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Chemical analysis

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 27 April 2018

With farming and ranching profit margins getting slimmer, it’s increasingly difficult to keep things afloat. So why do you do it?

I watched producers at the Wichita Falls Farm and Ranch Expo renew CEU credits as they sat through Texas A&M AgriLife presentations for chemical applications, and it suddenly hit me: Chemical responses, that’s why you do it. That’s why you hang in there. But not herbicide and pesticide chemicals – I’m talking about other chemicals: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and cortisol.

Have you ever appreciated the smell of freshly cut hay in spite of the backache the swathing process induced? Have you ever felt satisfaction at putting up the perfect hay in the perfect stack in spite of aching knees? Do you get a strange feeling of contentment as you wipe off the last bit of grease from the tractor lube job, even though your neck is in three different kinks?

That’s endorphins talking. It’s a chemical released that gives you the ability to muscle through hard labor in spite of physical pain. It’s your personal opiate, your Rocky moment. Where farmers and ranchers physically torture themselves every day, they require endorphins, which have only one purpose: to mask physical pain.

Now let’s take pain out of the equation. Do you ever look at the cows in good flesh with healthy calves at their sides and get a rush thinking, “I had something to do with that?” In fact, it probably makes you dream about building better fences or decide to take the top 20 percent of the cows and synchronize them to get more uniform loads at weaning. And that’s dopamine at work, giving us the incentive for progress. And it’s highly addictive. We want more. It propels us to strive and achieve.

Then there’s the “leadership chemical” – serotonin. It’s about people. It’s the pride we feel when our kids do well in the show ring or when they plant seed in a straight line or burn ditch without burning up the tractor. It inspires us to help that high school kid who doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift so he can spread manure and develop useful skills. Serotonin makes us feel accountable to people; we want to do right by those who lead us as well as those who follow.

And then there’s the kumbaya chemical – oxytocin. It’s the community spirit chemical. It inspires us to work together for the good of the whole. It’s responsible for empathy, lower blood pressure and boosted immune systems. If you’ve ever walked out to your pickup in the morning looking at a beautiful sunrise and appreciated the great people you work with and thought, “I love my job,” that’s a very oxytocin thing to say. Interestingly, it’s also released with positive physical contact – hugs, handshakes, high fives, fist bumps. It makes us better able to solve complex problems.

And finally, cortisol. Cortisol is released as a stress response. It’s designed for protection, as in, “Pull back quick so your sweatshirt hood strings don’t wrap in the PTO,” or “I can’t do anything to please the boss. Uh-oh, here he comes … just keep your head down.” It increases aggression (as in “fight or flight”), and it’s not supposed to stay in our systems; it’s supposed to leave when the threat passes because it can wreak havoc on health. But it’s not just for physical threats (as in saber-toothed tigers); it also releases when we feel aloneness, anxiety or fear, as in, “How will I repay that loan?”

We often hear about work-life balance, but on a more basic level we’re really talking about balancing chemical responses. Any of these chemicals out of balance results in one thing – a chemical burn.

Yes, you know about chemical burns. You know what an overdose of any chemical can do to plants (and raw skin) – you have the CEU credits to prove it.

Now apply that chemical knowledge to yourself.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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