“Sick Days” for Farmers


“Farmers don’t get sick days” is something I hear often in the agriculture community. By and large that is true for the majority of farms. This doesn’t mean that when you are sick you are doing all of the farm tasks that come up in the course of a day. The key is taking care of yourself and deciding what needs to be done for the day.

Sometimes when we aren’t feeling well, it is hard to decide what is a necessary task for today or something that can wait until you feel better. Prioritizing tasks can be helpful in this situation. If you are having a hard time deciding if something needs to be done today, don’t just run yourself ragged doing everything because you don’t have a decision process. Ask yourself if the task doesn’t get done, will it negatively affect the well-being of the livestock? Will it negatively impact the survival of the farm?

If the answer to these questions is that livestock well-being or survival of the farm will be negatively impacted, then of course the task is going to get done. Of course, the cows will get milked despite you being under the weather. What I am saying is that maybe today isn’t the day to be welding that bottom bar back on the gate.

Another useful concept for deciding what needs to get done today is recognizing what is urgent and what is important. Urgent tasks are something that requires immediate attention or action. Important tasks are likely to have an impact on the success of the farm or well-being of the animals.

Evaluating tasks for both urgency and importance will be key for successfully getting through your day when you are ill. For example, animals getting fed and watered every day is both urgent and important to the success of the farm.

Providing dry bedding to animals is an important task, but not always an urgent one on a daily basis, as it is often based on situation. Last week providing bedding and windbreaks to beef cattle housed outdoors was an urgent and important task because the negative temperatures and high winds would have negatively affected those animals if we didn’t provide that care in a timely fashion.

For me with my small poultry flock this week, bedding the flock Feb. 4 was not an urgent task because temperatures were back in the 30s and the birds are housed indoors on a compost pack that was just refreshed with more dry bedding last week.

Planning for the eventuality of getting sick can make your sick days less stressful. Maybe that means setting aside some winter day tasks that you know don’t require your full energy. Perhaps for you that means catching up on some recordkeeping.

Doing some tasks ahead of time knowing there will be days you are under the weather can be just as important. Maybe that means that you have round bales strategically placed ahead of time so that all you have to do is move a wire gate to feed the steers. For some small farms with older facilities, maybe it is throwing down enough small squares for the week so you don’t have to crawl into the hay mow multiple times or multiple times a day.

Finally, you need to decide if you need to be the one to complete all of the necessary tasks. Some might require only your attention. Others might be tasks that can be delegated to an employee or family member for a few days until you feel better. Maybe you need to call your neighbor or friend.  Maybe you need to call your occasional weekend helper. It’s okay to ask for help. Most farm communities I have worked with tend to be really good at helping each other out, but you do have to ask.

Remember to get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids, and know when to ask for help.