For the past seven years, I have volunteered at the Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair. When I get there, I promptly plop myself next to the calf pen, which is normally swamped with people.
One of the reasons I love manning this area of the barn is that everyone reacts with incredible wonder upon seeing a newborn calf. There are always a few people who ask me how many times I’ve seen the birth of a calf, and if it ever gets old. I always respond with, “I’ve seen hundreds, and it never gets old.”
In that moment, viewers get just a little bit of insight into what it feels like to be a dairy farmer. That feeling of wonder you get when the corn comes up despite the lack of rain. The pride you feel when changing a ration brings milk production up, or you build a new barn and every cow immediately lays down in their new stalls.
The unadulterated joy of watching a calf take its first steps.
This week I attended the Dairy Experience Forum, which convenes members of the dairy industry to share insights and provide thought provoking presentations. At the end of this virtual meeting, we listened to a presentation by Harris III, who is a magician turned motivational speaker.
He said something that resonated with me: Life often makes us lose our sense of child-like wonder.
Wonder, as in the way that a little kid looks at you when you play peek-a-boo and they don’t yet understand object permanence. That feeling that fills you when it rains after months of drought, and you just want to dance in it. The way that someone feels after witnessing the miracle of life for the first time.
According to Harris, “Worry is a misuse of imagination. And it happens when our wonder is crushed by the world.” We turn the part of our brain that was once devoted to imagining the bright future ahead into a worry machine.
Dairy farming sometimes makes us lose our wonder, whether it’s because of volatile markets, a drought, or just an overall rough year. These lows really stick with us, because we love the highs so much. But there is another thing that Harris said that I think applies: “When you lose your why, you lose your way.”
For many of us, our why is that wonder. We love caring for cows, and we love caring for people through the nutritious products we produce. And, we love the way doing those things successfully makes us feel. It makes us feel wonderful.
Don’t let worry hijack your wonder. Here is another bit of advice from Harris: “Value the idea of ‘wow’ over the idea of ‘how.’” It’s ok to worry sometimes, but rather than dwelling on how things are going to get done, get them done, and then dwell on the “wow” that comes after.
There were a lot of topics I could've written about this week, but after I watched his presentation, I had to write this. I was focusing on the how: How are we going to get out of this pandemic? How am I going to go back to school in the fall? How is life going to return to normal?
But then I was reminded of the wow, and it helped me adjust my perspective. So, when you’re stuck in a drought, watch the sunrise. When it rains too much, sit and listen to the sound of the rain drops, or go out and watch the lighting. Try to focus on the “wow,” even in uncertain times. Watch the birth of a calf and remember how astounding it really is.
Abbie Cox grew up in Cato, N.Y. on a first-generation dairy farm and currently attends Cornell University as a member of the class of 2021, ma-joring in animal science with a minor in education and a focus in dairy. On campus, she is involved with the Cornell Uni-versity Dairy Science Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and is a Peer Adviser with CALS Student Services. Cox has interned with the MILC group, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and is the 2020 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial intern.