Courtesy Dairy Farmers of Washington
The Washington dairy industry, seeking to bridge the rural-urban divide, has turned to social media’s biggest platform, Facebook, and its most-informed spokesmen, farmers.
In a live video chat Thursday, Yakima County farmer Bill Warvin fielded questions about his dairy practices, including why calves are taken from their mothers at birth.
“I think it’s a great question,” he said. “It seems unnatural for someone not close to animal livestock.”
The video was the second of four chats planned by the Dairy Farmers of Washington, the state dairy products commission. If the live videos go well, there may be more, the organization’s spokeswoman Chelsi Riordan said.
“We thought, ‘What a great tool to teach our customers about farming,’ ” she said. “We have learned from talking to customers that it’s not the same coming from us, as coming from farmers.”
The forum allows viewers to type comments and questions, which are posted online and relayed to the farmer by Seattle food writer Ashley Rodriguez. The first live chat was Sept. 18 and featured Skagit County dairyman Jason Vander Kooy, who remarked that farmers are slowly learning to respond to critics on social media. “We got beat to the punch,” he said.
Vander Kooy showed Rodriguez his dairy — tractors occasionally muffling the sound — as some negative comments about the dairy industry were posted. “If there are curse words and threatening comments, we go ahead and hide those, but everything else we leave up there,” Riordan said.
Vander Kooy went over dairy basics, including the fact that dairy cows eventually enter the beef market.
As of Thursday, the video and comments, still online, had been viewed approximately 17,000 times. Facebook posts allow viewers to register their emotions by clicking an icon. The “Likes” and “Loves” were leading “Angry” by 157-2.
Warvin, a veterinarian before he became a dairyman in Mabton, elaborated on a dairy cow’s life-cycle. He took on the topic of raising calves away from their mothers. “This is a tough subject, for sure, and we’ll continue to think about it,” he said.
Warvin said that calves raised separately have a better survival rate and separating them at birth is kinder to calf and mother. “The separation is going to happen at some point,” he said. “In our current level of thinking and understanding, not letting the bond form is the most humane.”
Not everyone was won over. “We don’t even need dairy to be healthy ... what an unnecessary use of precious resources like water.” one commented.
But at the end of the 37-minute chat, the video had 17 thumbs up compared to one angry emoji.
A person wrote, “Keep up the good work! Much respect for the hard work that farmers do 24/7!”
Next up will be an Oct. 12 chat with Sunnyside dairy farmer Jason Sheehan, followed by an Oct. 17 chat with Ferndale dairyman Rich Appel. Both chats are scheduled to start at 1 p.m. and can be viewed on the Dairy Farmers of Washington Facebook page.