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HERd management: Sharing your story

Julaine Treur for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 March 2016

Strategies to get the truth about dairy farming to our consumers

Dairy farming provides a very tangible opportunity to benefit our fellow Canadians. Our consumers rely on us to provide them with the top-quality dairy products they have come to expect from our excellent industry.

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But only a tiny fraction of Canadians actively farm – only 2 percent. This means the vast majority of the people we interact with on a daily basis have little to no experience with or knowledge about farming.

When people are so far removed from our industry, it’s prime ground for myths and misconceptions to flourish.

For example, a simple Google search for information about dairy farming quickly leads to sites with these types of claims: “Cows are raped to produce a calf every year and are spent at 2 years old from the constant abuse and torture they are subject to on dairy farms” or “Milk is full of pus, blood and antibiotics.”

A few years ago, I was unaware that this disconnect was so vast, so immense. I was shocked to see accusations of rape, murder, greed and exploitation flooding the comments section on one of the dairy pages I follow on social media.

Alarmed, I started a Facebook page devoted to sharing stories and photos about life on our farm, and I was incredibly heartened to find an appetite for this information in our consumers.

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They were so thrilled to learn that farmers are committed to stellar animal welfare and quality milk, and that these accusations are not true and do not at all accurately represent the family farms that dot our country’s landscape.

But we need help. Only a few of Canada’s farmers have committed to sharing their farm life with the general public. And in order for our stories to be heard more widely and to gain traction with our consumers, we need many more voices to contribute to this conversation about ethical and responsible milk production.

I’d like to encourage you, my fellow dairy farmers, to join me in sharing your farm stories with our consumers.

You can do this by opening your farm doors to the public, approaching a consumer purchasing dairy products in the grocery store or by joining me in sharing photos and stories of life on the farm on social media. Regardless of your means of conveying information, each method will begin an invaluable conversation about agriculture.

If you choose to share your stories online, there is a variety of media to choose from. I personally prefer Facebook for most of my posts. Other “agvocates” favour Twitter or Instagram or even Snapchat.

It really depends on how you wish to convey your message. Facebook allows for longer posts to describe the photos shared, making it easier to go into detail about the topic at hand. Followers can easily share your posts and content, expanding your audience exponentially.

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Twitter is quick and tends to get your message out to a broad audience fairly easily. However, it can be difficult to convey a strong message within the 140-character limit.

I use my Twitter account to interact with fellow farmers and to keep up-to-date on the latest trends and topics in our industry, giving me more fuel for future posts.

I’ve started using Instagram fairly recently, and I like having the ability to share my posts on Twitter and Facebook directly from the Instagram app.

When I have a large topic to share, such as the recent trade negotiations and how they could or will impact our industry, I compose blog posts and then share them via Twitter and Facebook. This helps to expand the audience beyond just blog email subscribers.

If you decide to share your life on social media, it would be wise to …

  • Be transparent: Explain or show the consumer our common farming practices. Show the consumer you are open and aboveboard on all aspects of farm life, and they will no longer feel we have anything to hide.

  • Be accepting: Realize that not all farms and farmers are alike. Refrain from farmer or farm-type “bashing.” Remember that our target audience is our consumers.

    Belittling or demeaning other types of farms or farmers will not help our consumers feel confident about our industry. Describe how you farm and let other farmers share their own stories.

  • Be polite and courteous: Outrage and annoyance will not win any support, but polite, well-thought-out responses will engender respect and will lend credence to your statements.

    Politely sharing your experiences will win over our consumers more quickly than outbursts of anger.

I firmly believe that if we all work together to share our stories and ensure the general public is confident in the products we produce and how they are produced, our industry will remain vibrant and healthy for generations of farmers to come.  PD

Julaine Treur
  • Julaine Treur

  • Dairy producer
  • Creekside Dairy
  • Agassiz, British Columbia

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