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Managing stress: Step up for help

Agriculture is a great way of life, but the stressors can be overwhelming. Don’t let the stress of hog production get too much for you to handle.

Agriculture is a great way of life, whether you’re boots-in-the-barns, the farmer in the field or you find yourself in one of the many allied industries that rely on agriculture. You chose a career in agriculture for a good reason, or maybe it chose you. Regardless, agriculture is a great way to make a living.

That being said, nobody said it would be an easy way to make a living.

You do your best every day to make sure the crop is growing straight and tall, and that your hogs are productive for themselves and you. But, best-laid plans don’t always work out. Hail comes through, aphids chew their way through your soybeans or your pigs get porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome or porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. As a result, crop yields lessen and your pigs start underperforming or worse they die.

The obvious is the toll this takes on your crop and livestock productivity and as a result the negative impact on your farm’s financial standing.

What isn’t so obvious is the physical and emotional toll that the stress of watching pigs die can take on the pig caregiver, manager and owner. People can talk the good talk and put on a good front, but inside it is eating them alive to see pigs die, no matter how much care is given the herd. I’m reminded of a conversation that I had this spring with my dad. Hogs had left the home farm a good decade ago, but just this past spring was the first time that my dad did not put in a crop. As the neighbors and those renting our family’s land were waiting for a dry spell to get the crop in, I mentioned to my dad how at ease he must be not having to worry about getting his crop in. Or how he doesn’t have to worry if a hail storm rolls through and wipes out the crop.

In all his 60-plus years of farming, he claims he never got too worked up about a weather-induced crop failure; that was God’s doing and beyond his control. What he could not stomach was when pigs died. Whether it was TGE, pseudorabies or PRRS or for some unknown reason, when pigs died he says he was burdened by not knowing if he could have/should have done more to save them.

Many producers are shouldering the same feelings whether it’s PRRS or PEDV, and they may feel as though they are alone. That is not the case, or at least they don’t have to be. Pride is a deterrent to farmers seeking help from outsiders; admitting they need help is seen as a weakness. That’s understandable, but it’s not healthy.

Manitoba pork producers have had a spring and summer uptick in PEDV cases, and Manitoba Pork recognizes the emotional strain that puts on pig caregivers. To aid those along the way, Manitoba Pork has spread the word that help is available through the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services. Producers or family members in need of help can call the help line at 866-367-3276 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday or 888-322-3019 any other time.

Though these particular helplines are intended for residents of Manitoba, there are plenty of resources available for producers, regardless where they call home.

Earlier this spring, Michigan State University Extension educator Phillip Durst compiled a list of “Ten tips for tough time in farming” to better help producers face the stressors that occur in farming.

Michigan State University Extension also has created a “Managing Farm Stress” webpage providing producers a number of resources to help them cope with the stressors of everyday farm life.

Most every other land grant university worth its weight will also have a multitude of resources available to help producers and their families through tough times they are experiencing. Today a lot of the larger production systems with human resource departments or personnel will also have access to resources to anyone in need of help.

But, you have to step up and ask for help. Or step forward and sincerely ask your employees how they are doing. Remember, you are not alone, and tell your employees that they also are not alone. Struggles in agriculture are real. Though your struggles may be internalized, it won’t take long before they start affecting your work on the outside.

Be proud, but not too proud to not ask for help.

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