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Washington State University Dairy News

April 2020 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Farmer well-being

As I sat down to choose a topic for this article, I couldn’t stop thinking about the difficult times we are currently facing as a society. COVID-19 is affecting all our lives. It pangs me to watch milk being dumped down the drain, while many school-aged children won’t receive milk with their lunch (if they receive a lunch) today because of school closures. It is during times like this that we are pushed to the limits and our well-being is threatened. This is why today’s article will focus on the people that make the dairy industry thrive, YOU. My hope is that the information below will help you realize that you are not alone, your well-being matters, and tools are available to help you improve your well-being.

  1. Prevalence of stress among dairy farmers.

    A survey of 265 Finnish dairy farmers revealed that 42% of the farmers were stressed and 9% of them experienced severe burnout (Kallioniemi et al., 2016).

  2. Prevalence of anxiety and depression among dairy farmers.

    Out of 170 Midwestern U.S. dairy farmers surveyed, 71% of them met the criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and 53% of them met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Personal finances and time pressures were listed as the greatest concerns (Rudolphi et al., 2020).

  3. Farmer well-being influences animal well-being.

    Over 900 Norwegian dairy farmers participated in a study in which farmer well-being was compared to animal well-being. Farmers with lower levels of stress and better well-being had animals with better well-being (cow health, longevity, fertility, etc.; Hansen and Østerås, 2019).

  4. Farming pressures.

    In Wales, 582 dairy and beef cattle farmers identified the top five farming pressures as: finances; weather; tuberculosis; paperwork; and farm management. Farmers who identified finances as the key pressure were more likely to have a lower well-being (Crimes and Enticott, 2019).

  5. Importance of social support.

    Among 121 Irish farmers, increases in financial and non-financial stress caused increases in farmer anxiety and depression. However, farmers with strong social support had less non-financial farm stress, as well as fewer cases of anxiety and depression (Furey et al., 2016).

  6. Coping with farming pressures.

    Thirty-two Canadian male farmers participated in intensive interviews, in which all farmers agreed that work breaks and vacations were crucial coping strategies. Time spent with family was listed as particularly powerful a coping strategy (Roy et al., 2017).

  7. Positive impacts on dairy farmer well-being.

    Finnish dairy farmers identified family, working with cattle, healthy farm animals, a reasonable workload, and a sustainable farm economy as factors that have a positive impact on dairy farmer well-being (Kallioniemi et al., 2018).

  8. Relationship between mental health and physical health.

    A survey of 79 Australian dairy farmers showed that farmers with higher levels of exhaustion and stress experienced lower levels of physical and mental health. On the other hand, farmers who practiced mindfulness had better physical and mental health than farmers who didn’t practice mindfulness (Eddy et al., 2019).

  9. Barriers to seeking help.

    A focus group of Australian farmers, farmers’ partners, and general practitioners emphasized that farming is more than just employment, it is a lifestyle. The focus group stated that seeking help requires time away from work, which is a key barrier. Finances may also present a barrier to seeking help (Vayro et al., 2020).

  10. Role of ag professionals.

    Ag professionals (veterinarians, farm consultants, etc.) have established relationships with dairy farmers. They play a key role in identifying, mitigating, and supporting farmers during difficult times (Stanley-Clarke, 2019).

Remember: you are not alone, your well-being matters, and tools are available to help you improve your well-being.


  • Crimes and Enticott. 2019. Assessing the social and psychological impacts of endemic animal disease amongst farmers. Front. Vet. Sci. 6:342.
  • Eddy et al. 2019. Trait mindfulness helps explain the relationships between job stress, physiological reactivity, and self-perceived health. J. Occup. Environ. Med. 61:e12-e18.
  • Furey et al. 2016. The roles of financial threat, social support, work stress, and mental distress in dairy farmers’ expectations of injury. Front. Public Health 4:126.
  • Hansen and Østerås. 2019. Farmer welfare and animal welfare- Exploring the relationship between farmer’s occupational well-being and stress, farm expansion and animal welfare. Prev. Vet. Med. 170: 104741.
  • Kallioniemi et al. 2016. Stress and burnout among Finnish dairy farmers. J. Agromedicine 21 (3): 259-268.
  • Kallioniemi et al. 2018. Job resources and work engagement among Finnish dairy farmers. J. Agromedicine 23:249-261.
  • Roy et al. 2017. “Do it all by myself”: a salutogenic approach of masculine health practice among farming men coping with stress. Am. J. Mens Health 11:1536-1546.
  • Rudolphi et al. 2020. Depression, anxiety and stress among young farmers and ranchers: a pilot study. Community Ment. Health J. 56:126–134.
  • Stanley-Clarke. 2019. The role of agricultural professionals in identifying, mitigating and supporting farming families during times of stress: findings of a qualitative study. Aust. J. Rural Health 27:203–209.
  • Vayro et al. 2020. ‘Farming is not just an occupation [but] a whole lifestyle’: a qualitative examination of lifestyle and cultural factors affecting mental health help-seeking in Australian farmers. Sociol. Rural. 60:151-173.