Farmers Reach Out with Twitter

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President of AgChat Foundation Jeff VanderWerf, right, with Secretary Ryan Weeks. Photo by Board Director Jan Hoadley commemorating $50,000 raised to help ranchers after Atlas

On April 7, 2009 the first #agchat was held for those in agriculture to discuss issues on Twitter. By the summer of 2010 over 2,500 people from four continents and eight countries have participated in AgChat and the ‘sister chat’, #Foodchat held the third Tuesday of each month. In the time since, several worldwide efforts have been made including helping to raise over $50,000 for ranchers affected by Atlas storm.

Over 800 farmers are listed in the database of Twitter’s follow a farmer listing. Several of these farmers knew all had stories so organized the AgChat Foundation. Seeking to reach out and empower others in the agriculture community with more effective tools, the first Agvocacy 2.0 Conference was held in August 2010 with 50 participants and 30 volunteers traveling from coast to coast and border to border to Chicago. In August the conference will be over 100 people, with a larger focus on broadening our reach.

Twitter is a forum that some find more difficult to use in it’s brevity, but those brief comments, or Tweets, of under 140 characters make it ideal to agvocate. It allows the sharing of tidbits of information, photographs from the farm and telling others why we do what we do.

“Oh but people don’t care about what happens on my farm!” Yes they do! As food recalls increase, sensationalized videos come to the media and people are told we should fear our food people DO care what is happening on our farms! They want to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we see and glimpses of our life that is more than just work.

As people learn small things about what we do it takes away the fear. Many do not know what we do to care for the environment around us until we show them. Knowledge is power and for far too long we have let others tell our story.

With Twitter because it is short bits of information farmers can text with their cell phone and share a new calf, status of fields or what the day’s chores hold for you. Still there are some important tips, shared at the first Agvocacy 2.0 Conference by California rancher Jeff Fowle and dairy farmer Ray Prock.

Be yourself is important. Find common interests with others and expand your communication circle. This can be effective to find others in agriculture but ultimately social media is a great tool to connect with consumers.

It appeals to the social nature of people to connect with others. One key point is talking *with* someone not *at* them. We aren’t giving lectures!

Describe honestly what you do from your perspective. Beware of too much unnecessary information. What you had for lunch most probably don’t care about! Nor do most care how much your power bill is or other personal information. However, where it applies to food production it may be relevant.

Basic etiquette is important If someone posts something you want to share – or Re-Tweet – an RT in front of the message copies it word for word. If you change the message or drop words out relay it as “via (whomever)” to give credit.

Twitter is primarily to communicate rather than self promotion. Engage people! Share a blog, an online article relevant to your farm, respond to your followers. If you are new post a few times with an introduction to #AgChat and you will likely meet plenty of people willing to help you along.

Other hash tags direct your messages to groups of interested people that may not follow you directly. A few of these might be #food #meat #dairy or #farm. Have an avatar to make it personal.

Use caution connecting with other social tools to your Twitter account Some can hijack your account or flood with unwanted messages.

If we don’t tell our story others will. Twitter can be a great tool to connect with and educate the majority of the people who eat every day. Make it interesting and social media need not take a great deal of time if managed just like other farm chores.


Tips to Make Your Blog More Visual

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This was written for an agriculture audience, but is very applicable to rabbits as well.

Many in agriculture have been inspired to tell their story through groups like the AgChat Foundation. So you’ve decided you’re interested, you have a digital camera or video capability but what next?

In either case be aware of lighting. Too dark photos don’t show your topic off well. Remember that with camera settings they see the light as it is rather than adjusting as our eyes do. Sometimes photos late in the evening can look like it’s dark.

At the same time lighting can be a factor during the strong light of mid day – if you’re shooting livestock this can bring unwanted shadows. For other things, such as a combine or tractor in the field, bright light can be a good thing. If your image has a lot of white – such as Charolais cattle, sheep, white rabbits or some dairy cattle – you might get better results in the morning before 10 or so or in the afternoons after 4 – this allows you to position so the light is behind you. This also comes into play if you’re shooting winter pictures with snow that reflects light.

If you’re shooting a video beware of movement. If you’re walking to the barn and multitasking it may save you time but changing backgrounds can leave some viewers dizzy! Background is also important for still photos – with people and livestock pay attention to background so there’s no poles, trees or other objects appearing to come from the subject’s head!

Know when to come in close and when to back off. A field at harvest or planting may warrant a ‘big’ shot while one of a baby chick or an ear of corn means getting close. For close up shots use the macro setting on the digital camera – there’s a setting often depicted with a little flower, then you scroll to adjust and the lens will zoom in on tight shots like an ear of corn. Be sure to change it back so your other shots aren’t fuzzy! Also with macro shots it’s even more important to shoot steady. A blurred image can result from unsteady hands so brace yourself on a doorway, ledge or other solid surface if you have to.

For video consider an inexpensive tripod that eliminates all ‘bounce’ from your final video. As much as can be watch the noise interference in the sound and pick a video location that is quiet enough to hear what you’re saying. There may be some situations – such as dairy calves bawling at feeding time that it can be a benefit but mostly you want the viewer to be able to hear you!

Good photos show off your farm and are not difficult to get. It allows transparency without trespass. Farmers and agvocates need to be a part of the conversation about food and farming. Photos and videos are a way to do that in a very visible way.

    • Pay attention to lighting and background.
    • Use a mix of “big” and close up shots depending on your subject.
    • Use photos in combination with other social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook

    Did you know photos and videos allow consumers to see farming as it is, and allows for increased transparency between farm and consumer’s plates. It’s a way to share the world of agriculture with consumers.

Friend Or Foe

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By Mark Klaus

Remember the “good ole’ days”, those days in which we proudly displayed our animal enterprises for the entire world to see? I know I certainly do.

As a very young man on our farm in Iowa, I had many agricultural enterprises. The cattle and hogs bought me my first transportation and paid for my college tuition. I also had what I considered my “hobby” animals which did not contribute much to my bottom line, but contributed greatly to the family’s table.

Infrequent visitors to our family’s farm, mostly consisting of church pamphlet distributors and vacuum cleaning salespersons were almost certain to inquire about the animals located on the farm. The barnyard smells they were perhaps unaccustomed to, as well as the various noises sparked their interest. Being quite proud of the great care I gave to my animals, I would proudly give these individuals a tour and explain what my daily chores consisted of.

I would not even consider such activity today.

I am certain Animal Rights Extremists existed in those “good ole’ days”, however I was largely naive to their activities and the threat they pose. The lack of technologies such as pinhole cameras now affordable to many and probably more importantly editing software made my naive behavior far less risky than it is in today’s world.

I’m an agriculture advocate, and try to stay on top of the actions of Animal Rights extremist groups. I also do a bit of writing on the subject for an agricultural publication.

Although I fully realized that all animal interests are threatened by the various national Animal Rights organizations and some local groups, the widely publicized Dollarhite and Belle cases sparked my interest regarding the threats faced by the rabbit industry.

For full disclosure, I must first state that I do not current own any rabbits. My total experience with rabbits was a project as a youngster raising a handful of animals which later were placed on the dinner table. The thinning of the local rabbit population for consumption completes my knowledge of rabbits. In short, I am indeed no expert on proper rabbit husbandry.

Nonetheless, my interest was sparked after hearing of the Belle case, and I decided to hear what the “rabbit world” was saying on social media regarding the case.

I remained a silent observer for many days, gaining a better understanding of the issue, and what was seen as the biggest threats to rabbit owners. Occasionally I asked a question regarding something I was unfamiliar and inexperienced with. However, soon the discussion led itself down a path in which I could remain silent no longer.

The discussion developed into an all-out attack on more “mainstream” animal agriculture, a topic I am very familiar with. Quite simply, I was shocked at what I was reading. What had appeared for weeks to be a group greatly opposed to the animal rights movement suddenly appeared to me to be furthering their agenda. The same inflammatory terms and misinformation spread by these groups was being repeated by this very group that was so vocally opposed to them.

I withdrew from the conversation, concerned that by remaining in the discussion I was doing nothing but distracting from the group’s mission. Shortly after, I came to realize something that I feel as animal owners we all must recognize.

We all have been influenced to some extent by the very same animal rights organizations we oppose. Refusing to acknowledge this is what leads to the disconnect between animal interests in what could be a more united group to oppose the threats we all face as animal owners.

Perhaps a cattle rancher may not understand the threats faced by rabbit owners, and may fall victim to misinformation presented by Animal Rights extremists, thinly veiled as a mainstream media report.

Maybe the recent events in Ohio concerning exotic animals has led many to believe that taking away animal ownership rights of individuals with proper knowledge of the care of such animals is a good thing, again helping to further the agenda of the animal rights machine.

Lastly, as I observed by a few rabbit enthusiasts on social media, belief in the misinformation spread by animal rights extremists regarding more mainstream agriculture exists also.

As a first step, perhaps as animal owners we should first attempt to have discussions with others regarding the issues and concerns they have in their own enterprises. Gain knowledge from those with experience rather than accepting what you feel you know, which may have come from an unreliable source.

I will leave you with a rather simple question. In regards to fellow animal owners versus animal rights extremists, which is our friend, and which is our foe?

No Smartphone No Problem

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Many think they can’t do social media on the go because they don’t have a smartphone. The iPhone, Droid and iPads of the world are far beyond what less ‘tech savvy’ users have but is it a problem? Not if you know how to use it effectively! Join my friend Ryan Goodman in this post on the AgChat Foundation blog.

“Your dumb-phone is not welcome here!” I have heard these words and felt left out when it comes to connectivity with mobile technology. As a response, I say my “dumb-phone” keeps me just as connected and more focused while on the go. True, my phone may not access the internet from the tractor seat, but thanks to smart use of text messaging, I can tweet from horseback, access market updates, send and receive Facebook notifications, and keep up with every score of my favorite sports teams. With a little planning, I can keep up with the smartphone users and invest much less money in mobile technology. <Read more here>

How Do I Monday Series – Upload Pictures

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Sometimes computers are like playing “Simon Says”….and if you forget the “Simon Says” everything poofs! It’s frustrating as with it can be information. With WordPress, sometimes drafts are saved, but other times it’s gone.

Blogging looks better from a reader’s standpoint with pictures. Watch the things that you read online…do pictures matter? It clarifies points and “dresses up” a post. But sometimes getting pictures uploaded can be frustrating!

So let’s work on this! Step by step – click on the tool bar above where it says “upload/insert” the first symbol is for pictures. When we click on that it brings

up a window.

Here you need to find the image. There’s three “file tabs” – your computer, another site (such as flicker or other photo sites) and media files – as you add photos these previously posted images will be in your media files.

Let’s say the image is on your computer – browse for the image. When you select your image it puts it there – you can rotate and crop the image but if you do be sure to click “SAVE”. Then scroll down, select the size and fill in any tags, labels and captions. Then down towards the bottom click “insert”. This should place your photo into your post.

For the photos hosting other places, cut and paste the link to the photo in the section for that. From the ‘media’ section you can reselect previously used ones and click “insert” – remember the clicking “insert” is what puts it in your post.

Putting videos into your post is essentially the same thing – you can cut/paste the YouTube link address and insert one right into your post. An example is like:

If you follow down that same line you can add polls, media and other things using very much the same steps. Always remember to save. Click publish and you have a post!

How Do I Monday Series – Embedding links

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Getting started is difficult but for those who are new to blogging or social media it’s that overwhelm that puts many off. Simple things are overwhelming – until you learn!

The first post will be about embedding links – allowing you to post about a cool farm at or, easier for the reader, to say check out this farm. It highlights it to indicate there is a link. How to do that?In WordPress blogs it’s pretty easy.

1. Highlight the word or phrase. Double click over a single word.

2. Once you highlight something in the little icons above the text box there’s a little chain symbol. Click that – it will bring  up a box.

3. Cut and paste the link address in that little box, and indicate whether you want it to open on a new page (I usually do).

4. Save it by clicking ‘add link’.

It’s magic! If you have questions for this series please ask!! We all were new once!

Are Differences More Important Than Common Ground? Vent


I saw a comment this afternoon that outright made me angry. I’ve seen the last month or so three rabbitries in three different states targeted, one resulting in the removal of champion show rabbits. A video taken in May of this year shows the rabbits involved. Now if you have 120 rabbits and even ten of those have litters of 8 each you’re at or over 200 rabbits. That’s bad enough. But it’s more than that.

There is power in voices, and too many are forgetting that. Over the last several years I have worked towards building bridges with those in agriculture. The similarities between ag and rabbit breeders are many including being targeted by the same groups and in many cases for the same reasons!

The criticism of agriculture can apply to rabbits – and guess what rabbit folks we need ag. You might dislike Monsanto, Tyson, Cargill etc – but you better suck it up, put the adult panties on and learn to get along because we as rabbit raisers are but a little toe in agriculture – it can be amputated if an infection threatens but is much more effective to support the foot and the body. As far as HSUS is concerned raising rabbits for meat IS factory farming. Be it for fur or meat they’re educating people that raising rabbits is factory farming, bunny mills and, more recently in the media, hoarding.There are comparisons that raising rabbit in cages is the same as battery hens.

There are many rabbit breeders getting more vocal in social media but when we have organizations with hundreds of millions of dollars we are not going to outspend them. We can use our connections but if it comes to it they can buy a bigger audience! With agriculture and millions of dollars Prop 2 was still passed in California…now all that needs to be done is draw that comparison there for California breeders.

Agriculture has a lot of people who can help us far more than we can help them – but if there are many people saying how they’re evil factory farms and big ag and horrible people wanting to put us out of business why would they?!

The FACT is yes there are people who work for major ag business companies who also shop at farmer’s markets. I know some.

The FACT is many don’t have a  problem with all sizes of ag/farms – don’t make it a problem! Rabbit meat is not going to take the place of beef in the American diet – we can have the luxury of choosing what type of rabbit to raise and what size herd to raise. We can have a dozen or 100 or raise for PelFreeze (also seen as “big ag” I suppose).

The FACT is we have a whole industry of allies out there unless rabbit keepers themselves keep those walls up then complain no one supports it. No one supports toxic attacks….and there is no reason for other industries to do so even if it’s joining against a common threat.

The FACT is we need every alliance we can have. Rabbits can be pets, meat, ag, fur, medical and a host of other things. That means zoning, ag laws and a wide range of issues affect us – and that means we need to gather every person to our side we can, from neighbors to vote with us in zoning issues to farm bureaus and other groups.

The fact is – it’s an easy choice. Do you want rabbits? No? Then blast away and none of us will have them as we do today. Yes? Then zip the attitudes, labels and judgments and let’s work together with every person we can to help ALL of our interests.

Admittedly when it’s personal and a perceived slight of friends I take this more personally. My friend Mark had a comment lodged at him by a fellow rabbit breeder that infuriated me. The attitude was that he just didn’t see the big picture. Here’s the thing – the rabbit breeder didn’t see the big picture! The fact is Mark works with what she attacked as “big ag” – larger farms of all sizes. He works with a website, is a fan of a meal of rabbit (as are many ag folks!) and has family who survived tough times because of rabbits. He also sees the attacks of groups against agriculture and has had some threats himself. He also has a degree in meat science and is a member of the agriculture media. So, both as my friend and not – this is EXACTLY the kind of people we desperately need on our side when there are raids. This is the kind of allies we need to insure that we get to keep raising rabbits because guess what folks – if it goes the way of battery hens they’re not going to miss rabbits…WE WILL.

I implore every breeder out there look long and hard at your attitude and DO NOT make enemies!! You assume and you will insure that we stand alone – and that is something we will not survive. It may take 10 years, 20 years 30 years but it will happen. Just like dog breeders are “evil” so are rabbit breeders. Look hard in the mirror before using labels.

Our ability to keep rabbits depends on it. Agriculture has and is embracing us – do not bite their hands for doing so! You don’t have to like Tysons but you darn sure better respect the family farms growing for them because we’re facing the same issues in many ways.

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