Dairy Farmer's Journal: Stress Relief

By Kathleen M.Tenpas (Kathleen) on March 31, 2010

Farming, along with the rest of the economy, has taken a big hit this past year. As dairy farmers, we saw prices for milk that were identical to those we received in 1980. Feed prices soared, gas and fuel prices were high. The stress levels on farms became explosive resulting in some very tragic events. Farm magazines are full of articles on battling stress. Stan and I read them and nod, yes, these things can be helpful, but we have developed our own methods of stress relief.

I think if you talked to the people around here, they would tell you that Stan and I are good people, steady, helpful, honest. But then, they would probably look to one side and say, “They can be a bit different.” We’ve always marched to a slightly different drummer. Our stress release practices can be used as examples of what I mean.

Take 1995, for instance, a dry, dry year. It didn’t rain for most of the summer. It was dry for so long that when it did rain, our young Border Collie was stunned by the dog looking back at her from a mud puddle, a new experience for her.

There was a lot of time between hay cuttings, time to go over the equipment, catch up on all those chores that wait for down time, but eventually all that gets caught up, and you start looking at how much empty space is waiting in the hay mow, and how hollow the silo still sounds. I’m not sure you could say it was really done as a plan, but on one of those warm dry days, we decided to build some fences along the drive on the east side of the house to plant some of the antique roses we’d found below the barn. Stan got some 4x4 posts, dug the holes and set them, nailed boards to the posts. He got out his ‘lawn tractor’, an old International 268 backhoe and we dug the roses out of the rock pile below the barn. Some of the plants were so old that they had roots like small trees. It was a year of drought, you will recall, and we were transplanting these babies in the middle of the summer. I hadn’t yet acquired a garden hose, so spent the rest of the summer hauling 3 gallon pails full of water from the milk house across the yard, everyday. A definite stress releaser. Over the years since the first fences, we have added three more along the road. Since the second year the roses were out where people could see them (the first year that they bloomed), we have had strangers pull around our drive way or pause along the edge of the road to look at them.2010-03-31/Kathleen/751b65

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The year after that first fence building, we had a really wet year. There was lots of hay that year, the trick was getting it out of the field dry. As we had gone to more haylage, it was not all bad. You can chop haylage a lot sooner than you can bale dry hay. The silos filled up fast, but there was still a lot of down time. We had hired the son of friends for the summer, and to keep him and Stan busy, Stan decided to build me some rock gardens. This farm is blest with an ample supply of very large rocks, both in field and wood and in a small rock quarry down along the creek. Most of the big stones that went in the walls of the rock beds came from the area of the quarry. Stan and the hired boy would go down and haul up a trailer load, with one in the bucket on the loader tractor, and then set them and holler to have me come and approve. They built them, and I filled them between showers.

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Fast forward to 2005, another very very dry year. The fall before, Stan had built a machinery shed out by the southeast curve of the drive. It was very evident as you came over the hill, and people started asking what color we were going to paint it. We answered that we hadn’t planned on painting it, but the questions persisted and apparently we both got it into our heads. At some point before the summer declared itself to be a stinker, we came to the same conclusion independently on the same day: we were going to quilt it, someday. We did do a little planning, but made no time line. Then, it stopped raining, and like the dry summer in 1995, things got caught up and we had time on our hands. We ordered some exterior stain in 5 colors and Stan and our granddaughter, Jess, marked the pattern we’d decided on out on the shed with a chalk line. We painted the shed when we had an hour or so. Stan did all the ladder work, and I painted what I could reach standing on the good earth. Together, we put in about 40 hours over the course of about three weeks. Even before we had it finished, people started pulling in to look at it: neighbors, one of whom said we didn’t even know how to paint a shed; quilters; and strangers who just couldn’t resist pulling in and checking it out.

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The autumn after it was finished, I was at a greenhouse picking up some late season bargains and the Amish woman who owned the greenhouse said, “Mrs. Tenpas, I just have to ask, all the other ladies want to know, what does your barn mean?” I looked at her and smiled, said. “It means that the Tenpases really are crazy.” She paused, just a tick too long and said, “Oh, no.” Since that shed was such a hit (ahem), Stan has put a circular decoration over the door of the older shed, and when asked what that means, he says it means that he can work in other than straight lines.

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This brings us to last year, 2009, a year of extraordinary stress, for a change not caused by the weather. We had, over the years, acquired a collection of large stones scattered around the yard, in front of the sheds, over by the mulch pile, all waiting for the penny to drop. About mid summer, we looked at each other and said, “Stone circle.” It took a couple of afternoons of tractor work, and then some time spent after chores by Stan to arrange the major rocks at the cardinal points of the compass and the lesser at the intermediate points and the round rock in the center with the pointer stones on either side, and the stone pathway just inside the big rocks. It was an immediate hit with every small child that saw it. There was the path to walk, the reclining rocks to climb on, the tall standing stone to circle (and if you were tall enough, to climb!). The adults all had a different take. Some saw the compass, some a medicine wheel, some a fairy circle. My dad saw the Celt coming out in me, Stan’s mom saw the kid with the Tonka toys coming out in him. We just saw it as one more  successful example of our ability to turn stress into a creative moment.

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I’m not sure that, given the opportunity, I could ever explain how we get from point A to point B to point C. To be honest, these projects weren’t really quite as spontaneous as they sound in this little essay, but there is a good deal of that, and a good bit of our thinking down similar pathways simultaneously. Suffice it to say that we have learned to deal with our stress while following the music of that different drummer. And we would encourage any of you who may be feeling the bite of stress to turn it to some creative endeavor. Wishing you all sheds that need paint and rocks that need a purpose.

About Kathleen M.Tenpas
We have a grazing dairy of 55 cows in the rolling hills of western New York State where we raised two daughters who have now blessed us with four grandchildren. I have messy, jungly beds of old roses, (some real antiques left by former owners), perennials, wildflowers and lots and lots of not so ornamental grasses! I have a Masters degree in Creative Writing: Poetry from Antioch University. I am a photographer and fabric artist and I bake a mean loaf of bread.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Great projects! CajuninKy Oct 5, 2010 4:28 AM 1
Should have known... CARAT Sep 14, 2010 8:37 AM 1
Delightful! nap Jun 10, 2010 6:04 AM 8
Stress valleylynn Apr 2, 2010 4:27 AM 7
Awwwww, Kathleen... Sharon Apr 1, 2010 7:20 AM 1
Nice! NEILMUIR1 Apr 1, 2010 7:19 AM 1

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The family farm is the basis of much of world's economy, from the smallest farms that supply eggs and vegetables to one family to the largest farms that supply the world, everyone wants to have a connection in some way to a farm, even if it is several generations back and long gone. This Cubit is here for all the farmers, all those who dream of farms and those who don't want to lose that connection, no matter how tenuous. Bring us your stories, your concerns, and your questions will be always welcome.