Are you willing to share your story about how beef is raised?
If a rancher would have two conversations with consumers a month, and they share that information with family and friends, one rancher could educate more than 6,000 consumers a year about how beef is produced.
Each segment of the cattle industry has a unique story to tell, according to the Beef Quality Assurance program coordinator with the University of Nebraska. “When we tell our story to consumers, it forces most of us to step outside our comfort zone,” said Rob Eirich. The problem is, most producers are uncomfortable sharing what they do on a daily basis. Whether it is during a layover at the airport or a trip to the barbershop for a haircut, producers need to grab those opportunities to honestly answer questions about how they raise their cattle.
Eirich told producers at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic in February that 98 percent of U.S. consumers are removed from farming and ranching, and don’t understand what agriculture really is. “They compare it to how they care for their pets or a trip to the zoo,” Eirich said. “How we care for our animals is a gray area. Some things we do may not seem right to them, because they don’t understand what we do.”
The 2019 Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic will be held Feb. 17-23.
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“Our biggest problem is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply,” Eirich continued. “When we have someone come at us with how we do things, our first reaction is to respond with a lot of facts. We want to push their thought process down pretty quick. They don’t know why we do certain things, like using antibiotics, or that we care for our animals rain, rise or shine. They see animals in the feedyard and don’t see it as humane, even though those animals probably receive better care than their pets. They receive a balanced feed ration, and they are looked at for health every day. We have to listen so we can relate back to them the things we do know.”
Eirich shared with ranchers a conversation he had with his barber in downtown Gering, Neb. When his barber found out that Eirich works in the cattle industry, his barber said, “You do know that McDonald’s has the safest beef because it doesn’t have any antibiotics in it?”
Eirich was surprised by the comment. “My first thought was wow, this is Gering, Neb. We have a lot of cattle around here. Why doesn’t he understand that? My second thought was taking a step back and finding some common ground so we could have a conversation about animal health and the use of antibiotics. It’s how we have these conversations that really makes things happen for all of us, but we have to do it based on what we know,” he said.
Producers need to seek out the facts and science behind what they do, and relay this information to consumers without burying them in the science. Eirich recalled a couple of women who had a layover at the airport and struck up a conversation with him. They wanted to know if it was true that one of the production practices cattlemen use is making cattle breed out of season. “I could have buried them in science about estrus synchronization, MGA, CIDRs, and progesterone, but what happens if we bury them in science?” he asked. “They stop listening to us. I had to explain to them that it’s about being in a cattle operation. It’s about using the resources, such as land, feed and labor. I explained to them that we choose to breed cattle certain times a year based on what resources we have.”
When producers have these types of conversations with consumers, they should talk about what they know. “Talk about the science, and incorporate it into the conversation, but don’t bury them in it. Find a common ground. With the barber, it was wrestling. With the women going to San Antonio, it was that we were both going there. Look for common values like family or a pet. It provides us with a way to link with one another,” he explained.
By finding common ground and values, producers can build trust with consumers. “Trust is important because then we can have these conversations calmly and be honest. Don’t tell consumers a story — tell them your story. Talk about your operation, and why it’s important to your family, and how you hope to transition the ranch to the next generation someday. Think about values and why you do it, and be able to relay that to consumers,” he said.
“If you can find common interests and values and share those, you can have an open, honest discussion about food and how it is raised,” he continued. “That is how we build confidence in the consumer. Keep in mind during those discussions that they haven’t been on a farm, ranch or feedyard before. Start your story from square one.”
Cattle ranchers need to understand that there is room for everyone in the industry, no matter what their production is. “Don’t fight with each other. Think of it as we’re all in the same boat trying to sell our product to consumers,” he said. “We can’t all produce all natural beef or organic beef. They are niche markets, and if everyone did it, what would happen to the price?” ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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