In the last month I’ve noticed there has been an uptick in the online discussion on what roll emotion plays in the art and science of raising animals. The discussion over how much we can and should allow emotion to play into how we farm has been heated and, dare I say, passionate. For some, it seems emotion is fine when we want people to understand us, but should be frowned upon when brought to us by our customers.
While facts and science are the backbone of what we do as agriculturalists, numbers and statistics tend to be dry and not very convincing when presented by someone who doesn’t first connect to the audience they are speaking. Like it or not, eating is bound tightly to emotion, and by extension we cannot simply throw science and fact into the discussion about our farming without taking the time to show our customers why they should care about what we have to say.
Thankfully, this rule also applies to those who wish us to be out of business as well. I pulled a few vegan “facts” from the Internet to consider whether or not science should always win.
“The average American cholesterol level is 210 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), which is higher than the
medically acceptable range of 150-200 mg/dL. The average cholesterol of a vegan in the US is 146 mg/dL.”
“A study done by Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn found that a vegan diet caused more than500 genes to change in three months, turning on genes that prevent disease and turning off genes that cause cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.
“Over 90% of U.S. dairy cows are confined in primarily indoor operations, with more than 60% tethered by the neck inside barren stalls, unable to perform the most basic behaviors essential to their wellbeing.”
While the first two examples may stick in someone’s mind for a while, the third example, which brings emotions into the conversation, is the one that will get the most people riled up.
e old saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies to agvocacy just as much as anything else. Animal rights activists gained ground because, rather than lead with the facts and figures, they tell stories that tug at the heartstrings of those who don’t know better. If the animal rights movement has figured out videos of sad-looking puppies and kitties brings in the donations for them, why hasn’t animal agriculture followed their lead?
Dropping science from the discussion saves time. Think of all the time it takes to spout off some numbers and paste a link to a study. We can use that time to truly listen to our customers and answer them with our own personal stories.
Simply put, sticking with just the science of what we do is simply not effective. When it comes to talking about how we care for our land and animals, cutting corners straight to the facts and playing it safe hasn’t been working for us. We must show the softer side of farming.
Carrie Mess farms in partnership with her husband Patrick and his parents on their 100-cow, 300-acre dairy farm near Lake Mills, Wis. She also speaks to agricultural organizations, empowering farmers to tell their own stories through social media.
“Dairy Carrie” can be reached via
Follow her blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie, at dairycarrie.com.