the cows following the growing season.
  • I always smile when I witness a newborn calf taking its first breath. After the tenth one born in a day, the thankful thoughts are not as evident, but of course, I am still grateful for the birth of a healthy calf.

These can be every day events and sometimes status quo, but they give way to the awe that the nature around us deserves. It is the simple things that I do not want to take for granted: the team of employees that show up and give us a good day’s work; the mentors that have helped Duane and me over the years; the opportunities we have had to expand and improve our business; and the beautiful animals that our farm focuses on day and night.

I am thankful for all of these things and many more, but I also know that the reality of our farms is that there are times when the alarm is hard to hear. It does not take too many years of dairy farming to realize that some years we need to dig deep in the milk pail to find and reflect on the blessings.

I had a dark time during a family situation that was extremely difficult. It happened right before Thanksgiving, which mentally made it more painful. We have a family tradition at our Thanksgiving dinner where we go around the dinner table on that special day and each of us says one thing we are thankful for. That year, I frantically searched through my angry and hurt soul to find a glimmer of thanks to speak of. It was not easy, and I am not sure that what I said was completely honest.

But we made it through that period, and I know I am stronger and I have more grit in spite of the trial. There are times that the positivity radar is weak, and that is okay. The good and the bad are part of the journey.

I know for the past few years, many of us were in that mindset. The political tension, sickness at various degrees, and uncertainty in the dairy industry took its toll.

Amazingly, in the midst of all that uncertainty, I look more to the dairy farm as the consistent grounding that brings me back to center. Our farm, the natural setting where the dairy sits, and the animals give me a daily dose of reasons to pause and be thankful.

Maybe all of the above is why I do not need to set a gratitude alarm. There are plenty of reasons around the dairy farm that ring their thanks, much more often than four times a day.