In early June I had the opportunity to attend a three-day farm management in-service training in Omaha, Neb. After sitting in meetings for two days I didn’t want to go back and sit in my hotel room, so I decided to take an early evening walk.
I was hoping to be able to take in a game at the College Baseball World Series, but we were about two weeks early for the start of the games.
I walked several blocks and was enjoying being out in the fresh air. Things were going well until I stepped into an intersection (I had the right-of-way) and was struck by a car.
My thigh was struck by the car bumper and my left palm landed on the street. I never saw it coming. To make matters worse the driver didn’t stop!
Having never broken a bone, I assumed I simply had a bad sprain and a few days of ice would cure the problem. However, after I flew home, woke up the next morning and was unable to button my pants or open a gallon of milk, I knew it was time to see a doctor.
Six weeks later I have my cast off and have started physical therapy.
You may be wondering why on earth I am writing about this in this column. It is my hope that I can provide you with some ideas so that you will not be blindsided, as I was by the car, by those who might challenge production practices on your dairy farm.
It is no surprise that efforts are underway in Ohio to challenge production practices of various livestock species. But even without these proposed challenges, it is important for you to be able to respond to questions about what, how and why you do what you do.
Think about how you might respond to questions from the public.
An important place to start is with your mission statement (if you have not developed one now is the time). Your mission statement answers the what, how and why questions about your business and is based on your core family values.
Explain how your business is not just a way of life, but is a business that requires the use of current technology, business planning and management and the services of trusted advisors.
Many would be surprised at the cost of doing business on a dairy farm, from the electric bill to the cost of a new tractor, manure spreader or forage harvester.
Describe the number of people you employ, both family and non-family, along with your nutritionist, agronomist, veterinarian, accountant, etc.
Explain the money you pay for services is often kept in the local community and acts as a multiplier for other businesses.
Explain in simple terms how you care for your animals and be careful of using “jargon” when describing the what, how and why of your business.
Are your animals fed a “ration” or a “diet” to meet their specific nutrient requirements? Are animals housed in “stalls” or on “waterbeds” or “comfortable sand or sawdust bedding” for comfort?
Describe the relationship you have with your veterinarian and how you take a proactive approach to animal care with routine herd checks.
When it comes to milking your cows explain the procedures you follow to ensure a healthy, high quality product.
What does it mean to “strip the teats” or use a pre or post-dip?
A few years ago we had a dairy farm on our Drive-It-Yourself Tour. As the cows exited the parlor a lady standing next to me, seeing iodine on the teats, asked why the cows were bleeding after milking!
Finally, explain that you treat your animals in a humane way and how you provide this level of care. Common sense would tell us that animals that provide income for your family would not be abused or mistreated.
Although many of the management decisions you make are based on university research, as you answer questions from the public realize that science and facts will not change the opinions of everyone.
Helping people develop a positive emotional attachment to agriculture and food animal production will help you tell your story.
Generally speaking, the public has a high level of trust in farmers. Stand up, tell your story and promote your industry. What’s good for one part of agriculture is good for all of agriculture.