When I was very young, I loved dragging our old German shepherd dog, Princess, to the top of big alfalfa haystacks piled along the cattle manger near the milk barn in the wintertime.
After I had fed the baby calves and gathered eggs, I would plop down on my back into the hay and hold the dog near me to stay warm. As the dusk turned into darkness, I could see my breath seeping up into the black, starlit sky. I could hear my dad in the barn, talking to the cows as he finished milking for the night.
Below me, a few of the cows already were munching their supper near the manger. Coyotes howled near the creek. Barn cats meowed because they were hungry for milk. Laying hens clucked as they settled in to roost for the evening. I knew that in a minute or two, Dad would be climbing to the top of the haystack to pitch hay down to the cows.
Everything I knew and loved was there in that stack or very nearby. It was familiar, and the nightly experience, as I recall it today, was relaxing and comforting. Those evenings in the haystack helped me overcome all the challenges and rigors of a hard half-day in kindergarten.
As we grow older, our days of relaxing in the haystack become less and less. The rigors of the day on the farm grow more and more. However, it occurs to me now that we need those moments of pure contentment and relaxation more than ever when we are busy adults trying to operate a farm or ranch.
Some farmers take their greatest enjoyment from the harvest season, combining 300-bushel-per-acre corn on a sunny, calm day, when the machine and everything about the harvest operation is working in sync with the world. Of course, there are years — maybe decades — when that fantasy harvest day does not occur at all.
Other farmers enjoy checking calves in the spring, fixing fence down by the creek, or watching wildlife pass through their land. If you hunt, fish or trap, you gain a tremendous amount of satisfaction from those endeavors.
I personally enjoy all the aforementioned forms of relaxation, along with that great, warm feeling I receive from finishing chores for the day and sitting in my easy chair in the living room on a cold, snowy winter night — only to doze off to a lopsided NBA game on TV.
Then, to top it off, I may wake up in time for the nightly weather report before heading to bed. That is truly rest and relaxation. I encourage all farmers to take time, in whatever form that may be for each individual farm family, to regenerate.
We hear a lot these days about regenerative agriculture. Mostly, we are talking about building soil health and protecting natural resources, while making a living from the land. But winter also is a time when many farmers need to take a break from worries and challenges.
Go to a high school ballgame and cheer on the home team. Take the family on a weekend vacation. Take your spouse out for dinner and actually go inside the restaurant to eat your meal instead of heading to the drive-thru like you usually do, while on your way to pick up parts. Go ice fishing or ice skating or play ice hockey, whichever activity you prefer.
Take every opportunity you can to regenerate your physical and mental well-being as you prepare your operation for the hope that a new growing season always brings.