Showing More Than Cows

Published on Thu, 08/25/2016 - 5:06pm

By Sherry Newell

I grew up showing cows. County fair, State Fair, World Dairy Expo — they were wonderful parts of my youth. Even now, I get involved occasionally through my daughter and nephews.  As State Fairs wind down and World Dairy Expo gears up, it’s a good time to reflect on how fairs and shows can help bridge the gap between dairy farmers and the people we depend on to buy our products.

Midwest Dairy and many of our sister checkoff organizations across the country look for great opportunities to tell dairy’s story. When 1.6 million people gather at a fair like the Minnesota State Fair, which concludes on Labor Day, it would be a shame to miss making dairy part of what fair-goers can see, touch and taste. The vast majority of those fair-goers only see a cow once a year — at the fair — and even fewer get a chance to talk to a dairy farmer. Fairs and shows can offer both.

Those events also provide a chance to carry out special activities and campaigns. For instance, our organization has been using them to promote our Dairy 3 for Me campaign, encouraging people to pledge their commitment to consuming three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt every day. We’ve provided pledge boards, or selfie stations or sent a volunteer out with a computer tablet to record the pledges in order to reach our 10,000-pledge goal.

At milking facilities at county fairs and state fairs, there’s a chance for people to watch milking, and if we’ve done our jobs correctly, they also hear from dairy farmers or volunteers who explain the process. While people watch, information that helps dispel myths about antibiotics, hormones, animal care and other issues can be provided.

I smile when I read about a dairy farm family, volunteer or local promotion group who has taken the time to create a county fair booth that promotes dairy. Great photos, food samples and the chance for a conversation can help answer people’s questions.

And special features, like butter sculptures or milking contests, generate both traditional and social media, making the impact much broader than those who came to see the exhibit.  At World Dairy Expo, those attending aren’t who we think of as consumers; the crowd is primarily the dairy community. But even Expo takes advantage of a great opportunity presented by cows and dairy farmers gathered in one place. The staff conducts tours with hundreds of Madison-area school children. What a great field trip!

If you’re involved in showing cattle, your primary focus is probably your show string. I get that. But wouldn’t it be terrific if each of us were able to incorporate a little fair-goer education into the experience? Could your herd’s booth promote not just your greatest cows and their achievements, but also show the comfort and care they have at home, or include your commitment to producing wholesome milk?

From my perspective, the biggest challenge we face in building more trust with our consumers is that dairy farm families have very little time to invest in making contact with the public. But those who participate in events like fairs and the World Dairy Expo are already spending a few days away from the farm. A little multitasking while there, in the name of consumer confidence in dairy, might be worth thinking about.

Sherry Newell is senior communications manager based in Minnesota for Midwest Dairy Association, which manages checkoff programs for 10 Midwest states. She focuses on spokesperson training, publications and media relations, and is a partner in her daughter’s dairy, New-Vue Ayrshires.