FluffyCows & Golden Opportunities

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Perhaps you’ve seen the internet sensation about Fluffy Cows. Many who have grown up around agriculture know them as market steers, club calves – beef! But the public has hit on it as something they weren’t aware of – and it’s opened doors. Or has it? What if it’s rabbits tomorrow? Can we stand the pressure? Not if we don’t prepare *now*!

Stay with me here folks! What seems like a great opportunity to talk about beef, livestock and agriculture is, for some, a huge opportunity to not just shoot themselves in the foot but set off a trip wire. We can change the conversation – we can teach people – or we can insult them and drive them away. Which would you do? Are you sure?

Let’s take some lessons on examples. Beef magazine questions whether it’s a good thing.

We need to refocus the message on the online forums and news stories reporting about “fluffy cows.” We need to introduce ourselves as the ranchers behind the beef consumers love and put the spotlight on the farm families in this industry.

Now this is a farm that’s been selling show stock, fitted for fairs, many pictures online. Not unlike show animals of any species. Someone saw it, and it went viral. This farm has been cast into viral publicity, the subject of television media, celebrity blog posts and much attention. They put some shirts up on their store – the first 50 were gone in 9 minutes! What a “problem” to have right? What an opportunity!

The farm itself knows there’s groups watching. PeTA is asking how people can eat those cute fluffy cows. Right next to the mashed potatoes or fries perhaps?

Phil Lautner tells BEEF Daily, “We are very vigilant that anti-animal agriculture groups try to turn conversations negative. With the #FluffyCow phenomenon it is our mission to keep the conversation about youth, family involvement and production. We feel it’s necessary to try and educate others about our way of life and what animal production is.”

MoreThan-1_0This is a fantastic example of taking a risk, reframing it, taking control and *using it*! It’s an awesome example of not letting others tell anyone what you do, or use your message for their use. They took the hash tag, a Facebook page and are leveraging to use it to teach much more than cute cows.

At the same time it’s concerning to see the negativity, not from vegans or animal rights but from within the agriculture community. How would you feel to hear or see something like city people are so stupid for not knowing these things – that city person that just bought burgers for the family?

Then there’s comments of how do they taste and more:

I didn’t know that they had cow show like they do dog shows.

“The cows, a cross between high-quality breeds”. Yum!!!

With all the beauty aids you spray, rub, comb in and wash these cows with, is the meat safe to eat?

They really have a show for each animal now, don’t they?

This is an ideal way to reach the public. With a Facebook page there is a contact point.

How can this be used for rabbits. Rex. Mini Rex. Show rabbits. Show and function. Rabbits are multipurpose and in a prime spot. We never now what will trip the public interest. But one thing is for sure – with beef shows in every state fair and most county fairs, if folks don’t know about them, they don’t know rabbits are shown too.

Don’t condemn them. Educate. Have a conversation. Teach them. Take some time with those folks with questions at the next show, or if you’re on the way to the ring say that nicely! “I’m sorry I need to get these rabbits to the show table – could you follow me or check back in a little bit?”

Fair season is coming. Publicity comes around and we can either use the example of this farm, or let the power be taken from us in the media. We better hope that we’re all half as prepared as this show cattle place! Watch and learn, take part in the conversation.

Pick out good examples and what not to do. It’s not rabbits in the spotlight, but we can sure learn by example what to do and what not to do.

Use Your Words – Effective Communication

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Social media brings an incredible opportunity to reach many more people than we could ordinarily reach. It also provides a huge opportunity for miscommunication. Consider this:

“…people form their perceptions in a conversation in three ways:55%:body language,38% tone of voice, and 7%: choice of words when talking about feelings or attitudes. This suggests that 93 percent of communication occurs through nonverbal behavior and tone; only 7% of communication takes place through the use of words – thus the “93/7 Rule.” – Overcoming Fake Talk

Think about that for a minute. Think about the last few interactions you’ve had with people face to face. Their body language, tone of voice – how much did that add to the exchange?

If 93% comes from body language, nonverbal behavior, tone – what happens when the only thing you have to base communication on is the 7% use of words? Drama fights? Misunderstandings? Meltdowns?

Those words – that communication – that takes a much bigger importance if you can’t *see* that 93%. We’ve all seen it – email lists, forums. Name calling, swearing, tirades.

Stop. Change your approach. Are you hearing effectively? Ask the person questions, verify what they mean. Don’t at this point put your opinion in – *listen* to their message. Listen, listen and listen some more.

Then respond. Not react – getting defensive isn’t responding. Responding leaves the option to agree to disagree.

Some people just want to argue. Animal extremists will hang onto insults and converting until their last breath. People who push “go vegan” will not listen to anything you say about the benefits of eating rabbit. Don’t waste your time.

Use the echo – after listening when you think you get it ask them “I hear you saying <whatever> – am I understanding you clearly?” This gives them a chance to correct it, or happily feel understood. Then, choosing your words carefully (remember it’s all they have to go on – they can’t hear your tone or body language either), form a response.

It takes extra effort, but effective communication is worth the effort.

Rabbit Photo Promotions

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople are visual creatures. We all are – and it’s worked against us for too long. Get those photos out rabbit folks!

With blogs, Pinterest, Facebook and a host of other social media platforms, there is a huge amount of publicity we can do that is *free* – and we should be doing it. Visual works!

Think it doesn’t? Quick – what do you think when you hear hog farm? Beef cattle? Dairy? For many the first images are horrific *visual* images put forth by animal rights organizations along with “go vegan” slogans. This has worked against agriculture, and left many in catch up mode trying to show their clean, well run operations that are not horror houses.

We cannot make the same mistake. Photos are something we can control. We can show our rabbits without leaving home. If you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can share photos easily but go beyond just conformation shots. Those are what we want to see as rabbit breeders, yes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut think of the rest of the world. Those who don’t raise rabbits. Think of the opportunities we have at least once a month to bring a smile to those who aren’t involved with rabbits. Break outside the box.

Take your clean rabbits and get some good photos. Get some casual photos – babies playing on their mother, or set up some unposed photos with props.

Now take those photos and go get familiar with Picmonkey.com – it’s free. You can use another photo editing program, but Picmonkey gives you a lot of options. Always put your name in the corner. Use your rabbitry name, or personal name if you prefer – but have it in a consistent place if possible. This insures that it isn’t taken to be used in places we don’t want it used, like certain organizations we probably wouldn’t want to be associated with.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can alter the exposure if the photo is a little too light or dark. You can crop it, rotate and even fix redeye issues under the touch up section (looks like a little lipstick). (Tip – for white rabbits and literal red eye use the people setting – for dark eyes that come out green use the “furball” setting.)

When you shoot some photos leave spaces – in the text setting you can add things for birthdays, holidays and other occasions. Some examples are on this page.

You can even go to the symbols and get creative – I put a clover “tattoo” in an ear for St. Patrick’s day. Of course it’s not on the real rabbit. Most people will realize that just like they realize their morning cereal doesn’t really talk to them. 🙂 If you look close above the Easter and St. Patrick’s day pictures is the same picture – with different ‘dressing.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGet creative. Post birthday greetings with rabbits in them to people on your wall and promote rabbits at every birthday. Make up some for holidays – look at the online listings of national <whatever> day or month and make some that are funny and play into that.

Make some serious, some funny, some just because (hey it’s Friday! or “it’s Monday already”).  Some examples – think up how you can use the same principles. Visual works! They get clicked on, shared, passed along to friends. And guess what…when it’s shared the friends friends all see rabbits. That’s free promotion and smiles we can’t reach on our own.

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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>

Are Differences More Important Than Common Ground? Vent

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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.

AgChat Foundation Conference

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Want to learn effective ways to communicate? How to reach others about your rabbits without biosecurity issues? Check out the August 2011 conference – apply and be prepared to find many ways to use social media as a low cost promotional tool!

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