Lightening the load

Every good farmer has a love for their animals and their land. My dad, who went to be with the Lord nine years ago this month, loved his generational farm. Having much compassion for the farmer, he would always humbly ask God to bless “the tillers of the land.” Toward the last years of his life, he was unable to help my brother yet his heart was always out there on the farm.

After “retiring” from the farm, Mom and Dad moved to Marion to their little house in town. As they aged, they became more and more dependent on us four kids. My older sister accepted a good hunk of the responsibility, as she had no children of her own and lived close by. Before she’d leave, Dad would tell her, “Thanks for lightening the load.”

These days with low milk prices and rising operating costs, especially the smaller, family-owned dairy farms are being squeezed out. With spring arriving late, adding to the already stretched finances and stress, the blizzard brought barn roofs collapsing, some on top of livestock. When I heard about farmers who had lost cows, I broke down and cried.

Holsteins have such a sweet, gentle nature, dependent on their people to provide their every need. Their eyes, dark round pools of light, look up at us with nothing but faith that we’ll come through.

We had a fluffy white heifer that was as tame as a pet. She freshened in with no trouble and acclimated herself into the milking lineup with ease. When we’d let cows out, I’d have to go into the cow yard, rounding them up after we got done cleaning barn, when recess was over. Because this white heifer was new, she’d get separated from the herd and I’d bring her in alone.

Tapping her lightly on her rear end, I’d follow her down the barn aisle tap-tap-tapping. Just before her stall I’d stop tapping, and she’d abruptly halt, turn left and step daintily into her proper stall. I’d bust a gut laughing because every time, without fail, she’d pull in. It was a marvel, especially with a new heifer.

Bending to snap her in place, I’d scratch her fluffy forehead. She never backed up. With her sandpaper tongue, she’d always give my arm a friendly wash. When I heard about those cows that were lost, I thought about that friendly white heifer and was heartsick. One of those farmers might have lost a friendly white heifer.

Recently, just after the blizzard hit, a group of community-minded individuals with a heart for the farmers tried to “lessen the load” by gathering at St. Mary’s Parish in Bear Creek to prepare and serve over 30 area farmers. In addition to the volunteers, area businesses and individuals donated money and food. Organizer Kellie Zahn, along with many helpers, put their faith into action. They understood food didn’t solve the problems caused by the storm, but they had a desire to bring awareness and support to the farms that were affected, and one way to do it would be to show up with a hot dish.

The recent blizzard was like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Somebody ringing your doorbell offering a hot meal and a smile would be appreciated beyond words. Somehow they know they can make it, simply by knowing others care. Watching those suffer grief in any form makes one feel helpless. By pitching together, we can do something to make a difference.

Making and distributing food to exhausted, overwhelmed farm families was one way this group of people helped. Zahn felt the Holy Spirit’s tug on her heart to move. To put it in her words, “We are grateful to be a part of an awesome community that loves our local farmers! With additional donations we receive, we will be contributing to local emergency services who have assisted the farms in need.”

One grateful recipient wrote, “Thank you for being the example of how we need to be God’s hands here on Earth!” Another added, “You can be proud of all the wonderful people reaching out to help in need. This is truly God’s work at hand. God bless all of you!” Someone else left a heartfelt response, “Thank God for our farmers and the community of caring people!”

If you’d like to help financially to lighten the load, please make a check payable to Douglas Behnke Farms, attention Kellie Zahn, E8056 County Road O, Clintonville, WI 54929, and include “Farm Strong” on the memo line. From the efforts of many individuals, local emergency services will be able to assist the farms most in need. For more information, please contact organizer Kellie Zahn at 715-853-9624.

To be God’s hands and feet to serve our struggling dairy farmers who work hard to put food on our table, please consider assisting financially and most importantly, pray for the tillers of the land.

Father God, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to move the hearts and minds of Your people, to lighten the load of the tillers of the land who are struggling. Our dairy farm families provide food for our tables, and we acknowledge their hardship right now. We pray for strength, endurance, wisdom, patience and peace. God, please bless and encourage our farm families! Amen.

(“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4)