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HERd Management: The highs and lows of starting a movement

Katie Dotterer-Pyle for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 May 2018

I dance and sing on a daily basis in the calf barn. From a young age, I’ve always loved to do both and found dancing helps relieve stress for me. Everyone deals with stress and, if you’re a dairy farmer, you’re dealing with a ton more stress than the average person right now.

It isn’t healthy to keep it all bottled up. Did you know dancing causes the brain to release the mood-lifting neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine? It’s been scientifically proven dancing boosts a person’s mood more than exercise does alone.

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Like you, I’ve been under the suffocating stress of milk prices, but I also had a rough year due to personal issues in my life. While scrubbing calf dividers one day, one of my favorite songs came on, so I (of course) seized this moment to break out my Latin dance moves, using the brush I was using as my microphone.

I’m kind of famous for dancing to one song in particular (“Havana” by Camila Cabello), so I Snapchatted it to a group of friends to make them laugh and then thought, “I should post this on Facebook and Instagram, just for the heck of it. If it makes another person laugh or smile, then making a fool out of myself was worth it.” And boy, was it.

My friend, fellow dairy farmer and agvocate Jessica Peters of Spruce Row Farms in Pennsylvania, saw the video and challenged me to a dance-off. After a bunch of text messages, a few excited phone calls and a joint video produced by us (even though we’re six hours apart), #DairyDanceOff was born.

We challenged our fellow dairy farmers and later anyone to bust a move, film it and post it using the hashtag. And dairy farmers delivered. Who knew we could dance so well? And dancing doesn’t discriminate; farms of all sizes from 30 cows to 5,000 cows joined in the fun.

We have truly enjoyed watching every video that has come across our social feeds. It started out nationwide but then expanded to Germany, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America and, most recently, Ireland. The best part is seeing those smiles and the laughter generated by this idea.

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We have received messages from dairy farmers we’ve never met – both stateside and across the pond, telling us, “Thank you for this. Whether I danced myself or watched other farmers dance, it brought a smile to my face, something I haven’t done for the past six months.” That, right there, was totally worth me making a fool out of myself for 30 seconds.

There was a downside to this viral sensation though. The “hateful vegans,” as I label them, started stealing the hashtag and used it and its success to flood social media with awful photos of (what they think or edited to be) abuse of dairy cows. They were so angry the dairy industry was getting substantial attention, and we were happy in our videos, they took that opportunity to slander the industry in ways only hateful vegans know.

To clarify, I use the term “hateful vegans” because I believe there is a difference between the vegans who are hateful toward others who do not share their dietary decisions and beliefs, and the vegans who do not choose hate to push their propaganda but choose to live the vegan lifestyle quietly.

I live by the mantra, “To each their own.” I have three friends who are vegan. They see my farm posts and even like them. I keep the window of opportunity and lines of communication open with them. I don’t shove farming facts down their throats; it’s merely there for those who want to educate themselves via an actual farmer.

Seeing the hateful vegans’ horrific posts made my blood boil, but then another #DairyDanceOff video would come along, replacing my frustration with laughter. And as a friend put it, “You know you’re making waves and getting heard when the vegans start attacking.”

I know it’s frustrating to see/hear these hateful people try to take us down. After a while, you develop a thick skin, and it’s actually a lot of fun to ban and delete them. I’ll never change their minds, and that’s not my goal. My goal is to reach and engage those who are on the fence – the “moveable middle” – about what they hear and see in the ag industry and move them to our side.

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I choose to focus on the positives of this viral success. Almost every farm that posted their video on their farm pages gained more followers. I know I also gained quite a few more farm tour inquiries and just basic questions alone about farming. That might also be because I heavily use the hashtag #AskFarmersNotGoogle on my posts. Jess and I have also done countless interviews with news stations and websites, whose audiences – without those dance videos – wouldn’t have known about the current state of the dairy industry.

If you want to smile and laugh, search #DairyDanceOff on Facebook and Instagram to see the videos. You can also visit my farm page (Cow Comfort Inn Dairy) and Jess’ (Spruce Row Farm) to view some of them. Even though dancing won’t solve our problems, it does make it a little more bearable, if only for a few minutes. The next time you’re waiting on a slow milker or feed to mix, bust a move; I guarantee you’ll feel better.  end mark

Katie Dotterer-Pyle

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