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Growing up the Farmer’s Daughter

Some children grow up in the suburbs, others in the big city, some live in large mansions, others in small apartment buildings, but I believe I had the best place of all tpicture-in-front-of-barno grow up. Where would that be you might ask? My family’s dairy farm. Our farm is proudly located in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (Minnesota) and has been there for four generations. Each and every day on the dairy is something very special to me. There are triumphs and challenges, but I could not be more thankful to have been raised with agriculture in my roots. Here are three of the most important life lessons I learned growing up as the farmer’s daughter.

The cows come first. Always.

Regardless of the day or time, cow care is the top priority for my family. In my home, we do not eat supper or lunch until the cows have received their’s. We don’t clean our home, until the cow barn is taken care of. We don’t go to the doctor until the veterinarian came to check on our cows. Everyone in my family knows and fully understands that the cows come first. Farmers just like my dad, work tirelessly everyday of the year to make sure that their animals are well cared for. Imagine getting a call from your boss at 2:30 a.m. telling you to get to work right away. Most of us would question their sanity and then roll back over in bed. That is not the case for farmers. If my dad knows a cow will be calving in the middle of the night, I can guarantee you he will be up monitoring the birthing process ensuring the cow and newborn calf are well and healthy. There is no such thing as a ‘day off’ in my family.

There is always something to learn.

There are just some things that cannot be taught in the classroom. Thankfully, I have learned many life lessons on the farm. Work ethic, growing from mistakes and failure, and the importance of advocating for what you love are all proficiencies I have learned from the dairy. When you have to be up at sunrise and do not get to bed until way after sunset, you begin to be appreciative for the fact that you have a job that makes time go by in the blink of an eye. When you spend a countless number of hours preparing the land and planting your crops in the spring only to watch a hail storm destroy everything, you begin to be thankful for the fact that no people or animals were hurt. When you read and hear about organizations trying to destroy your livelihood by spreading misinformation, you begin to find the courage within yourself to stand up for what you believe in. I am a better person because of the trials and tribulations, victories and accomplishments I have had on the farm.

Family is forever. kylas-family

It is definitely not a ‘normal’ thing to have to work with your parents, grandparents, and siblings every day, but truthfully, I would not have it any other way. Each day, my family and I wake up knowing that we are taking care of cows that are producing wholesome, nutritious milk and are feeding the world. Being able to lean on your family in times of success and defeat is something I will never take for granted. We support one another in all aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to the farm.

Farming is a family affair. We farmers love what we do and are thankful for the opportunity to work alongside some of our closest friends and family. Just because a farm is large, does not make it a “factory farm” instead of a family farm. Ninety-seven percent of farms in America ar
e family-owned. Just as a person from town or a large city may want to go back to the family business, children of farmers want to do the same. With more family members wanting to continue their agricultural legacy and tradition, it is important that the farm expands in order to support multiple generations. Regardless of the size of the farm, animal care is going to be our top priority.

Do you see whfamily-farms-for-blogy life on the dairy farm has meant so much to me? I would not be the person I am today without the life lessons learned and the family who helped to raise me on the farm. I can assure you that I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. People all across the country are thankful to have been raised in agriculture and are passionate about producing our world’s food and fiber. Being an actual farmer may not be in my career aspirations, but I know that agriculture will be in my future. After all, I will always be the farmer’s daughter. 


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The Alliance Taught Me The Importance of “Why?”

Day One

With any internship, the first day is always the most nerve racking. When starting, there is an expected level of anticipation for traditional intern responsibilities, followed by acceptance because that is the circle of life in the work place. On day one I expected to be picking up coffee, taking clothes to the dry cleaners and answering phones and taking messages. But after day one I quickly learned these were not the tasks I would be responsible for.

I was fortunate enough to play a crucial role in the Alliance this summer; I was able to participate in a number of tasks. I attended two animal rights conferences, drafted several blogs, created social media content, connected with interns working in all aspects of the industry, and tracked media outlets to remain current on industry trends. And while the work load never let up I learned an invaluable lesson this summer. I learned the importance of “Why?”

Understanding the Importance of “Why?”

The need to communicate agricultural practices is at a high. Consumers have become more concerned about where their food is coming from. They want to know the practices that producers use and if these practices line up with their lifestyle, and so they ask the question, “why?” Why farmers implement certain practices, why do companies process food the way they do, why are certain ingredients used, the list is long but the question is the same.

Today all the information that consumers need is at their fingertips. At the click of a button on their phones, laptops, tablets and more, consumers can search for answers to their questions and find them. But there are two sides to every story. This saying is almost cliché because we have heard it uttered so many times, but for the animal agriculture community it could not be truer. A large part of the mission of the Alliance is to protect, to understand who is outputting misleading information with an ulterior motive because no one likes to be the target.

Communication Builds Community

With information coming from multiple sources, why shouldn’t it come from the farmers and ranchers as well, with unbeatable force? By sharing this information consumers are able to build trust by relating their needs to practices and trust leads to continued business transactions. It is commonly said that the biggest problem with communication is that we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply. By understanding the meaning behind “Why?” farmers and ranchers can be reiterating the mutual values they hold with consumers. Communication will lead to community.

A fellow intern this summer quoted, “A customer does not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The animal agriculture community emphasizes animal care every day and this is just one answer to many questions that consumers hold. There is an abundance of information available, but is it the right information? This summer I have asked a lot of questions and I have answered just as many, but most importantly I have learned to understand the importance of “Why?”


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A Flashback to ’15 – College Aggies, Activists and Online Engagement

Jennifer Weinberg, 2015 College Aggies Online (CAO) second place individual winner, grew up on a beef cattle ranch in New Jersey. In 2015, she graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Political Communications. Her goal is to defend the rights of farmers in the court of law and public opinion by fusing together her love for agriculture with her current and future knowledge of law. 

Beef CattleBeing a part of the College Aggies Online program provided me the opportunity to do exactly what I love to do more than most everything else- talk about cattle and agriculture. Entering the competition taught me one thing- engagement defending agriculture on social media has never been needed more, or in higher demand. Opponents of agriculture have taken to the seas of social media in their attempts to end meat consumption. To their credit- they are good at it – “it” being using vast emotionally-engaging propaganda to drive a wedge of mistrust between shoppers and farmers. It’s time that the agricultural community mounts a force online to disrupt this and the CAO program was exactly that driving force for me.

Growing up on a small family-owned beef cattle farm gives me something in common with many other farmers, as 97 percent of U.S. farms are family owned, and I got to share my reality through creating various graphics and posts that I shared on social media platforms. Without the CAO program, activists would be able to continue telling their completely one-sided story of agriculture. Through the various seminars and tasks handed to us in each of the nine weeks of the program, we gained knowledge and encouragement that helped us learn to be heard.

In this however, being heard is not simply enough. The College Aggies program helped me see that not only was it important to be engaged with the PQA Plusonline world, but sharing my story had to do more than simply show a glimpse into my life; it had to do its part to combat the very negative framing that has been pushed forth about agriculture in America. Due to the changing tides of technology, it is no secret that information is spread almost instantly online. Not only is it a quick mode of information transfer, it’s efficient in changing how people form opinions and adapt behaviors. For instance, a Facebook post by an activist group that contorts the pig-preferred, safe usage of gestation crates for sows into an evil tortuous prison cell degrading the value of life, if seen by an individual who unknowingly takes it to be an expression of reality, can cause such an emotionally-formed opinion that they decide to stop eating pork products or even, stop eating meat all together. This decision has a significant effect on the market of supply and demand for pig farmers. This effect grows as more people change their eating and consumption habits, and activist engagement on social media is designed to do exactly that. One of the best parts of the CAO program was that learning how to combat this while avoiding the negativity of anti-agriculturalists.

450 poundsAvoiding this negativity was not hard because I drew on the experiences I have with agriculture. I was not aware before the program to the degree in which in both central New Jersey, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, and in the nation’s capital where I went to college, the average person’s conception of American agriculture is plagued with illusions of animals in pain and suffering by the hand of “heartless farmers”. This simply is not true, but before CAO I did not know what I could do about it.

By being a part of the College Aggies Online program I was able to learn how to effectively combat this online by balancing my conveyance of the facts with emotionally salient materials that shoppers want to see. In other words, I got to share my story of what farming ACTUALLY looks like through informative posts that show the lighter, meaningful relationship that farmers share with their livestock. I am forever grateful for the Animal Agriculture Alliance for providing me the opportunity to learn how to express my story through social media and other mediums like on the “Future Problem Solvers” Panel at the 2016 Summit that allowed my voice to be heard. That’s what needs to happen more and more from all of us, both young and old –  if we want to preserve the industries that feed us and have fed us since even before we called ourselves “Americans.”  Luckily, the CAO program is here to teach us all how to be heard, and be heard effectively.

“In no other country do so few people produce so much food, to feed so many, at such reasonable prices.” –


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Everyone Needs a Farmer, Three Times a Day

A Growing Community

The agriculture community is vast and continues to not only grow, but also to develop new practice methods. In a field so large not only can it be difficult to be well versed on all its subject matter, but it is also easy to find information that is subjective as opposed to objective. As an intern at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, my experiences have exposed me to the wide scope of information being shared along with those who are sharing it. In short, I have acknowledged the importance of the connection that needs to be made with all sides of the spectrum regarding individuals and their eating habits.

FFALike many people I do not have a background in agriculture. Agriculture was not a field I had involvement in until I took my first agriculture science class as a freshman in high school. The class exposed me to the unspoken truth that was made notable by Brenda Schoepp. “Once in your life you may need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” It is when I finally understood this truth that I knew I wanted to become more vocal in speaking out on issues of concern for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

A Need for Effective Communication 

Currently there is a great need to bridge the communication gap regarding the truth that serves as the backbone of American animal agriculture. America’s farmers and ranchers have faced combative comments from animal activists as well as animal rights organizations. They want to know what the agriculture community’s defense is and explain again how farmers and ranchers care. These comments are all confrontational in nature, but by following two steps when responding to – or proactively confronting – these comments the agriculture community can take progressive strides forward regarding farmer’s sincere consideration for animal welfare.

  1. Focus on a particular segment of agriculture

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

Animal agriculture encompasses many different species and topics, such as animal welfare. Focus on a particular topic such as pigs, chickens, beef cattle, etc. With all of the different species, there are different farmers and ranchers utilizing different techniques. Because of this, farmers frequently specialize in one of the livestock or poultry species. With this specialization, farmers and ranchers can not only provide more tailored care and welfare practices for their animals, they can also provide specifically designed nutrition plans and specially designed housing. Consumers are hungry to know more about their food. By highlighting the benefits of specialization through focusing on the information about particular species, the consumer can see the emphasis farmers and ranchers put on animal welfare.

  1. Provide facts

Consumers want to know where their food is coming from. By providing facts and adding them to anecdotes of farmers utilizing these practices, information will be better retained. Farmers are constantly learning about new practices and systems they can use to raise their livestock, similarly to how consumers are constantly learning about where their food is coming from. As the majority of consumers are more than two generations removed from the farm, it is difficult to fully understand why farmers do what they do. This is why we encourage consumers to do their own research and decide for themselves what they should eat or not eat. In today’s world, food labels are becoming harder and harder to read, therefore, farmers are trying to be open about how their livestock is raised. The facts about your food are out there, go get them.

13941052_1204172576288928_195915745_nContinue Your Education 

President Kennedy said, “Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.” Then and now, the education of agriculture needs to be continuously spread. By being specific in the information being shared and providing facts along with anecdotes the true face of animal agriculture will leave no room for contentious questions. Never stop learning because agriculture never stops teaching.


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Without Agriculture, I wouldn’t be an Aggie

Heather Abeita is the 2015 College Aggies Online third place individual winner. She grew up on a small farm and ranch in New Mexico and was actively involved in 4-H and FFA. She is a senior studying Agricultural Biology at New Mexico State University with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. Read Heather’s original post here

“Agriculture: noun; the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.”heather

The definition of Agriculture can easily be looked up, but actually living the life and being able to experience it is a whole different story and telling the other side of the story was exactly what I did in College Aggies Online (CAO). There were so many things I learned during CAO, which ranged from learning about GMOs, how hormones are illegal to use in the poultry and pork industry to why we even have to import beef to the United States. Growing up on a small farm and being active in FFA and 4-H, I thought I knew quite a bit of information of the agriculture industry, but being able to participate in CAO I learned so much more.

My favorite part of CAO was being able to advocate for agriculture and telling the other side of agriculture. There are so many stories making the agriculture industry look like horrible people who want to destroy the land, which is not true at all.

I am a better agvocate today because CAO has taught me so many great points on how to be a great agvocate and how to communicate and fill the gap from the agriculture community to people who may not know much about agriculture. It now makes it easier for me as well and I am more confident in being able to compose an answer to a question whereas before I was not as comfortable answering questions about GMOs and hormone use (or lack thereof) in poultry.

Over the course of the nine weeks, I loved learning how to make an infographic which helps in explaining topics when advocating because there is a visual that people can actually see. I loved every bit of the competition and it was also pretty convenient because everything is mostly online-based and works better for your schedule.

My overall experience of CAO was a very impactful nine weeks of learning about various topics within the agriculture industry. Learning about all the various topics in the agriculture industry will help me in my future career of wanting to be a veterinarian because of the many connections and topics. I stumbled across College Aggies on Facebook and I thought I would give it a go and it was the best decision I made. I’ve also met so many other students and others who are involved in agriculture while attending the Tyson Foods tour as well as Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s Stakeholders Summit in Washington D.C. who want the best for agriculture.

Becoming a CAO individual winner was such an amazing accomplishment because I was not only representing myself but New Mexico State University. I was very excited that over the course of the nine weeks my hard work paid off in being one of the top individual winners. It meant a lot to me placing because there was competition with the other individuals and I was always looking for ideas to step up my game and how I could be a better advocate.

I hope others will take what they learn over the course of the nine weeks and become awesome advocators. I hope that they don’t stop advocating once it is all over but to keep advocating for agriculture because it is so vital, especially right now when there are so many voices who are speaking against the agriculture industry. We are hearing about GMOs and the use of antibiotics that may ultimately lead to bills being passed by lawmakers who have never stepped foot on a farm. So let’s all agvocate and become a stronger voice for agriculture!

The 2016 competition kicks off September 19. Sign up today!

 


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AGGIES are AMAZING

Jessica Miller is the 2015 College Aggies Online first place individual winner. She received her undergraduate degree in animal science and is now a graduate student studying agriculture education at Oklahoma State University. She grew up on a beef farm in Oklahoma and showed cattle, judged horses and livestock and participated in 4-H. Read Jessica’s original post here

Summer is about to end and school is right around the corner. I almost can’t believe it myself. Days pass by so quickly anymore and the things I look forward to now are fairs and fall. However, I am also looking forward to something else that happens in the fall that is much more exciting.

College Aggie’s Online (CAO), an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, is one of my main highlights that I look forward to now that I was so involved in it last year. I’d have to say the whole entire event was my favorite just because it challenged me to push myself and get things done.

I learned so much in those nine weeks and applied them after the event ended. I learned about the kind of people who tend to “hate” on agriculture as well as how to handle them online and in person. I learned so many ways of how to properly advocate for Ag in order to teach people where their food comes from. I am way better at advocating because of CAO and I help teach visitors at our school dairy farm about where their milk comes from and handle their questions with the confidence I didn’t have before CAO.

Overall, CAO was thrilling, challenging and fun. I first heard about the contest through others who had done it at my school. Our dairy club had recently won the club competition and had gone to the Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit, which the president had told me had been a load of fun. Since I loved to compete and loved to advocate for agriculture, I went ahead and joined the competition. I never knew how much fun I would have.

My first post was a dairy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I made it a point in my schedule to share at least twice a day everyday when I wasn’t busy with school or work. I enjoyed the blogs, AgChat and all of the various assignments we did.

I didn’t really expect to win the CAO competition. I tried my best to do all the assignments and get the points I needed. However, winning the competition meant I had given it my all,  learned how to properly advocate for Ag, had kept pushing myself to do well and get all of the assignments finished. Winning the competition meant everything to me. I also got to experience Washington, D.C. for the first time in my life which was something this country girl was not used to, but I loved every minute of it and the Summit while getting to meet people and see things I had never seen.

I hope others gain the experience and have the fun I had during this competition. It is important we learn the facts about the Ag industry and learn about our detractors as well – because in the end, we have people who don’t support our farmers and ranchers and use what they call “facts” against us. In all honesty, what they use as facts are usually false or taken out of context and we as agriculturalists need to learn how to handle such accusations while maintaining a diplomatic demeanor.

I believe our youth in Ag is the future. If we arm our youth with knowledge of why and how we do things in agriculture, they can use it to defend our way of life against the ones who want to criticize it. Having knowledge that is correct and factual is mightier than the sword and if younger generations defend agriculture, we will have a promising future. I believe that CAO and the Alliance are the best at getting youth involved in advocating for Ag.

Thank you College Aggies and Animal Ag Alliance for everything!

Here is a link to the panel I was on discussing futures in Ag at the Alliance’s annual conference. This was an amazing experience if not a little nerve wracking just because it was my first time, but it was enjoyable and down right fun!

This year’s College Aggies Online scholarship competition kicks off September 19. To sign up, visit the Alliance website!


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When a farm kid goes to an animal rights conference…

I grew up on a cattle farm in rural Missouri. I am a classic, stereotypical farm kid that was involved in the local 4-H and FFA. I raised cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits and ducks. I know how to drive a tractor and drove a truck in a field before I drove a car on the highway.I'm a farm kid, and I went to animal rights conferneces.

Bullying farmers and ranchers 

I became aware of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) from their pessimistic TV commercials trying to gain more donations by appealing to viewers’ emotions. I knew these animal rights organizations always said they were trying to help dogs and cats, but when they said they needed to “rescue” farm animals, that’s when I started to do research.

In August of 2014, Missouri residents voted on a “Right to Farm Bill”- ensuring Missouri farmers and ranchers are guaranteed the right to farm for forever in the state. I advocated heavily in favor of this bill, yet I met several people who were skeptical, and the majority of those people were misinformed on the bill by anti-agriculture groups. Therefore, I attained a dislike for these groups that felt the need to bully and pressure their way into getting what they think is best for animals – which often does not align with science.

blog picBlending in with the activists

After that, I never thought that I would attend multiple events sponsored by the organizations that are trying to annihilate the industry that possesses my livelihood.

That quickly changed when I moved halfway across the country for my summer internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The Alliance sends representatives to national animal rights conferences each year so that it can inform the industry about what strategies and tactics activist groups may be using next. Not knowing what was going to be said or done, I sat quietly and noted what the organizations had to say about the animal agriculture community.

I did not know exactly what to expect when I walked into the first conference, the HSUS’ Taking Action for Animals Conference. My first thought was that I was not going to blend-in with the activist crowd. During the opening session, Paul Shapiro, HSUS’ vice president of farm animal protection, said something opposing the animal agriculture industry that made the whole audience stand up, clap and cheer. Since I was trying to blend in, I had to stand and clap as well. I was weak in the knees to stand and applaud somebody that doesn’t understand the importance of animal agriculture and the hard work and dedication that farmers like my family possess.

The second conference I attended was the 2016 National Animal Rights Conference hosted by FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) in Los Angeles, California.

The banquet entree at the 2016 Animal Rights Conference was "chicken" in a mushroom sauce.

The banquet entree at the 2016 Animal Rights Conference was “chicken” in a mushroom sauce.

While at this conference I tried vegan food, which added to the eye-opening experience of being exposed to the animal rights movement. This conference was much larger than the one hosted by HSUS and included more radical sessions that made me cringe by just reading the titles like, “The Spirituality of Veganism,” and “Getting to Know Our Adversaries.”

While sitting through hours and hours of similarly themed sessions I did learn a few things. I learned that most of the animal activists will believe the lies of “factory farming” without ever hearing the truth from farmers themselves. Several of the activists think that animal agriculture is an abomination to mankind that needs to be destroyed and the animals need to be “liberated.” I also learned of the different tactics that are being used by groups to essentially spy on farms, fairs, and other similar events. From drones, telephoto camera lenses, body cameras and the use of the Freedom of Information Act, activists are willing to stop at nothing to “free” the animals. To see what these people are willing to do to “liberate” animals is intimidating, because their tactics are ruthless and unethical.

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SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) uses drones like this one nicknamed “angel.”

Controlling my emotions 

A skill I learned while attending these conferences was to control my thoughts and expressions while listening to the lies spewed by speakers. During the HSUS conference, Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals, specifically said that “4-H is a child’s first betrayal of animals.” I retired as a 12-year 4-H member and Missouri State 4-H President in early June. It took courage for me to clap at the comment rather than speaking out to defend the organization. I learned that the activists are willing to say anything to make people believe their lies about farming.

Leading with lies and misinformation

As I unwillingly applauded several animal rights leaders, listened to speakers preach about plant-based diets, tried vegan food and talked with people about “how horrible farmers are,” I realized the key difference between myself and the activists. While claiming to care about farm animals, activist groups rely on lies and misinformation to spread their goal of ending animal agriculture while I rely on truths, farmers’ experiences and science to promote the industry I love.

If you have questions or concerns about how farm animals are cared for please ask a farmer who cares for their animals every day, not animal rights groups with a radical, unrealistic, and downright absurd agenda.

The Alliance has published one report on the HSUS conference and is currently working on a report from the 2016 National Animal Rights Conference. These reports are exclusively available to Alliance members.


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Reflections from the Animal Rights National Conference: what can we learn

Attending Animal Rights Conferences blog picture

The Animal Agriculture Alliance frequently attends conferences hosted by animal rights groups. The purpose of attending – to get inside information straight from the source and generate reports for its members. I attended Taking Action for Animals, hosted by the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Rights National Conference, hosted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement. The experience was eye-opening. I went in open-minded and intrigued by the conference themes. The themes targeted the rights and welfare of all animals. After a few phrases were repeated, the strategic position these organizations held was clear: these conferences are an attempt to undermine the animal agriculture community.

While attending each of the conferences, I did not see eye-to-eye with much of the information shared. Oftentimes the information was outdated, out of context and invalid. There was one speaker howbeit, that I did side with in one regard, Steve Hindi. Hindi is president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness). During his presentation Hindi said, “We’re winning? That’s absurd.” A statement which I applaud. The animal rights movement is far from a winning force. Hindi verified this truth in front of all attendees at the Animal Rights National Conference.

Why They Are Not Winning farmer-657332__180

Taking Action for Animals and the Animal Rights National Conference are the two primary conferences hosted for animal rights activists. As a result of their significance, messages conveyed were synonymous and presentations paralleled. Despite undeniable resemblance, the animal rights movement as a whole lacks synergy. There is no combination of strengths among organizations. Instead, speakers denounced other animal rights activist groups discrediting their effectiveness as an organization. Besides the lack of unity, the animal rights movement also fails to convey current and original information. Repetitive speeches at workshops with replica information and analogies was a common occurrence.

The animal agriculture community has become the primary focus of activist groups. By targeting animal agriculture, these groups claim they can “spare” the most animals. To do this they attempt to discredit scientifically-backed practices and protocols. With these tactics, activist groups draw profound attention to the animal agriculture community; but these organizations have forgotten a key business strategy –  never underestimate your opponent, but never make them bigger than you either. In attempt to discredit farmers and ranchers, these conferences do just the opposite. The conferences sing the praise of how far we as a collective, undivided industry have come and shine a light on what we are – science based.

My Take-Away 

AAA_group_con-eng-pro_4CAs a result of these conferences, the animal agriculture community must face the “marketing campaign” of the animal rights groups. Immediately, the question “how?” is raised. My answer – we don’t. Instead, we should aim to expand public knowledge about how farm animals are cared for and broaden the understanding of animal agriculture practices. At these conferences Wayne Pacelle and Nick Cooney said, “People are smart.” They are correct, the public simply has minimal exposure to agriculture. Animal welfare is a driving force that influences both the farmers and consumers. The well-being of animals’ health are valued by each, and because of this, practices reflect both values. By seeking what is understood by the public, and further developing their knowledge, there is no fight. The importance of animal care will be unquestionable. So I thank the conference speakers for drawing attention to animal agriculture – now it’s our opportunity to shine a light on the indisputable, humane methods of America’s farmers and ranchers.

The Alliance recently released its report from the 2016 Taking Action for Animals conference, available to Alliance members only.


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How will you answer when someone asks – Why do youth show livestock? What is the point?

Shane Potter,  State 4-H Youth Development Specialist at the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, shares his insights on how to engage about livestock showing at the fair.

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I was recently asked “Why do youth still raise livestock and show at the fair?” I love questions like this. They open the door to not only inform and educate but to also share the impact involvement in 4-H and livestock can have on the lives of youth. Here are the main steps I walk people through and teach my 4-Hers.

Start with a Personal Story – Leverage your Experience

I could tell you all kinds of amazing benefits gained, in general, when youth are involved in livestock projects. They gain grit and resiliency through the completion of difficult goals, creative problem solving and management skills through the process of caring for and showing animals, and are better prepared for college and careers because of the experiences and connections made in their 4-H clubs. This is all true and sounds great, but without the personal story it just doesn’t stick.

Instead I might tell you about myself, a young boy, who took part in the catch-a-lamb project. Not having sheep of his own, a local farmer provided the boy with an opportunity to raise, train, and then show a lamb at the county fair. (At this point you would see the twinkle in my eye as I think back to the pride I had in my catch-a-lamb project). The fact that someone else believed I could be successful and take care of and train a lamb was exactly what I needed to build confidence in my abilities.

As the story unfolds a picture should start to form in your mind. The triumphs and challenges the boy had in the project seem more tangible. You can understand how he gained problem solving skills when his lamb ate wood chips and bloated and he had to figure out what to do. The story attaches your main points to tangible anchors people can more easily remember.

Know Your Facts – Science is our Friend, Use It1280_0E6YI9l8MRFt

Not only are youth livestock producers and exhibitors gaining important Life and Soft skills, they are also mastering vast amounts of animal science knowledge. Through 4-H livestock projects youth become experts on animal care including things like nutritional needs of their livestock, facility needs and maintenance, and health care.

A personal story is excellent, but don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. If someone asks you about docking a tail be ready to explain the how it helps reduce parasite infestation. I usually tell 4-Hers – This is your chance to shine and show a bit of what you have learned. It is also OK to not know everything. That is one of the great things about showing livestock, it is supposed to be a learning experience.

Model the Behavior You Describe in Your Story – Be Confident and Kind

Above all – regardless if you agree with the person you are talking to or how they are acting, be gracious and kind. Anyone who has ever worked with livestock knows they have a mind of their own and may not do what you want them to do. This is excellent training for keeping your cool when talking with someone who you may not agree with.

As a final thought, I again go back to my story about the boy and his lamb project. I remember how the project was just the spark needed to develop a passion and drive to improve and work hard to accomplish his goals. This is true for thousands of youth each year who raise and show livestock.


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Don’t let misinformation become someone’s truth

We are all consumers. We all have our preferences regarding the types of foods we like to purchase and eat, but our purchasing decisions should be based on facts, not fear and misinformation.

IMG_17411I recently attended the annual Glenview Dairy Breakfast and Stockshow at the Historic Wagoner Farm, a family-oriented event filled with games, a tasty breakfast and barnyard animals. My job was to answer any questions people had about animal agriculture and animal care. Almost every person I spoke with didn’t necessarily have a question, but rather a statement they wanted me to verify. Unfortunately, all of their statements were laced with misinformation.

Here are a few of the myths and misinformation I heard:

“I don’t buy products in the store that come from factory farms.”

When people say “factory farm” they are usually referring to large farms, but size does not automatically make a farm good or bad. What matters is how the farm is managed.

It takes farms of all sizes and types to make up the agriculture community and provide consumers with healthy food choices. Large farms can be conventional, organic or local and the same is true for small farms. Large farms often have the resources to hire animal care specialists, veterinarians and animal nutritionists to be on staff to help care for the animals using advanced technology that not only benefits the animals, but the farmer as well.

Farmers may prefer to raise their animals or grow their crops in different ways, but one thing all farmers share is the commitment to animal care and food safety. One way the animal agriculture community ensures their herds and flocks are healthy and receive the best care is through quality assurance programs and constant research and dedication towards continuous improvement.

Advances-in-Animal-Ag

Advances in Animal Ag Infographic

Perfectionism does not exist in agriculture because farmers are always looking for ways to improve and evolve as new research and technology becomes available. The Alliance recently released a report and infographic highlighting the advances in animal care, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and sustainability achieved by animal agriculture.

“What are you doing to prevent farmers from abusing their animals?”

To assume that farmers mistreat their animals is quite disheartening because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Farmers and ranchers care about the well-being of their animals and work hard to ensure they are providing the best possible care every day. Groups that want you to think otherwise often use scare tactics, misinformation and highly-edited videos to convince you not to support American farmers and ranchers. When a farmer takes care of his/her animals, the animals are healthy and comfortable which yields a safe, wholesome food supply for consumers. Farmers are striving to feed us, while activist groups are striving to take protein-packed meals off our plates.

grassfinished-or-grainfinished-beef-1-638“What’s the deal with grass-fed and grain-fed?”

A common misconception is that grain-finished cattle never eat a blade of green grass, but all cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture. Some cattle are grass-finished and others are grain-finished. Grain-finished means they are fed a nutritionally-balanced diet of grains, vitamins and minerals for the last 3-6 months of their lives.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians, animal nutritionists and animal care experts to ensure their animals receive the right amount of nutrients at the right time. Whether the animal is grass-finished or grain-finished does not correlate with the quality of care they receive. Ninety percent of United States cattle are raised under the guidelines established by the Beef Quality Assurance program – a science-based program that helps farmers and ranchers raise their cattle using proven techniques and recommendations from animal care specialists.

Myth-busting marathon

What I honestly hoped would be a day filled with sharing coloring books with children and Alliance resources with parents quickly turned into a myth-busting marathon, but I would run the marathon again in a heartbeat. The people I spoke with were only repeating what they had heard from advertisements, activist groups and misinformed friends. Once I started a conversation with parents addressing their concerns and sharing the truth about how farmers care for their animals, they planted their feet in the ground and we had long discussions that left them smiling and thankful to hear the other side of the story.

We need to share our agriculture story so they hear the truth. Go to events, be active on social media, talk to people in your community and don’t let misinformation become what they think is the truth!IMG_17621

About the author: 

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day.