Dairy farmer sees vaccine as best way to put COVID ‘in rearview mirror’

National Farm Medicine Center
Stratford area dairy farmer Brian Forrest says vaccinations are the key to getting out of the pandemic.

Maple Ridge Dairy owner Brian Forrest oversees the health and well-being of 1,700-plus dairy animals on a farm in rural Marathon County near Stratford, Wis.

Forrest is concerned about animal health, but just as concerned about protecting the health of those who need to be on the farm, such as veterinarians, milk haulers, visitors, construction crews, salespeople, employees’ families and all the people they interact with. And, he’s concerned about his own family’s health.

These are among the reasons why Forrest believed it was important for him to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m very supportive of the vaccine and now have both immunizations. It’s the key, the ticket to get out of this thing we’re all so sick of, this pandemic. For me personally, vaccines are a no-brainer.

“We use vaccines on the farm every day and they’re such a benefit to the health of animals, and for humans too,” said Forrest, who served two terms on the Professional Dairy Producers’ (PDPW) Board of Directors. “It’s pretty cut and dried to me, pretty simple.”

Farmers such as Forrest have an opportunity to be leaders in rural communities, said Casper Bendixsen, Ph.D., director of the National Farm Medicine Center, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, Marshfield, Wis.

“Receiving and encouraging vaccinations is a major step forward battling COVID-19,” Bendixsen said. “Vaccination not only protects those who supply our food, it opens up the opportunity to be a little more social and reconnect with friends and family – this is important for our mental and emotional health.”

Forrest and his wife, Elaine, a secretary at Stratford High School, have school-aged children who were active in sports and extracurricular activities pre-pandemic. These activities are very important to their development, Forrest said, and the pandemic became a major disruption at home and at work.

“It was a bummer, personally and professionally,” he said. “I was concerned about it on the farm and at home. My wife is one of the most workplace-affected people on the planet and I’d hear about COVID every day and how the school was managing it.”

The family and farm made the most of the situation, he said, “but we want this all to be in the rearview mirror.”

To Forrest’s knowledge, no employee tested positive. There were numerous tests, some scares and protocols to follow. “With our employees, getting them tested and staying healthy has been a huge priority. Having sick employees impacts a business and affects employees’ families’ health, too, so when a farmer gets the vaccine, the community is safer for everyone.”

The pandemic continues to affect the farm and production costs.

“The supply chain to our farm, for example,” Forrest said. “Running a dairy farm takes a lot of supplies. We use latex gloves to milk. For a while, we didn’t know if we’d be able to get them. They’ve more than tripled in price and we can’t get the sizes we want even to this day.”

The pandemic also has affected communication and productivity.

“When we can’t communicate well with vendors and staff from within, we lose productivity,” Forrest said. “You can make phone calls and have zoom meetings but if you can’t have face-to-face communications, you lose teamwork, productivity, money. This is especially true on a dairy farm with so many changes day to day with weather, animals and operations. There are no two days alike around here and when communication is affected, you lose.”

Forrest believes everything needs to be done to help educate people about the vaccine so they can make informed decisions about getting immunized. His willingness to be vaccinated is part of that education for others.

“Again, we want this to be in the rearview mirror. We want to go back to business and doing what we do without all these interruptions and all the wasted time. Whether you believe it or not, it still takes our time. Let’s just get it done and the tool to do that is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling us. Vaccinations are a huge part of the answer.”