Can we eliminate the negative tone of dairy farming through the world of social media? Some dairy farmers think that it is possible and are taking to Instagram, Facebook, blogs and YouTube, using these platforms to share their voices to cut through the strong anti-dairy or anti-farming noise.
“I know that social media and spending too much time on our phones or computers gets a negative reputation, but if we want to continue to reach a larger audience and continue to agvocate, social media is the ticket,” said Emily Shaw, founder of the Instagram page Dairy Girl Fitness.“Whether we like it or not, social media has the biggest influence on the younger generation, and if we don’t share our stories and facts about agriculture, the truth will get lost. We have to show consumers why dairy farming is great and why they should continue to consume dairy products.”
Shaw is not your typical dairy farmer. Actually, she did not grow up on a dairy farm, but through a family connection was able to participate in showing dairy cattle in her local Pennsylvania 4-H and FFA. Her passion for dairy cattle and weightlifting led her to create the positive dairy and exercise influencing brand, Dairy Girl Fitness.
By day, Shaw is employed as an analyst for Suwannee Valley feeds in Florida and was nervous about creating the Instagram page which now has garnered over 3,000 followers. Prior to creating the page, she took the time to design weekly posts and had formulated a plan on how she wanted the page to grow. “I decided to create the account on Instagram because I feel that I can reach a younger audience, which seem to be the people who are consuming less dairy,” wrote Shaw in a Jan. 2 email. “My goal is to reach a large audience and show them that you don’t need to cut out dairy or animal products out of your diet to be healthy. I also want to share facts about agriculture and explain common misconceptions.”
Shaw said that she has noticed that big-name fitness influencers on social media are encouraging their audiences to incorporate dairy alternatives such as almond milk. She feels that Dairy Girl Fitness serves its role in being the dairy voice in promoting the benefits of including cheese, milk and yogurt in the diet for consumers who are health and fitness conscious.
On social media, the conversations are happening between the comment section and direct messages, but some of the conversations can be arduous. Emily has dealt with animal welfare activists who negatively criticize not just the dairy industry, but her appearance and intelligence.
When a person is not taking the time to appreciate the facts that Emily shares with them, she immediately knows that changing their minds will not happen. Rising above the negative tone they try to create, Shaw will usually respond with a positive remark like “Thank you for taking the time to interact with my account!”
“Animal activists who comment mean things on your posts are looking to get a reaction out of you, so I feel that being polite or a little sarcastic usually works better to make them go away,” wrote Shaw. “No matter what, don’t let activists get to you. Mean, ignorant people will not change and that’s not your fault.”
Despite the critics, Shaw loves sharing her story on Instagram from the connections she has made with other young dairy farmers, enthusiasts to making an impact in a consumer’s life by having taken initiative in either exercising or including dairy in their diet.”There are so many amazing people I have been able to meet and talk with that I may have never met on my personal Instagram account. It also makes me extremely happy when people tell me I help motivate them to exercise more and eat healthier,” said Shaw.
Shaw shares that she does get a fair amount of questions or comments from those who are misinformed, searching for that dairy connection. To keep the conversation going, she tags other farm accounts like the NY Farm Girls within the comments so other accounts can share their point of view with the consumer.
Evelyn, Claudia and Jojo Leubner of Maple-Lane Partnership in Marietta, New York, are using the platforms Instagram and YouTube to raise awareness on the dairy industry. The girls have been operating their page, NY Farm Girls, for four years and currently have over 22,000 Instagram followers who watch their videos and “like” their photos. “Our motto is promoting agriculture in a positive way through social media,” said Evelyn about the girls’ initiative to shape the dairy-social media conversation.
The girls launched their YouTube channel in December, where they introduced themselves and their farm with popular music from recent artists. The girls decided to expand to YouTube as an addition to their Instagram videos. The girls are hoping their channel counteracts the animal welfare activists that have YouTube channels which misinterpret the dairy industry. Evelyn says that she and her sisters are planning to designate individual videos to certain topics such as the separation of mothers and calves, milking and the feeding process of the herd.
“We want to show that dairy farmers know the most about dairy farming, not Google” Leubner said.
The sisters assist in the daily chores of 1,200 herd, 600 milking cows which are 90 percent Holstein and 10 percent Jersey. Evelyn likes caring for the calves while Claudia prefers to do field work because she gets to learn a lot of new field techniques. The farm produces its own haylage, hay, soybean, corn and wheat on 2,100 acres for their herd. In between all their farm chores, the girls plan photoshoots.They estimate that around 300 photos are taken for that perfect candid and around 30 to 100 videos are produced on the farm. “We let people into our personal lives,” said Evelyn on the kind of depth of the video and Instagram postings the girls consistently share.
The sisters keep their audience by asking questions within their postings on what does their audience think about a certain dairy subject or what dairy topic are they hoping to learn more about. Evelyn and Claudia said that they both try to keep their conversations and videos laid back as they bond with consumers. The girls also try to remain factual and not be too opinionated.
Currently, Evelyn is studying animal science at SUNY Cobleskill, Claudia is a junior in high school and Jojo is in eighth grade but these sisters hope that with this progress that they get to go to conventions to publicly speak to audiences about dairy farming and their social media experience. Claudia recalls that when she walked through the reasoning for separation of calves and cows with on-the-fence consumers,only then were they able to understand the dairy farmers’ side of the story. She said that after the time spent working with her sisters in agvocacy for the dairy industry, it has piqued her interest in studying agricultural communications while Evelyn is thinking about a career path in education. She said she has also enjoyed interacting with the public.
Overall, the Leubner sisters are happy with the progress they have made so far because of the vast connections they have made with other dairy farmers and consumers. When asked what they wanted dairy farmers to know about what they are doing, Evelyn and Claudia said that when you agvocate for the dairy industry in turn you are agvocating for yourself in creating consumers for your market.