Dairy farmers, tell your story

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We have a story to tell in our role as dairy farmers. There are countless opportunities to share it with others. It may not always be the setting we like or feel comfortable with, but our lives have dimensions that exceed those who work in the concrete jungles of a city, far removed from farm life.

It can begin with a simple conversation anywhere where people come together. It is the smile and the casual conversation that begins with the person beside you and it can end with a greater appreciation of what each of you does to fill your days.

With pride, I talk about our farm, the cows and our family involvement. Since about 2 percent of the population work in agriculture, people are fascinated to learn about what we do, how we do it, and our care and concern for the animals.

Image

The general public perceives us as that coloring book image of Ol’ McDonald or grandpa and grandma’s farm they visited as children. Or the worst case scenario is the image they watched on some screen that showed animals abused or harmed.

Would you rather address the curiosity or the lack of faith and trust? Quite simply, we must address both.

However, this becomes a conversation that involves active listening on our part. It is a strategy we cannot fail to respect. Yet too many of us react with our “gut” instincts and our defense mode before we have given others the time to talk and share.

Communicating

You might be surprised to discover your attitude is more important and more convincing than your answers. Active listening (also known as empathetic listening) is defined as a method of listening that involves understanding the content of a message as well as the intent of the sender and the circumstances under which the message is given. It is a habit that more of us should learn and control.

By doing so, we focus on the other person’s conversation, rather than thinking of what we can say next or even interrupting the person talking. If we listen, we demonstrate interest in others and that simple gesture can lay the groundwork for excellent communication.

We readily recognize the active listeners in our lives and we like the feeling we receive from them. It may not always be “warm and fuzzy” but it is the respect for what we have to say that speaks volumes when it comes to verbal and non-verbal communication.

Active listeners provide eye contact and give you their ultimate attention. They are not focused on a computer screen or a calendar with the occasional “yes” and “you are so right.” They listen, ask questions, and re-state what you have said for clarification.

Listen up

When confronted with questions about agriculture and animal welfare, are you an active listener? How about relationships in general? Now I do realize that some folks are going to be combative and more like GI Joe when it comes to these sensitive issues as they relate to agriculture. Let’s just admit you can’t reasonably talk to all people. However, it is a guarantee your chances of success greatly multiply when you can learn the skill of active listening.

The next step is to be prepared with current and factual information to tell your story. We are daily bombarded with all kinds of studies, research and human interest stories that can address our lifestyle. Make a commitment to stay in touch with those that interest you. Sometimes I even send myself a text message with those talking points and the references.

I realize that you are all chuckling at this, but it has provided me with a skilled response when I needed it. Most recently, it happened on a plane trip returning from Arizona. The lady beside was a biochemist involved in research. Admittedly, I know much more about kids than chemistry, but we had a great conversation about more than these topics.

We were both fascinated by each other’s work. We did not change the world or even come up with solutions, but we did find satisfaction in active listening.

Suggestions

So what’s new when it comes to key talking points? Here are a few suggestions for your December repertoire:

Chsinc.com/c: This is a live calving video shot at the Minnesota State Fair in their Miracle of Birth Center. I have been to this display and it draws droves of inquisitive visitors. However, this video captures the novice’s reaction in an eloquent format of music that captivated me. It is that fascination that we need to thread into our conversations with the public.

Progressive Farmer magazine article, Sept. 2012, titled “A Mandate for Mankind:” It is a daunting order to produce enough food to feed 9 billion people by mid century. It discusses agriculture’s big challenge and also the big opportunity for farmers.

This is a must read. Many of we baby boomers will not have to deal with this issue, but we are shaping the minds and attitudes of young people.

www.DairyGood.org: A new website that promotes dairy’s role in society to unite the dairy industry with consumers. It focuses on healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet.

The Dairy Herd Management MARKET/WATCH section: I follow this faithfully. Following are some wonderful points to keep handy and on the tip of your tongue:

*Research studies are being published that report milk can help fight colon cancer and another study dismisses obesity and the connection to high-fat dairy products. In fact, dairy intake was inversely associated with obesity.

*Did you know that the “Got Milk?” slogan was among top 10 advertising campaigns or that home delivery of milk is making a comeback?

*Now here is an interesting twist of fate. With the prediction of higher milk prices, consumers indicated they would be happy to pay the price if the farmers actually benefit from it.

* I love this one from an educational perspective. Budding animal scientists now have a membership program that’s built just for youth. Developed by the American Society of Animal Science, it got under way in November and I already signed up. The magazine and newsletters can correspond to info-graphics and activities related to dairy at the website AnimalSmart.org.

Yes, we do have a story to tell. Will you be a part of the solution? Will you sow the seeds that become answers for future relationships with consumers? Will you provide the promises to sustain agriculture?

It all begins with a simple conversation wherever two people gather. We can spend a lifetime attempting to change the world or we can begin by being an agent of change for ourselves. At this time of year when the magic of the Christmas season is upon us, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and happy New Year’s, filled with that same quality as you tell the story of your farm and the dairy industry.

About the Author

Bonnie Ayers is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. More Stories by Bonnie Ayers

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