DENAIR, Calif. (AP) — When a video of dairy cows being punched and prodded with pitchforks was recently released by an animal rights group, it made the rounds on YouTube and generated the expected angry responses.
But it also raised a flurry of outrage from another corner of the Internet: Farmers fought back, blogging, tweeting, uploading their own videos and chatting on Facebook to defend their industry and explain the abuse did not represent their practices.
Growers aren't usually thought of as a wired, social-networking bunch. But frustration at being the targets of tech-wise environmental or animal rights groups has inspired them to get involved with social media and answer in kind.
Armed with smart phones that allow them to post status updates from a tractor seat and increasingly comfortable issuing pithy one-liners on the short-messaging site Twitter, they're going online to tell their own stories, connect to a public they feel doesn't understand them, exchange information and break the isolation they feel on the farm.
"There is so much negative publicity out there, and no one was getting our message out," said Ray Prock Jr ., a second-generation Central California dairy farmer whose blog posts and tweets relay information on everything from emergency drills for handling manure spills to lactose intolerance.
Prock was among those who responded to the video, taking time out from his family vacation to vent his frustration.
"Every other farmer I know who cares for animals has at one time or another put those animals' well being ahead of their own or their families' time or needs," he wrote on his blog.
Prock's wife and two children live on the 240-acre farm, and his 9-year-old son has started helping his father, uncles and grandfather care for the family's 450 cows.
"This is where my family lives — I care for the air, and the water, the environment, the cows," Prock said, walking through the open, airy barns. "This is what I wish I could show people."
The dairy industry in particular has been the focus of undercover videotaping by animals rights groups. In one video released on YouTube, a cow too weak to walk to slaughter is run over by a forklift operator. In another video posted in October, workers at a Vermont slaughterhouse kicked day-old calves.
Farmers say the videos are shocking but don't represent how their animals are treated. They worry Americans won't realize this because they're several generations removed from life on the farm, don't know any farmers and have little idea how their food is produced. The only information about food and farming that most people get comes from the Internet, and exchanges were taking place on sites like YouTube or Twitter without any input from farmers.