Burnout and one of the worst days

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.[5] 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.[6] The view that burnout is a form of depression has found support in several recent studies.[7][8][9]

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.



16 thoughts on “Burnout and one of the worst days

  1. Oh, crap, girl….. I cried with you on this one.
    I was weeding outside into the dark, thinking to myself, wonder how Khaiti and her cows are doing, come into the house, check the phone, and here is this post…. 😦 So so sorry for you and the cows.
    I am truly amazed by your beautiful sensitivity, your thinking that wild animal would have better chance at surviving. Perhaps, perhaps not. I almost feel like there should be support groups for good farmers like you, for grieving when animal is lost – probably they do, horse owners are very attached to their animals. For many farmers, unfortunately, it is just part of business and financial loss..
    Burn out, yes, totally agree. I am completely burned out with my office job and my marriage, and I am unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), giving up on both, a quitter…
    I hope things look up for you soon. Stay well. Hugs.

    1. your comment made ME cry, I so appreciate your kind words and commiseration and I thank you for the gift of your friendship. I hope you work through your times and hang in there, but also do what you need to do. Big

  2. Oh Khaiti, tears and a lump in the throat for me too. What an awful thing to happen to that poor cow, her calf, and you. It doesn’t help for me to say this, because you already know – try not to beat yourself up over it, or blame yourself. Whatever happened, it just happened. Think of all the cows that die that miserable death in unpleasant conditions, or in confinement. She was in the kind of environment Highlands love, and she was free and with her own kind. If it had to happen, it happened in that good place, with a loving caregiver.

    I heard that podcast, and it resonated for me too. Maybe there’s something in the air because a lot of bloggers seem to be experiencing burnout just now. Me too, but it’s a comfort to know there’s so many of us – misery loves company as they say. I found the podcast encouraging in some ways because the end result for John is that he is taking steps to change things for the better in regards to balance of his life priorities. It’s something all of us need to take care of sometimes.

    1. Oh Dawn, thank you. She was in a beautiful place surrounded by her herd, and I think she was very happy while we shared time together. Burnout, boy I am getting lots of commiseration on this topic, and not just for farming folks. I think maybe we overextend ourselves too much, or have too high of expectations of ourselves maybe? I agree, he ended that episode very well in encouraging self-care and proactive attention to the signs of Burnout. Thanks for being a part of y life and for all your awesomeness. (ps I used the rosemary salt on one of my Bubsters and it was divine!! Gonna try the smokey maple one on grilled zucchini slices next, those are such wonderful salts!!)

  3. Oh my…I woke up this morning and checked my emails. I was excited to see a new post. Started reading about the burnout and kept nodding my head in approval (yes, yes that’s usually how it goes…) and then the news hit. I actually had to re-read from “Today at 7am…” I wasn’t sure how recent this was… if it was still from the podcast… I read it slower and started crying. I cannot imagine what I would do if I were in your shoes, when I had a total melt down as I found lice on most of the chickens last summer, and I threw my hands in the air, crying and saying I failed them and I give up on this… I am praying for you and I am so sorry to hear about your loss.

    1. Oh Laura, thank you for your kind words, it was one of the worst days and experiences of my farming life. I’ve felt so lucky to have such a beautiful and proper start with my cows, and then this tremendous heartache. But I will keep on, I absolutely love them so much. This was completely out of my hands but it still will always linger in my mind as a failure.

  4. I’m so very sorry to hear about your sweet Clementine and her unborn calf. Heartbreaking experiences like that can stop me in my tracks and make me think what the hell am I doing thinking I can be a farmer! But I have to remind myself that it is all part of the circle of life. Bad things happen to good people/good animals. It doesn’t make it any less hard or sad, but knowing that people like us are out there taking amazingly good care of domestic animals makes it worth it.
    My heart goes out to you. Hang in there and remember you are doing a good thing in spite of how hard farming can be physically and mentally.

    1. thank you so much, everytime I go watch the cows I am refilled with hope and love. And my duckies are doing AWESOME, things will work out. I appreciate all of the wonderful folks who are taking a moment to give moral support, it really helps me so much!!!

  5. I am thinking of you here on my own little patch of earth and I’m sending you my kindest thoughts, and wish you the strength to weather this and learn what your life is teaching you with the challenges in your path. Your path is true and good—and tough is for learning and becoming stronger. Every time I lose an animal I question everything I do, and when I start to feel better I actually realize that it is a healthy thing to be able to do that, question what you do and how you do it especially when you have living things under your care. That it is the only honest way to live. Good luck !

    1. Caring so much means you might hurt more sometimes. Thank you dear one, All of these nuggets of wisdom, I might be writing this whole comment down and posting in the bathroom!

  6. So sorry to hear that, Khaiti. I know that feeling of questioning, What am I doing??? But don’t let that turn into beating yourself up. I hope you find peace soon.

  7. There is a lot in this post. Too much for a simple comment. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry to say I have been there. I may respond more later but I suspect it will be lengthy. Maybe I should post on my own blog for once…

  8. Oh Khaiti. I saw this when you posted it on facebook and my heart sank. I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you how sorry I am, but you do have my deepest and sincere sympathy. I you my I know how much you love your animals, I’m very sorry for Clementine, her baby and for you. I heard John’s podcast too. Brave to admit what we must all feel sometimes. There is comfort, I think, in knowing we’re not alone. All best wishes for peace and blessings on you and your farm.

    1. Thank you Bill, I am just focusing on doing my best for my cows here now, They challenge me and push me to my edge, or that might be the fencing actually!! But I love them so much, they provide me with a great sense of fufillment, and these hard times are humbling, but how we learn too.

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