October 2019

Good grief - we just lost...

This is the seventh and final article in a series from the ISU Extension and Outreach Dairy Team on Dealing with Farm Stress. More farm stress resources.

Farm Families have unique risks and experiences in the farming way of life. Farm families often choose the lifestyle due to the pleasures of being their own boss and raising their family on a farm. But, farming is a high risk occupation both in physical safety and financial security.

The natural environment with weather, market forces and hard work can end in either profit or loss. Loss is a reality to farming in the event a cow dies, a crop is flooded or the cash flow and finances even causes one to lose the farm.

Grief is experienced as normal and can even be healthy as one reacts to the loss of something that is loved and cherished. Dealing with grief is a learned skill to help one understand grief, not to overcome it, but process through it to hopefully return to normal functioning over time.

Loss is a life event where someone or something that is loved suddenly or slowly ceases to be a part of our lives. Dealing with an acute loss (barn fire, death in family) or a chronic loss (loss of profits over time), or an ambiguous loss (not sure of the what, how and whys of a loss) all need the process of grief to deal with the loss. Even though loss is typically bad, the “grief process” can be good in helping one deal with the loss and return to meaningful life.

Isolation of many rural farm families is not a friend to the "Good Grief" process as extended family and community support is often the best medicine.

Research shows people are often best helped by a friend or family member, even more so than a trained counselor - though they may be very important in the process, too.

Many sharp, entangled emotions go through the grieving person. When it is the loss of a dairy herd or farm, knowing this tradition is coming to an end, can cause farmers to feel shame and failure. An accident or loss of assets can cause farmers to feel guilt. Males are engrained to protect and provide for their families and feel at fault even though external market forces, which farmers have no control over, are making it difficult for many others to survive in the same farm climate. Know one is not alone!

good grief recipe

Following is a graph of the grief process I’ve found very beneficial. The upper left begins with normal functioning before a stress event, loss or grief began. The magnitude and abruptness of the loss determines the amount of shock, denial, anger and anxiety that may occur and the associated feelings of avoidance, confusion, fear, blame, guilt and frustration that may surface in response.

At the bottom, even with "Good Grief", feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, immobilized with lack of energy, is an area of biggest concern as loss of hope may cause unhealthy decisions. Hopefully, through the struggle and reaching out in dialogue to others, exploring options and life without, a new acceptance can be attained, with a return to a meaningful life - life just different than before.

With grief, people often wonder -- are YOU over it YET? With "Good Grief", the goal is NOT to get over it, but to savor the memories of what was lost, and process through grief to return to a meaningful life in one’s own time.

understanding loss

Resources for more information

ISU Extension and Outreach publications:

  • Changing Farm Financial Conditions Encouraging a Friend to Seek Professional Help
  • How to Help "When You Don’t Know What to Say"
  • All About Stress - Taking Charge Series
  • All About Stress
  • Managing Stress in Young Families
  • Managing Stress in Midlife Families
  • Managing Stress in Later Life Families
  • Helping Children Manage Stress
  • Using What You Have to Get What You Want

Farm Stress Resource Links for more information:

Mental Health -- Impact for Farm Families Collection (from National Ag Safety Database)

A sampling of publications

  • Agricultural safety And Health Are Improving, But Not For Psychological Injuries And Fatalities
  • Depression: Common For Farm People
  • Tips On Recognizing And Dealing With Depression
  • Behavioral Health Problems Of Farm People Differ From The General Population
  • Anxiety And Depression: Common, But Manageable For Farmers
  • Handling Relationship Problems Enhances The Well-Being Of Farm People
  • Farmers’ Common Behavioral Health Issues Often Are Occupation-Related
  • Suicide: Permanent End to a Temporary Problem

4-State Dairy Farm Stress Webinar Series

  1. Recognizing and Managing Stress in Dairy Farmers Farm Stress & Decision-Making During Challenging Times (webinar handout: John Shutske-WI),
    Your Work as an Ag Professional: Helping Tame Farm Stress (webinar handout: John Shutske-WI)
  2. Managing Stress, Anger, Anxiety, and Depression on Dairy Farms (webinar handout: John Shutske)
    How to Cultivate a Productive Mindset - Michigan State University Extension (webinar handout)
  3. Dairy Outlook (webinar July, 2018 as outlooks change)
  4. Know your Cost of Production
  5. Making Production Decisions During Challenging Times

Webinars are also available on ISU Extension Dairy Team website, or at Four-State Dairy Nutrition & Management Conference

Dairy Team

ISU Dairy Field Specialists - Here to Help!
NE Iowa, Jenn Bentley, 563-382-2949
NE/SE Iowa, Larry Tranel, 563-583-6496
NW Iowa, Fred Hall, 712-737-4230

Along with State Dairy Specialists:
Dr. Jan Shearer
Dr. Hugo A. Ramírez-Ramírez


Larry Tranel, dairy specialist, 563-583-6496, tranel@iastate.edu


Larry Tranel

dairy specialist
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