If you were anywhere near social media earlier this month, there's a good chance you saw a blog post by "Dairy Carrie" floating around. It was titled, "Sometimes we are mean to our cows," and it detailed all the reasons a bovine might go down, and what a farmer might have to do (and why) in order to help her back to her feet. Complete with photos.
Along with about 300,000 other people who visited her blog to read about downed cows, I read it and thought it was so well written and it addressed an easily misunderstood perception of what we do on the farm. Lifting a 1,500-pound cow is never pretty and a creatively-edited video can make it look downright abusive. And because of the timing of her post, she made a real impact in the online conversation when Mercy for Animals released their newest video the very next day.
The farmer behind Dairy Carrie is Carrie Mess, a Madison, Wis., transplant with no agricultural background who met and married her dairy farmer husband, and fell wholeheartedly in love with the dairy industry. Today, they farm with his parents on a 100-cow dairy in Lake Mills, Wis. And while I've never actually met Carrie in real life, I'm pleased to call her a social media friend, who I'm sure I'll one day meet in person. Carrie has always been helpful in sharing dairy facts and lactose information when I've needed a question answered via social media, and she was kind enough to share a little about her latest viral post.
HS: Where/when did you first dream up the idea of a post explaining downer cows?
CM: I came up with the idea to write a down cow post the same way I come up with all of my posts: by thinking about how one of my customers would see what I was doing and how I would explain what I was doing to them. Because I didn't grow up around farming, I think it's easier for me to see what I do from the average non-farm person's viewpoint. I have taken on other hard topics on my blog and this time it was just a little serendipity that my post came out the day before the newest MFA video.
HS: Your writing was very concise and engaging; how have you honed that skill over time, and what sort of advice do you give to the farmer who wants to write about a similarly hot topic?
CM: My high school English teacher wasn't a big fan of what she called my "conversational" writing style. I guess she didn't know that blogs were going to be the thing for me. One of the things I think I've got better at over the last two years is being slightly less wordy. My posts tend to be on the long side and I've worked hard to condense what I am saying while still explaining myself fully.
HS: How long have you been blogging? Has anything ever made you want to give it up?
CM: My blog started two years ago in September. Nothing has made me want to give it up but when I'm really swamped with farm life and work life in summer I do end up with blogger guilt. I try to post at least once a week and sometimes that just doesn't happen.
HS: Describe the interest in this post: how is traffic compared to your usual, who has picked it up and what has that meant to your traffic and readership?
CM: The traffic on this post has blown my other top posts out of the water. I had over 100,000 views on my blog the first day, and then again the next day, and again the third day. Previous to this, my most popular post had 46,000 views in a day. When I wrote this post, I emailed my contact at The Guardian to see if they would like to pick it up. The Atlas blizzard post I wrote that they picked up had been one of their top stories for several days and had over 600,000 views on their page so I knew they could help amplify my voice on this issue. Overall, my blog now has almost 1.2 million views since I started it.
HS: The conversation in the comment section on this blog has been spirited. What's the best response you've gotten so far? Conversely, can you share a response that made you question humanity?
CM: I have had a number of responses from other farmers saying thanks but my favorite is the notes I've received from the non-farm people. It's exciting to me to know that people are more willing to think critically about what they are being told is the truth because I gave them a little glimpse into real farm life.
As far as negative comments go, I've not had many comments that were too far off what you would expect from people who believe that eating meat is murder and having cows is the same as having slaves. A few "animal loving" people think that any cow that's down should be shot immediately rather than trying to save them and that makes me want to hit my head on my desk. Most of the comments from people who think that my blog shows abuse just show how little knowledge they have about cows or large animals in general. I did have a few animal sanctuary folks comment that while they don't like the fact that I have cows, they agreed with what I said about getting cows up.
HS: What excites you most about this post?
CM: The numbers I have reached on my blog are cool but what really matters is connections and conversations and you don't have to have the most page views to do that, you don't even need a computer. If all of the people in agriculture just had one conversation a week about what we do with someone who doesn't understand, we would be in a lot better place. Because I hit the right post at the right time and so many people shared it, when people went to Google to look for information on the MFA video, my blog and my post on The Guardian were the first two links instead of the MFA site.