Thank you

Happy New Year from all of us at the farm

Happy New Year from all of us at the farm

Thank you. When I began writing Milk Maid Marian in a fury two years ago, I had no idea whether anyone would be interested. It’s turned out to be incredibly fulfilling, thanks to the often unexpectedly feisty discussions sparked by stories from the farm.

I can’t tell you how encouraging your comments are as I thump away at the keyboard.

Please, tell me what you’d like to see more of in 2014 and what bugs you about the blog. Best wishes to all (even the relentless people who want me to advertise ugg boots) for the New Year.

How to get into social media without it taking over your life

I’ve been talking to lots of farmers in preparation for the free social media workshop I’m running at the Australian Dairy Conference on February 24 and three things seem to hold them back from getting into blogging or Twitter:

  • I don’t have time or want to make that kind of commitment
  • I don’t know where to start/not good with computers
  • I don’t want to “put myself out there”

They’re three really good reasons not to jump in the deep end and write a blog but there are two much easier ways to participate in online discussions.

1. Get a Twitter account, upload a profile and start making tweets and contacts
2. Comment on other blogs

Facebook is also very popular (especially with young people) but I’d recommend dabblers leave that until later if it appeals.

How to make use of Twitter

Victorian dairy farmer and UDV Vice President, Ron Paynter, recently wrote of his experiences with Twitter on dairy forum Udderly Fantastic and allowed me to use this excerpt:

“I’d heard of Twitter, and despised the concept of people slavishly following the every banal scrap of information from some air headed celebrity who only survives off the oxygen that being continually noticed gives them. Honestly, who cares what Kim Kardashthingy had for breakfast. I had recognised that during emergencies like the Qld floods, Twitter had played a part in keeping people informed, then later in the year, we had that powerful image of a massive social movement, co-ordinated through Twitter being instrumental in the Egyptian Government change.

Still, despite these clues about the potential of the ‘tweet’, I was a non-believer. Didn’t need it! No time to set up an account or learn a new way of communicating. Besides, what can you say that is at all useful in less than 140 characters?

“What changed was a ‘call to arms’ from some people already involved in Twitter. On a Tuesday night, between 8 and 10 pm, there was going to be a ‘Twitter Forum’ on issues around animal welfare in our industry. We needed people, real farmers, on Twitter to put our case forward and not allow the discussion to be hijacked by activists or the uninformed. So, @payntacow was born and @payntacow, along with several other new conscripts joined in on #agchatoz, the discussion forum location to see what transpired.

There was no abuse, no searing accusations, no threats of coming around and giving you a fat lip . The discussion, formed around six or seven key moderated questions, was sensible and civil and the activists were notable in their absence. The people who were there were interested, some had opinions, some were happy to lurk and learn, but all were supportive and looking for information or genuine debate. I was so impressed by the thoughtful fellow twitterers I met, that I went back to the #agchatoz forum the next week, and have kept on coming back.

Access to a smartphone or tablet like an iPad makes tweeting as easy as checking your watch. Twitter people who I am following include dairy identities such as Milkmaidmarian, Graeme Nicoll, Esther Price and Lynne Strong. Twitter lets you expand the source of ideas well outside your local area though. I’m following an ag teacher in QLD who is passionate about agriculture, a dairyman in Arizona, and a vegan activist in the US. Each day, there are new people or groups to follow if you think they may have something of merit to listen to, and each day, I pick up followers who want to listen to my views. It’s a really  interesting ongoing conversation that you can pick up on whenever you have a spare minute and phone handy.

“So, I’ve fessed up. I am a twitterer. And I was wrong about tweeting as being shallow and not interesting. What Twitter provides is a rapid way of sharing ideas and information, and the chance to have a real dialogue about the ideas, albeit in 140 character chunks.

I really believe that as an industry, we need to be involved in the discussions. I’d encourage anyone who can try Twitter to give it a go.”

Twitter’s limit of 140 characters is its strength. It’s easy to contribute in short bursts of time and you can still make more complex points by using it as a signpost to other information. In fact, Twitter is the number one way people find my blog.
Comment on other blogs
Commenting on other people’s blogs is a fantastic way to dip your toe in the water of social media without committing. It takes as much or as little time as you like and you can add valuable new information or perspectives right where the discussion is already happening.
Just a few words of advice:
• Of course, be polite, thoughtful and add to the discussion
• Save your energy for forums where people are genuinely interested in different points of view (I tried reasoning with activists and learnt my lesson the hard way).
Anyone is free to attend my workshop, Blogging and Twitter Made Simple, (even if you’re not registered for the conference) on February 24 at Ellinbank. We’ll get you up and running online whether you want to dip your toe in the water or jump in at the deep end!

What do farmers hide from you?

Faces in the herd

Some of the girls on our team

The other day, my friend Julie emailed me a link to a story about a Kiwi farmer called Tim. Here’s the gist of it:

So convinced is he that farmers have nothing to hide that he urges people to knock on a dairy farmer’s door and ask them about their farm. “They’re welcome to call on me anytime,” he says, then adds: “As long as they come with an open mind, not with any particular axe to grind.”

Animal activists will tell you there is a dark side to dairying and then mostly follow that up with stories about calves being removed from their mothers and forced annual inseminations. It’s true. We do remove calves from their mothers and it’s also true that we hope to get cows in calf every year (although that’s not realistic – we keep dozens every year who don’t fall pregnant). But it’s not cruel.

The point of this blog is to provide a window to another Australian way of living as well as showing you what we do and why. You have a right to know your milk is ethical and safe.

Our top priorities are to look after people, animals and the land while producing the best milk possible and staying afloat. They have to be or we wouldn’t be doing it: we don’t earn nearly as much as Tim does, unfortunately. The farmgate price of milk fluctuates like crazy and in the past three years, it’s varied from 28 cents per litre to 48 cents, so Wayne and I are both working second jobs while we “renovate” the farm (which is, by the way, valued at a fraction of Tim’s).

So, if there are dairy practices you’re wondering about, please hit me with them.