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6 Ways to Avoid *Burnout* on the Farm

We’ve all been there…

Burned out. Stressed out. Ready to throw in the towel

I can safely say this is one problem all us farmers face!

farming, csa, raw milk, sustainable, start a farm, grassfed, pasture rotation, intense rotational grazing, how to farm, hobby farmer, homesteading, joel salatin, polyface, women who farm, charlotte smith

After just a couple months of milking cows twice a day, I realized I had to make a change otherwise I was going to burn out and quit.  And it’s not just me – soon after starting a farm, most people feel the exhaustion and burnout creeping in…

Off-season?  What off-season??

Animals & vegetables require 7 day a week care most of the year – and ‘off-season’?! Does that even exist with all the other projects to take care of on the farm?!

Since we farmers all face this, the solution to burnout really is more time.

You need more time, which comes back to money because you need money to take care of the things that help you avoid burnout.

Over the last 7 years of farming, I’ve slowly implemented practices in my life + business to feel less overwhelmed. It’s not an overnight shift, but these practices have helped me feel more in control so I can be in business for years to come.

Consider these 6 productivity-boosting business strategies so you can prevent burnout and farm without the constant struggle to stay ahead.

1. Hire Help

I don’t think there’s any way around it. You can trade or barter for help a little bit in the beginning when you’re really small, but when you get to a certain point the most important thing you need to do is hire some help.

I went the first four years on my farm without taking a vacation and that got me to the point a few years ago when I was ready to call it quits and say, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go 365 days a year with kids and working and milking and all that’s required on the farm.”

I vowed I would never go without a vacation at least twice a year. Since then, it’s evolved so that my husband and I try to take every Sunday off from farm work and get away for a vacation at least twice a year so we don’t work ourselves into the ground.

The only reason I can do that is because I hired help. When I started my farm seven years ago, I realized about two months in that there was no way I could do it all alone with three kids and two milk cows.

2. Raise Prices

Which leads me to… you need more money to hire help because volunteer work is temporary and unsustainable – no one is going to consistently work the hours and perform at the level you need on a farm and be all volunteer.

If you’re having trouble finding paid employees, you might not be paying enough. You can’t just pay minimum wage; they can go get a minimum wage job at Starbucks or somewhere inside, warm and clean and not be covered in manure every day. You need to pay more money than you’re paying and that varies depending on what part of the country you live in.

Most likely the only way for you to come up with that money to hire help is to increase your prices. I regularly talk with hundreds of farmers and I have never yet talked to a farmer where I said, “I think you’re charging too much for that product.”

I’m fairly certain you’re not charging enough for your products. Right?

When you have built a customer base of ideal customers just like we teach you here and you’ve done the work educating and building relationship with them, they will totally support a 20-25% price increase, minimum, or more if you need to, so that you can continue being sustainable.

3. Strong Boundaries – “Just Say No”

To avoid spreading yourself too thin, you must set strong boundaries. As a woman, this can be difficult because when you first start setting boundaries, you feel like, well, a bitch.

But you must prioritize what’s best for you, your farm and your family. Setting boundaries doesn’t make you look like a bitch – instead, people will respect you and appreciate that you can’t do it all.

When I reevaluated my business several years ago so I could avoid burning out, I had to set boundaries in several places with different people:

*With my customers
*With my family
*With my friends
*With my employees

When we first started selling milk, you could stop in our farm store seven days a week, any time of day. The first couple times someone took advantage and showed up at 11:30 at night to pick up their milk without considering that we were asleep and they just woke us up, I realized this wouldn’t work.

So I set some boundaries of picking up milk between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and I enforced that boundary. I still had people beg here and there to pick up outside those hours since they’d be in the area at 10:30 at night for a wedding, for instance. But I had to learn to be strong and say no so that I’d be around to serve them in the long run.

My next boundary was to close on Sundays & open 6 days a week, and be firm with that because people will try to convince you they just have to pick up their milk on a Sunday and us ladies, people pleasers that we are, will want to make an exception. Just don’t.

Now seven years later we are open only five days a week, 4 hours at a time. The constant interruptions just don’t happen like they used to and I can get more focused work done in less time.

And guess what? 100% of our customers have been able to arrange their schedules to pick up during our open hours.

I also set clear boundaries with my husband, my children, my employees, everybody. When I am working in my office, no one can wander in … because if I’m interrupted, studies show it takes about 20 minutes to refocus your energy, your mind back on whatever it was you were working on. So that 2 hours you set aside for marketing now means 4 hours to get the job done.

Every time you get a text, an email, a child walks in, you’re diminishing that time almost exponentially. You have to have very strong boundaries with everybody in your life. You have to learn to say no way more than yes.

This also means you need to make sure you’re very successful selling what you currently have before you expand, otherwise you won’t have money to take care of these things we’re talking about to avoid burnout.

4. Highest and Best Use of Your Time

If you’re spending time on activities that aren’t the best use of your time & expertise, you’re going to burn out.

Here’s the best way to figure out what the highest and best use of your time might be:

Keep a sheet of paper and write down every task you do all throughout the day. At the end of the day, you need to assign a value to those tasks.

For instance, if I were milking cows, I’d pay someone $15 an hour to milk cows so that’s the value. If I milk cows for two hours, that’s $15 an hour.

Then if I come in and if I’m cleaning house, that’s $25 an hour I’d pay a house cleaner. That’s a $25 an hour job.

I have a virtual assistant who helps with some computer things & website updates at $50 an hour.

Then I send out two marketing emails a month. Those marketing emails result in $20,000 in sales a month. That’s 30-40 hours a month I spend on marketing – or $600 an hour marketing.

If I’m milking cows, cleaning house and answering emails which are the $15-$50/hour jobs and I run out of time to do marketing – a $600 an hour job – there’s going to be no money to pay the bills.

No money to pay the mortgage, the rent on the farm, no money to buy the new cow, no money to fix the Kubota with the $500 part we need, no money to pay the employees who rely on me to feed their families.

If I’m not doing that $600 an hour work, I can’t replace that. I can’t go out and hire someone to do my marketing emails. Therefore, my marketing time, the 30 – 40 hours I spend on marketing has to be the priority. Then if I have time left over and I want to clean house, I can do so, but the $600 an hour work must come first.

Which means I need to hire out the milking, the farm chores, running the store, errands and feed hauling so I can focus on the activities that financially support the farm.

Now some tasks I do during the day are priceless to me so I would never hire them done even though it’s possible – cooking for my family and being home with my daughter after school overseeing homework etc.

You might have different tasks you consider priceless. But if you think all your tasks are priceless and only you can do them you won’t be here in the long run.

5. Self Care

This is HUGE for us ladies! Most of us sacrifice our self-care but that’s the very thing that helps us be able to do our job and give to others.

Self-care looks different for everyone. Walking, yoga, prayer, journaling, running, cooking, knitting, lunch with friends, pedicures & massages… whatever it is, you must do it!

I schedule my self-care on my calendar before I schedule anything else so it’s sure to get done.

I get a pedicure every single month at a local spa and it’s like a half-day vacation. Not necessarily because the cows care that my toenails are painted, but it gives me something to look forward to after all the hard work and it helps lower my stress.

Plus, I have my 5 AM power hour & I work out 5 days a week. I could not perform all the activities and run my 2 companies if I sacrificed this time, so this goes on the calendar before anything else.

6. Strict Schedule

I’m sure you’re wondering how does a strict schedule help me avoid burnout?

If everything is scheduled & written down on my calendar, then I can deal with all the surprises on the farm that are guaranteed to come up because I have this schedule. I can look at a moment’s notice and shift things around to deal with the “surprise” (or catastrophe, whichever the case may be!!)

That surprise may be a customer who needs extra attention, a late feed delivery, a sick employee, the power goes out or a pipe freezes… one thing I don’t have to tell you is that these sorts of interruptions are guaranteed on a farm and a thorough, written schedule means your days will still run seamlessly.

None of this happened overnight for me and it doesn’t have to for you either. Try incorporating one idea at a time, as needed, to free up some mental space and physical energy for you so you can keep on farming.

Would love to hear from you – tell me in the comments below what one or two things have you had to start doing to avoid or manage burnout?

What have you had to change in your operation to make your life more manageable?

Let me know – your words just may be the inspiration someone else needs to hear to make the change in their life.

And, if you want more – click on the image below to watch a video outlining the 6 ways I avoid burnout and even more inspiring info!

powered by crowdcast

farming, small farm, customers, farm to consumer, csa, raw milk, grassfed, joel salatin, farm marketing, business, flower farm, florist, prices

 

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Pamela Cornelius February 16, 2017, 10:23 pm

    Hi Charlotte, how did you know how I was feeling.. Lol.. Even though I love what I do I am feeling burnt out for sure. After 6 year’s of milking cow’s I have been feeling I just can’t do it anymore. With your inspiration maybe hiring help is the answer. My husband has his own company and is so busy he is not able to help me. Seems I am spread so thin. Always something that needs attention.. I am going to start taking Sunday’s to just do basic chores and relax ..Thanks as always for your inspiration.. Your awesome.. ❤

    • Charlotte February 17, 2017, 9:29 pm

      Oh Pam I’m glad it resonated with you… sorry you’re burning out!! Hopefully you can try some of these things. Hiring help was the first thing I had to do. I hope you can make a change soon — let me know how it goes. Take care. xo Charlotte

  • Lori February 19, 2017, 11:13 am

    I’m taking notes! After being a stay at home mom for the last 10 years and handling pretty much everything at home, I will be starting a farm that will be more than a full time job. It will be a major shift for my family, so I’m doing my best to make the transition as smooth as possibly (but I still expect things to get pretty hairy!). The idea of making my prices high enough so I can hire help is really speaking to me. I already know I cannot do it all on my own. Also, love the suggestions to schedule self care FIRST. Yes, it is vitally important. Amazing how even praying or meditating for 5 minutes before I jump into the day can totally change my mindset and fill me with peace. And having something to look forward to, such as a date night out or meeting friends for coffee to reconnect….so important! Thanks for sharing these great ideas. Just what I needed to hear. 😉

  • Kirstin Reeder February 21, 2017, 11:18 pm

    This is PRECISELY the reason I started my bookkeeping business…to help relieve farmers’ stress and to take one duty off their shoulders.

  • Kris July 16, 2017, 6:48 pm

    $20,000 in sales each month? I wish!

  • Kristi February 23, 2018, 10:41 am

    Good article – I was reading for my husband’s benefit as I feel like he’s on the border of throwing in the towel after feeling overworked and exhausted. What is your second job, may I ask? Thanks again for sharing.

  • Linda July 31, 2018, 5:54 am

    To funny. I know all this but never put it down so accurately nor have I ever been disciplined enough to do it! I recently started to hire a local and very responsible high school student with a great work attitude to come clean my house once a week. I can not tell you how much that has changed my “burn-out”! Just coming into a house that is clean when I am finished with my chores or if someone unexpectedly shows up I don’t have to worry about my bathroom state is priceless! I have found that it is so worth it I am not even missing the price of her services. Just as a tickler- In hiring a trainable young person I am not paying the higher prices of a maid service. I agree you have to pay above minimum wage because if you want quality you need to do so. And living in the country it is hard for those young folks to get a decent job.

    • Charlotte July 31, 2018, 7:23 am

      Yay, so happy you hired someone to clean your house!! This is a huge relief to many women. It’s so true, coming home to a clean house after working all day is truly life changing.

      Just like coming home from working all day to face dirty floors and toilets is… depressing to say the least.

      Thank you for sharing and inspiring all of us!!

      —Charlotte

  • Bill Fosher July 31, 2018, 6:14 am

    Great article! I’m especially heartened to hear another person underscoring the importance of separating jobs by value (Dave Pratt at Ranching for Profit is big on this as well.) One small quibble: When assigning a value to your marketing work, Is it realistic to say that 30 to 40 hours of marketing that generates $20,000 in sales is really a $600 an hour job? What’s your margin on those sales? $2,000? $4,000? That’s what should be the dividend in your equation. The 30 to 40 hours a month you spend on marketing returns the margin on those sales to the business, not the gross sales. Not to say that marketing isn’t important — it’s still a $100/hr job — but it’s really important for farmers to stop equating sales with earnings. They are very different.

    • Charlotte July 31, 2018, 7:20 am

      Hi Bill – no problem with your quibble!

      We are making two different points here -yours it absolutely accurate, too! Forward me your post on it if you get it written.

      My point here is, farmers get caught up doing the chores they can pay someone $15/hour for and then complain they don’t have time for marketing. Once they finally recognize and make that mindset shift, we can get them into the finer details.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, love having you here!

      -Charlotte

  • Cindy D. Jeffrey July 31, 2018, 6:15 am

    All of them. But strict schedules first. Self care. I’m tired and have zero energy. Love what I do love my cows. Just trying to get started on herd shares. Waiting on contact. Excited but depressed at same time. Going from milking 40 cows and selling conventional to 10 cows on herd shares is very stressful yet. Liberating

    • Charlotte July 31, 2018, 7:15 am

      Ah, Cindy, thank you for sharing this. Hang in there. Waiting on contract, you mean? For herd shares? Let me know how I can help! Going from 40 to 10 cows direct to consumer sounds liberating- keep up that good attitude. I hope you can get some help and get a break. Thanks for being here 🙂

      -Charlotte

  • Penny July 31, 2018, 11:03 am

    Good points to keep reminding ourselves! My husband (works full time off farm) and I have run a small farm for the last 25 years while raising 9 children. They have all graduated now, but some help with big jobs like haying and worming the flock/herd. This past school year was the first time in 37 years I was home alone during the day and I loved it! I’m excited for the upcoming year!
    My sanity-keeping practices:
    1) Chain up the gate at the end of the driveway all day Sundays, and don’t answer when cars out there honk.
    2) Take a “nap” after lunch–I may not fall asleep but it gives me time to gather my soul together. That means lying down fully horizontal–I seem to need that to get the blood from the feet back to the brain!
    3) Only milk once a day. We milk goats, and the goat kids are an important component of income. We practice the “busy-homeschool mom” method–milk in the morning, turn the kids and does out in the field together, separate them at dusk. No bottle feeding, and the kids are much happier and healthier. Once the kids are sold, the doe is still milked only once a day. She adjusts.
    4) Take winters off from milking. Christmas Eve is the last day we milk; kids are born in March (in the ideal plan, lol) Our customers know this ahead of time. Some will freeze extra milk for winter, others buy that awful stuff in the store. Save yourself a lot of grief not fighting winter.

  • Natalie Hahn August 6, 2018, 8:24 pm

    Getting out and off the farm, visiting friends, is refreshing for me,. Exersice, and reading. The hiring is a problem for us as at this point is Hiring more is not feasible right now. We rising prices this year as minium wage went up $2.50. picking and choosing the must important job is challenging fore as well. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Charlotte August 7, 2018, 2:34 pm

      You are so welcome, and thank you for your thoughts as well. I appreciate your challenges. Hang in there!

      Charlotte

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