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Dealing with farm and ranch stress is critical

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on March 21, 2020

University of Wyoming Extension Specialist Caleb Carter notes farm and ranch families often experience a wide variety of stress, stemming from an array of factors including operation stressors, environmental influences and family stressors. 

            “Most factors are out of our control, which can potentially add more stress,” he explains. “In addition, lines are often blurred between the family and the business, which can make these issues even more difficult for farm and ranch families.”

Stress factors 

            Carter notes one of the most common stressors is operational stress, which can include equipment breakdowns, disease outbreaks, government regulation and accidents. 

            “Environmental influences can be another source of stress,” he explains. “These can include extreme weather events, late or early frost and irrigation issues.” 

            “We can also have family stressors, which can range from our children growing up, caring for aging family members and personal health decline,” he notes.

            “Situations where money is tight represent another case that can lead to stress for both farm families and the agricultural business,” Carter explains. “The financial ties between the operation and the families involved is often challenging and can lead to frustrations for young families that they are not yet on their own.” 

            He continues, “The founding generation can often feel added stress when things aren’t going well, where they believe they should shoulder more of the risk and burden over disagreements about spending.”

            “It is not surprising, with these varied and difficult-to-manage emotions that good communication is often identified as missing in surveys of multigenerational farm and ranch families,” he notes. “This includes concerns about how arguments are handled, what represents fair criticism, and general family problem solving.”

            “One of the most stressful intergenerational farming issues reported is the transfer of the family farm or ranch to the next generation,” says Carter. “Even talking about the transfer of management and ownership brings up and amplifies many of the stressors already mentioned.”

Stress and anxiety 

            “Stress factors can, and often do, affect everyone involved in the family farm or ranch business, even if they are not directly involved in day-to-day operations,” Carter explains. “A variety of coping mechanisms can be employed to help address or mitigate the effects of these factors.”

            Carter explains a study of farm families in Iowa found effective stress management tools include awareness of strengths and weaknesses, time management skills, involvement in hobbies, use of support systems and practice of stress management techniques. 

            These techniques include relaxation, exercise, problem solving and assertiveness. He also suggests strategies such as self-talk, deep breathing and acceptance.

            “Self-talk consists of telling ourselves we can adapt and overcome any challenge,” says Carter. “We need to remind ourselves we’ve faced hard times before and we can do it again.” 

            Carter suggests choosing three words to maintain a positive mindset such as calm, capable and controlled. 

            “Practicing deep breathing can help calm our minds and focus on the task at hand,” he says. “Breathe deeply five times and exhale slowly. This can also help with sleep and chronic pain.” 

            He continues, “If things feel out of control, it is sometimes best to just accept them and focus on finding a solution instead of getting frustrated by the problem itself.”

Seeking help 

            “Making the decision to seek professional help can be intimidating,” Carter admits. “Knowing how and where to start can feel daunting. It might start with talking with a spouse, close family member or friends.” 

            He continues, “A friend who has had a positive experience with counseling is a good place to start. A referral can be helpful as we search for the right counselor.”

            “If a referral is not an option, or if the individual doesn’t feel comfortable with that, don’t give up,” he stresses. “We can find certified counselors in the yellow pages or at, where private counselors are listed by geographical area.” 

            “One might also start by talking with a doctor,” he notes. “Wherever we decide to start, more than anything, admitting to ourselves that we need help can be a big step forward in beginning to deal with your feelings.”

            Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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