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farm dog calmly sitting in the path of oncoming skid loader Mindy Ward
STEADY, GIRL: Our farm dog of 14 years, Riley, still serves and protects as she sits between me and a skid loader. She remains calm, just one lesson I learned from her that night.

Stand or surrender? Lessons from my farm dog

As farmers, it’s OK to fight and to forfeit. My dog, Riley, showed me when to do both.

My 125-pound dog was playing chicken with a 6,790-pound Kubota SSV65 skid steer loader driven by my husband.

“Riley, get out of the way,” I yelled. “Riley, come here.” She turned her head, looked at me and then watched as the skid loader headed straight for her. You guessed it; my husband chickened out! He maneuvered around our dog.

You gotta love farm dogs. Most show no fear. They’ve corralled cattle, sorted protective ewes and run off a few salespeople in their time. So, as I watched our chocolate lab lay in the barn before the loud machine, I realized I could learn a few things from my farm dog. Perhaps we all could.

Calm. The noise was booming off the metal roof and walls. A 4-ton machine was scraping manure and our dog did not care.

There is a lot of noise in a farming operation and I’m not talking machinery. No, it’s the weather, the markets and let’s not forget politics. Our reactions can elevate our blood pressure, emotions and even our decisions. Try the farm dog way and remain calm. Even Riley knows eventually the noise turns off.

Stubborn. Riley was not going to move. She was staking her claim. This is her house, and no machine was running her off.

I think farmers need that same resolve when it comes to fighting outside forces such as government regulations and extremist groups. Afterall, this is our home, our land and our livestock. If we don’t stand strong, who will?

Loyal. No matter how big, loud or menacing the foe put before Riley, she was not leaving our side. Actually, our farm dog positioned herself between the machine and me.

There are many things that weigh on our minds — kids, finances, weather, older parents, and the list goes on. If I can remember one thing, it is to remain devoted to what truly matters — family, friends and faith.

Smart. With the final pass, my husband pulled up to Riley, stopped the machine and motioned for her to move from her place in front of me. She turned her head. I smiled. Then she walked away. It was as though she was convinced he wasn’t going to run over me, and it was time to succumb.

As much as I hate to say it, there are times where we need to surrender. We’ve remained calm. We’ve fought. We’ve been protective, but it is all overwhelming. So, there is a time to say, “no.” A time to say, “I need help.” And perhaps even a time to say, “I’m selling the farm.”

I’ve watched too many farmers stand their ground too long. They end up in debt and depressed. Often, they fight so hard they lose themselves and their family. No amount of land or livestock is worth that. Farmer, hear me: You are worth so much more. Just ask your family, friends, or shoot, even your farm dog.

Be willing to yield, for a moment, for a year, for 10 years, but never for forever. Surrendering is sometimes the smartest choice you can make. Not only does it save you, but also it saves those you are trying to protect.

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