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HERd management: Prompting questions with an art show

Karma Metzler Fitzgerald Published on 11 March 2014

females working on a farm

There are days when I’m still stunned about the assumptions people make about the dairy industry, especially when you live on a “large, corporate” dairy.



I keep thinking I’ve heard it all. Turns out I haven’t.

“You’re owned by a family? I thought all the big dairies were owned by corporate conglomerates.”

Ummm, ya … no.

“I thought you were raising veal over there in all those little hutches.”



“You pump them up on hormones, right? The meat’s poisoned.”

Really? No.

“You’re raising all those animals in big warehouses, right? No windows and all concrete.”

Let’s see … Nope.

The reality is, these folks might read my blog or Facebook feed, but I find more often than not, they think I’ve staged the idyllic photos of calves and kids.

That got me to thinking: What if I could start a conversation with the doubters in a different way? What if I could show them the beauty that’s here without using the cute calves and happy children?


I grabbed my camera and started wandering about this place – looking for the beauty in negative spaces and for shots that weren’t obviously on the dairy.

There’s an art show coming up, and I thought I’d show a few of my shots in hopes of starting conversations with folks who might ask questions about the photos, giving me an opportunity to share the truth.

Now, this got a bit tricky.

I wanted pictures that would generate questions. My first round of photos was rather abstract, and based on the answers I got after showing them to friends, they would start some questions rolling, but not a lot. People looked at them, thought they were “nice” or “cool” – but they didn’t really prompt questions about what we do here.

Then I took a round of pictures that weren’t quite as abstract. I did use some shots of the animals, but tried not to make obvious choices. These photos generated more questions from friends than the abstracts.

Find more photos like this on Proud to Dairy

The real test will be how strangers react to the photos. My friends know at least the basics about our operation, but I’m truly curious to see what strangers think. Will they ask about our farm? Will they just look at the photos and walk away?

On a personal level, this experiment forced me to look at the things I walk or drive past every day without noticing. The shadows as they fall across the radiator on a front loader. The dance the milk does as it splashes into the viewing glass below the claw.

On one of my first jaunts, I stopped by a couple of older property sites we’ve purchased over the years. Wooden corrals, used for sorting beef cattle, are still standing, and just for a moment I could hear the whistles of the cowboys pushing the animals through the chutes.

I saw the unfinished pipe fences of a former landowner who had a dream but couldn’t quite make those hopes come to life. I walked through the forest – the remnants of a tree farm – another dream unfulfilled.

For me, this land has meant many a wish has come true. My husband and his brothers have managed to thrive and succeed, even though nearly everyone told them they were crazy for building here – on a bunch of old farms and a bed of lava rock.

I saw the smiles of our crew as they cared for the animals. I heard their laughter amid the clanking of the trucks over bumpy lanes. I rested in the rhythm of the pumps as they sent milk from udder to cooler and reveled in the glimpse of my family as they went about their day. Sometimes you have to slow down, look and listen to get a new perspective on what seems to be mundane.

I’ll be posting updates from the art show online as well as a continuing slideshow of the photos I’m taking. What I’d like to see is input from all of you.

First, how do you start conversations about your operations? What kind of questions do you get and how do you answer them? What non-traditional ways do you use to communicate about your dairy?

Next, grab your camera and wander about your property. Look for the photo opportunities outside the obvious. Share your photos with us online.

My hope is that we’ll get a nice collection of photos that show the beauty and art that surrounds each of us and a dialogue that shares our passion with others. PD

Log on to Proud to Dairy to see photos from Karma and more blogs.

karma fitzgerald

Karma Metzler Fitzgerald
Shoshone, Idaho