Core Values, Mental Health, and Sustainable Farms

Core Values, Mental Health, and Sustainable Farms

This week I am excited to be summarizing an interview I did with someone who I consider a very good friend and mentor! His name is Bob Hostetler. Over the span of his career Bob has worked as a Dairy Nutritionist and a Life Coach.  Bob got his start working with Milk Products, and overtime had experience working with Cargill and as an Independent Dairy Calf Consultant. Bob has always had a passion for youngstock and young people. Not only has been a great resource for raising calves, but he also enjoys being there to support and mentor those who are just beginning their careers in the dairy industry.

Near the end of his Dairy Nutrition career Bob took a little change of pace and went to work for one of his best customers, ST Genetics, at their Ohio Heifer Center. His roles there included nutrition, feed manager, and for a time calf manager. Bob recently retired and is transitioning to the next stage of life.


Q. What is one of the biggest mental challenges you see facing the world today?

A. People are being pushed off their core values. What used to be core values for them have now become aspirational values. This means their ability to deal with stress goes down, because they are not who they want to be anymore.


Q. What advice do you have to help improve communication for those working on family farms?

A. From what I have observed, especially on family farms, is that everyone makes assumptions of what other family members core values are. Those assumptions often lead to pretty lousy places.

First of all, you need to feel safe enough with each other to be honest, open, and direct in your communication. From there you need to discover one another’s core values. A core value is something that you believe in strongly enough to organize your life around it.

If you think something is a core value, but you don’t organize your life around it, then it becomes an aspirational value. Take a step back and look at how you are directing your life, and that will tell you what you are valuing at that time.

On a family farm it’s easy to believe that other family members share, or should share, the same core values. That they organize their lives around the same things as other family members. A lot of times that is not actually true, and they need to find that out about each other.

Strengths and weaknesses are often talked about to make sure people get put in the right role, but core values are rarely talked about and that is where the stress really multiplies.


Q. What advice do you give to help people evaluate their lives and find how to live with purpose?

A. Be honest and open with yourself. Look at your core values, what your life is organized around. Then decide if that is where you want to stay. For many people, if a core value is to stay in the dairy business, then they need to organize their life around it. Honest open dialogue with yourself, often with someone else’s help, family members, clergy, even the feed manager! Various places to have honest open dialogue. Often, we believe we are something when we really actually are not.


Q. What advice would you give someone who has chosen to take a different path and leave the family farm?

A. Well, a basic question to ask is “Who am I?” and then, “Who do you want to be?” I have often found in my life I need to zero in on who I want to be. Each of us has a gap between who we are and who we want to be. The closer we can live to be who we want to be, then the more able we become to handle stress.


Q. What advice would you give farmers to help improve mental wellness during stressful times like during times of increasing input costs, such as of late?

A. Core values are a big part of it. Another big part of it is personality traits. If your personality traits aren’t in line with the job you have to do, then stress multiplies. Assess yourself to determine if your strengths align with the job you are doing. Find the right person to manage the dollars and cents.

Sometimes for a period of time we can get along with doing things that are not of our strengths. We simply do it just because it has to be done, every dairy farmer has been there. In the long run to stay at it, there must be a match between who we are and want to be (core values) and personality strengths.

Look at the role you are playing, is it the right one? Should you be in a different role on the farm. Sometimes it helps to have someone else ask that question. If personal abilities are not in line with traits needed to fill a certain role, then the sense of failure multiplies stress. The farm should be organized in a way that helps people thrive.


Q. What advice do you have to give for finding joy in the everyday grind and in spite of stressful factors that cannot be controlled?

A. Spiritually, Emotionally, and Vocationally if I am white knuckling (holding my fist around something very tightly), which often happens in financial stress situations. That causes anger, stress, and keeps us tense. It does not help me engage well with family. Any part of our lives that we can have an open hand with, then things get better. It’s important for us to be able to receive things from God. It’s important that we don’t wrap up in our own emotions but keep our hand open so we can deal with others well, including those we work with. Open handedness in life is a useful thing for us all to learn.

I will share a personal example, there was a time when our calf feeder did not show up. We had 350 calves that needed to be fed. There was no one to do it, so I had to do it. I started off really angry. My fists were clenched, and I wanted to hit somebody! Part way through I realized, I have to do this, and I am going to open my hands and enjoy the calves and enjoy the work. With my hands open I could enjoy the work. With my hands clenched the chances of enjoying the work are very small.


Bob has been a huge influence in the dairy calf and heifer world, both for the cattle and the people. His mentoring has reached and molded many people in the industry and as he likes to say, "Mentoring, is one of my God given talents. It is one of my core values to use that talent to better the lives of others.”

Although not always formally, Bob has used this God given talent to coach and mentor others his entire life.  ne of his goals in retirement is to continue to benefit the lives of others as a Life Coach. He is there to ask the hard questions that need to be asked, but that most of us would rarely ask ourselves. Anyone interested in contacting Bob to learn more about his coaching services can do so at


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

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