Agvocacy 2.0 Conference!

Well, folks, it’s finally here. The event we’ve been waiting nearly two whole months for–the AgChat Agvocacy 2.0 Conference!! Ashley Messing and I just arrived in Chicago for what is sure to be two days of intense (yet totally fun!) social media training. I’m super excited to meet a whole host of great people and learn a ton. We’d love for you to follow what we are doing using the #ACFC10 hashtag on Twitter and check back here for updates. I know it will be a great time!!

County Fair–Day 2 and 3!

So, I know I was kind of a slacker and didn’t get days 2 and 3 posted on those days. However, it has been CRAZY at the fair! There’s been so much happening, I barely know where to start! (But here’s my best shot!)

After I posted about day 1, we had some excitement over at the ‘Life’s Greatest Miracle’ tent that I need to recap. This tent is coordinated by our county FFA chapter, our county FFA Alumni group and the county Farm Bureau. It’s an opportunity for fair visitors to see farm babies being born. The goal is to show them real-life birthings that would happen on a farm and open the door for conversation about agriculture–not just to be a petting zoo. Monday night, one of the sows in the tent laid down and had her litter for all to see. As a first time momma, it was pretty impressive because she had all of her babies right through all of the crazy noise of the tractor pull! All-in-all, she had 11 piglets; one was a runt that didn’t survive and another was stillborn, so she is now raising nine. Even though it’s hard to see the rough part of nature when you have babies that don’t survive, it is a great opportunity to explain to people that farm animals are a part of the big circle of life and sometimes nature takes it’s course.

Tuesday morning was the beginning of all the livestock shows, starting with pigs. My sister showed a set of white crossbred pigs. She was first in both her pen and individual classes and was the reserve champion homebred individual (which means her pigs were conceived, born and raised on our farm). She didn’t have quite enough size, though, to win the show–she got beat out for champion and reserve overall by pigs 20 to 30 pounds heavier than her! She was still pretty happy with her outcome, though. Later that afternoon, she showed her lambs and was named the grand champion showperson! That was pretty exciting and made up for the fact that, once again, she got out-sized in all of her market classes and got bottomed every time she went in the ring 😉

On Wednesday, the showmanship portion of the hog show started off the morning. My sister was third in senior showmanship and got beat out by a good friend of hers (who is also a past member of our FFA chapter and a past Michigan FFA state officer). Even though it wasn’t a win, it was a great way to end her 4-H showing career. Now she can join me in retirement and volunteer with the next generation!

After the hog show wrapped up, I headed back over to the ‘Life’s Greatest Miracle’ tent to talk with people, answer questions and spend time with some pretty cute piglets! On Tuesday, the farmer who owns the pigs had come and given the little ones their iron shots, clipped their needle teeth and docked their tails. People had lots of questions on why all of this is done, so it was a lot of fun to talk with them. Do you know the answer? Well, here they are!

  1. Piglets are born without iron. When they live in the wild, they get iron from rooting in the dirt and chewing on rocks and other items with iron in them. Since they don’t root in the dirt when they live on a farm, we have to give them iron so they can get big and strong.
  2. Piglets are born with VERY sharp teeth. As a way to keep their momma’s udder from getting all torn up, we clip off the sharp end of what we call the “needle teeth”. This keeps her comfortable and healthy, because whenever the skin is broken (even from a bite from your baby!) there’s a chance for infection and we want to reduce that as much as possible.
  3. Piglets like to chew on EVERYTHING and that includes each others’ tails. Like with momma’s udder, if they chew on the tails, it is likely that they’ll break open the skin, bleed and possibly get infected. To reduce this chance, we dock their tails shorter which prevents chewing. But what about the piglets curly tail then?! Well, like with all of your body parts, as the piglets get bigger their tail will get bigger and the curl will come right back!

Everything farmers do is a way to keep their animals healthy and safe. I was so impressed with how well everyone I talked to understood the reasonings behind these processes. Although some animal rights groups are trying to push an end to animal agriculture, a simple conversation with members of your community is a great way to explain farm procedures in a logical and personal way–not to mention it’s fun!

Any time now (if it hasn’t already happened!) there will be a calf or two born in the tent. It’s always amazing to see the look on the faces of both adults and kids as they watch a baby animal being born. I’m so glad our FFA chapter continues to do this project, because I think it brings a real valuable educational tool to the fair that many haven’t seen before.

Well, today I’m working from home so I’m not at the fairgrounds and tomorrow I head back to Lansing. BUT, I will give you an overview of what happens the next couple of days in case you’ve never been to the fair!

Today: The dairy cattle show is going on ALL DAY (my county is one of the top 3 dairy production counties in the state, so we have lots of cows!). Kids will participate in showmanship and numerous classes based on the age and breed of their cattle.

Tomorrow: The livestock sale will be happening. It’s a great opportunity for local businesses and individuals to support the youth of the county. It’s also a great opportunity for kids to see all of their hard work pay off–literally!

Saturday: While most everything will have mellowed out, the overall sweepstakes showmanship contest will be held. This is the chance for the showmanship winner from each age division and each species to compete against each other for the title of overall showman. Every kid will show every large animal species (beef, dairy, pigs, sheep, prospect beef, veal and horses) and earns points based on how well they do. You are only allowed to win each age division once and the overall traveling trophy (a 3-foot tall behemoth!) once. It is a great opportunity for youth to expand their horizons past the few species they show and really have an appreciation for all the livestock species.

Do you have questions about the county fair or anything else I’ve talked about? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!!

County Fair: Day 1

For those of you who have never been to the county fair, it is often revered as the best week of the summer by many young showmen and agriculturists across the country. It is a week to show off projects you’ve worked hard on, win awards, earn money, hang out with people who like the same things as you and learn some valuable lessons. In short, fair week rocks!

This morning started this year’s Sanilac County 4-H Fair. As one of only two strictly 4-H fairs in the state, we follow a few extra guidelines. There is no alcohol allowed on grounds and there are no open shows outside of still exhibits (arts, crafts, food). Basically, it’s all about the kids.

Today, I worked with my family to move all of the FFA animals and members in (my dad is the local FFA advisor). Livestock had to be weighed and washed and fed, entry wristbands had to be retrieved, decorations had to be hung and showmanship skills had to be polished. A lot of these kids have never worked with livestock before, so the county fair is a whole new experience.

Tomorrow will be the start of the livestock shows. The swine show is in the morning and the sheep show is in the afternoon. This is only my second year not showing, so I’m still getting used to being outside of the ring. Still, its great to see the next generation learning and experiencing all the great things I did.

Tune in tomorrow to find about Day 2 and (hopefully!) some pictures!

How integrated is your communication?

I have been in two different conversations in two different places this past week that have surrounded the same question: how does an agricultural company or organization communicate in a way that meets the needs of a wide variety of generations and technological capabilities? Now, I’m not an expert in this arena by any stretch of the imagination, but these were two of the biggest thoughts I had on the subject:

Are you utilizing all of the technology available to you to meet the needs of everyone?

The hard part of this question is that everyone needs something different. Younger, more technologically saavy individuals may want to follow you on Twitter on their iPhone or Droid, while some older farmers may still have their e-mails printed off for them by their wives (this was actually an example used in one of my meetings!) and won’t read anything that isn’t  in hard copy. Unfortunately, you have to be good at it all. In a lot of businesses and organizations (especially non-profits), you don’t have the option to go to an employee whose only job is social media or newsletter writing or producing news releases. It is more important than ever that you work to diversify your skills. If you do have people who specialize, great!! If you don’t, think of little things you can learn to make sure you don’t leave one segment of your audience behind. Can you learn Twitter or Facebook? Can you shoot a short video while you’re on a farm visit? Can you run a blog where your printed newsletter can be posted online?

Is your information easily transferable across mediums?

This is where the integrated communication strategy really comes into play.  Many groups produce information in printed form, which continues to work well (especially where your audience is  farmers who either can’t or don’t want to take part in online communication). However, the question that needs to be asked is, do I have information that could be easily transferred across communication mediums? This could be one of the easiest ways for you to get the same information to different generations and technologies (which is one of the biggest challenges in agricultural communication, in my opinion, as mentioned above). For example, you could take a news release, post it or review it for your blog, pick out a few key points to tweet along with a link to your blog, link it to your Facebook page, send it to trade publications for their print and develop a handout or brochure that is easily readable. Although it may sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t. You took the exact same information and just presented it in numerous ways, without leaving anyone out.

Creating a communication strategy within your organization or company that integrates your information into multiple technologies and routes of communicating is extremely important.  Are you using everything you have available to you? Are you utilizing people who have skills in technologies (Twitter, design, video-editing) that you lack? Can you learn from them or have them help you expand your communication skills? Are you taking the information you have and disseminating it across multiple mediums that reach several generational and technological groups?

And an overarching question (but maybe the most important): are you keeping an open mind to the communication strategies that you could be using that are new and foreign to you in order to make everything previously mentioned effective?