Sometimes I listen to the Growing Farms podcast, and recently the host had a couple episodes discussing burnout and new farmers, as well as divulging his personal experience with it this summer. New farmers want so badly to succeed that they will give and give and give and give, so much to the point that they don’t know which way is up anymore. Feelings of physical and mental exhaustion, mental chaos, lack of control and order, and constant striving towards succeeding but never feeling like you are getting there. It felt so comforting to hear such honesty and real out in the open discussion about this topic, and I choked back my tears because I realized I have hit burnout too. It hit me last summer. It’s been a very hard 5 years. I’ve held it inside, but it is time to come clean in hopes it will help me work through this.
What is “Burnout”? According to Wikipedia, burnout is ” a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. Burnout has been assumed to result from chronic occupational stress (e.g., work overload)…The symptoms of burnout are similar to those of clinical depression; in a study that directly compared depressive symptoms in burned out workers and clinically depressed patients, no diagnostically significant differences were found between the two groups: burned out workers reported as many depressive symptoms as clinically depressed patients. Moreover, a study by Bianchi, Schonfeld, and Laurent (2014) showed that about 90% of burned out workers meet diagnostic criteria for depression, suggesting that burnout may be a depressive syndrome rather than a distinct entity. The view that burnout is a form of depression has found support in several recent studies.”
Parents burnout, employees burnout, relationships burnout. I have and continue to soldier through, trying my best to summon my strength to battle through this burnout. But honestly, just admitting it feels relieving. It does NOT mean I will quit farming, but I had to take a look at what was causing this. That was and is very hard, and has added to my depressed feelings. It’s not the work, it’s not the animals, it was the general feeling on the farm. And what is causing that is a private matter that I won’t be discussing right now.
At 7 this morning, I went to go check on the cows, and I heard a moo, which is rather unusual now that the herd is settled in here. I came up the hill and saw Ochre looking at something curiously, I couldn’t see what it was until I got further up the hill. Lola and Nillo were standing there with Ochre, and I saw Boon and Ruby eating on the alfalfa round, was Clementine on the other side of the 1200 lb bale, eating? I watched for her horns rising above the bale, and then panic hit, was she somewhere hidden, calving? I scanned the area, still climbing the rise, and glimpsed a red flash between the goldenrod. Oh my god, she’s laying there, she must be having her calf. Last night at 9:30 when I went up for nighttime check, she hadn’t looked any different and was wandering the hill grazing with her herd. I had noticed a change in her belly, it wasn’t hanging as low which I read meant the calf might have been getting into position in the birth canal. But I saw no evidence last night of her going into labor.
As I got closer though, things didn’t look right. She was completely still, and her legs were stiff and sticking out straight, I circled her and saw that her eyes were dilated. She was dead. She had died between my last check the night before and the 7am check, and I just………..could not believe what I was seeing. My stomach lurched, my eyes filled with tears, I felt like I was going to pass out. My sweet girl. She died the most horrible death, and her baby died in her too. I saw a hoof tip right at the entrance. Was the calf alive? I ran as fast as I could to the house and grabbed a knife and started back to the pasture, sobbing and trembling, then realized I couldn’t handle doing a ceasarean on a dead cow. I ran back and texted my neighbor who is a vet tech whether there was any chance the calf could be alive in there, and googled it while I waited to see if she had gotten my message. Jess called me back right as I read there is basically a 5 minute window to get a calf out when a cow dies. Oh this poor poor poor cow. Poor poor poor baby calf. Jess confirmed this 5 minute window and let me cry and blubber and then we talked about what do I do now. She suggested letting the other cows have some time to say their goodbyes and then move them away from the body. She even found a rendering service contact for me.
I contacted them and they picked up her body a couple hours later. I had to go move the electric fence around her body so the service had clear access. And that’s when my burnout really started to hit me hard. What am I doing? Sobbing, I moved the electric fence over her just feeling absolutely heartbroken. The renderer guy told me about 2/3rds of the dead cows he picks up are calving deaths. This doesn’t comfort me, it makes me question every thing I am doing with animals. And we as humans. Then again, I know in nature animals choose to get pregnant, to procreate. This is THE main motive for animal-kind, to continue on. If there are complications in the birthing, the mother will die. There’s just no way around it. But that’s where I do start to feel even more awful. Clementine was under my care, she is a domesticated species, not a wild thing running in the woods. She would eat out of my hands, although wouldn’t let me touch her. She had been so healthy and vibrant. Oh my poor poor girl. I will miss you and I hope your time here was pleasant, and that you are now resting in peace.
This has been a very hard past few days for me. Ups and very down down downs. I just went out to hug on my little Lola for a while tonight, and even MayMay came up and rubbed her head on my knees as I cried.