How to respond so consumers will listen

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I’m fairly certain we’ve all been in this situation before: someone asks a question or makes a statement about agriculture that is based on misinformation, and your blood begins to boil. It can be so hard to keep calm and answer the question civilly, without flying off the handle.

As a Common Ground volunteer, I was taught that the information I give consumers should always be real, credible, positive and inclusive. Keeping your answer real and credible helps build trust with consumers. Try to use examples from your own farm and farms you’ve visited. Avoid, “I heard…..”  Follow up with credible third-party statistics and facts to back up your position on the topic. 

Staying positive and inclusive go hand in hand. As Common Ground volunteers, we avoid sharing negative information about any type of farming, but instead, we focus on the positive aspects of various methods of production.

Here is an example. This is a question that I was asked by a writer during a phone interview: “But why don’t you raise your turkeys outdoors like your husband’s grandpa did?  Wouldn’t he be ashamed of the direction your farm has taken?”

I was a bit flabbergasted at first because, of course, Grandpa is enormously proud of our farm.  But I focused on keeping my response positive, inclusive, credible and real.  My answer went something like this:

“Grandpa has told many stories of the difficulties of raising turkeys outdoors. The birds were always at the mercy of predators and the weather. Now, in our barns, we are able to control the climate and protect our flock from predators and disease. A recent study in Australia discovered that free-range hens and barn-housed hens have no statistical difference in stress levels. Instead, stress levels really depended on the management of the farm, which is why my husband works seven days a week to make sure our birds are comfortable at all times.”

In my response, I stated real examples from my husband’s grandfather and our own farm. I included credible third-party scientific data. I mentioned the positive aspects of raising animals indoors, and stayed inclusive by not criticizing free-range farms.

These types of answers take practice, but if we want The Moderate Middle to hear what we’re saying, we have to craft our message in a way that keeps them listening. Staying real, credible, positive and inclusive can help us do that.

Now, here’s an opportunity for you to practice. Someone told me recently that pork from an animal raised in confinement tastes different than pork from a hog raised outdoors because the odor from the confinement gets into the meat. For this reason, should I buy my pork from someone who raised the animal outdoors? Let’s hear how you would respond.

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Iowa  |  April, 30, 2013 at 12:51 PM

As far as odors in environments they do vary widely in different seasons from worst to best in outside and inside environments. Best for outside would be cool 55-65 degree days. Colder they crowed into sleeping area and hotter times would be least desirable as larger animals will find mud or manure too get wet in for evaporative cooling in outside housing. This evaporation places humidity and odor at the maximum. For hogs housed in environmentally controlled barns the extremes are mitigated not near as cold Low 62 deg. High temp for big hogs highs in the 80's for hottest summer days. No sun burns or heat stress do to moving air and sprinklers under constant shad. We don't see animals crowding and fighting to get to water, do to sprinkler that cycle on one minute out of every 12 minute cycle. The hogs stay clean and go to market clean and well rested with no environmental stress -30 to 100 degrees . As for meat quality both are good but I personally favor the clean environment that is provided in total slated barns with less temp variation, mostly do to growth and health advantages for the animals.

Ohio  |  January, 24, 2014 at 08:53 AM

Great reply Glen I concur, I have raised hogs outdoors and in my observation if I raised hogs again it would never be outdoors, due to heat, cold , mud, and predators.


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