Summer is upon us and while I was growing up, that only meant one thing: county fair season is here! Once school was out in early June, I spent each summer morning and afternoon in the barn with my family doing chores and preparing for the county fair. This included many hours spent washing my livestock, walking them around a practice show ring, watching the news and reading the paper to learn about what was happening in the industry and organizing my tack to get ready for the fair.
In addition to showing my livestock, some of the most memorable moments were spent hanging out with my friends in the barn. Every once in a while, though, somebody would pass through the barns and make a comment about how farmers do not care for their animals or another hurtful claim. Whether these individuals were uninformed consumers or animal activists trying to disrupt the fair, it was important to know how to respond. Recently, animal extremists have been targeting agriculture fairs as a way to protest animal agriculture, so I want to take this opportunity to share some suggestions for handling these types of situations.
1 – Communicate Respectfully
I’m sure that those of us who grew up showing livestock can recall a handful of conversations with consumers walking through the barn. Some of those conversations were comical – like the time a woman declared that my friend’s goats were ‘adorable!’ when in fact, she was looking at four sheep. Or when a man and his son asked if I was spraying chemicals on my pig when actually I was using a spray bottle filled with water to keep my pigs cool in the summer heat. While it is easy to laugh at these absurd questions and remarks, we should use them as chances to educate. Instead of responding with an eye roll, take the opportunity to engage with the fair-goer and share a positive story of how you care for your animals.
If animal extremists confront you, seek a fair manager or other designated spokesperson to help. Having a designated spokesperson to answer questions and share key messages with the activists will alleviate pressure on the youth exhibitors and the exhibitors will also learn from the experience.
2 – Show You Care
Just as the old saying goes: they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Often those walking through the livestock barns are interested in learning more about animals and how they are raised. In order to be seen as a trustworthy source, show fair-goers you care by telling them how you care for your animals. It can be easy to complete your daily chore routine with nothing more than a glance in the fair-goers’ direction. Instead, chore time could be a great opportunity to explain what ingredients are in the feed that your animal eats, and how you prepare your animal for the fair.
3- Tell Them Why
It is no secret that livestock exhibitors often get asked, “Are you really going to eat that animal after the fair?!” or “Why do you show your animal?” Let fair-goers know that you were aware when you decided to participate in the livestock project that your animal would become an important part of the food supply. Meat is an important source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals that are not found in plant-based foods. Be sure to remind them that because of farmers, we have food, fuel and fiber that make our day-to-day lives possible.
For those that question why you participate in livestock shows, share with them what you have learned. For me, it was a tremendous amount of responsibility that came with raising animals and caring for them daily, often putting their needs before my own. I made lasting friendships with my fair friends who shared my values and passion for animal agriculture. Showing livestock also meant that I was able to contribute to the food chain by raising a nutritious product that would provide food for a family’s table. And more than anything, showing livestock allowed me to spend time with my family in a way that no other activity could.
So next time a family walks through the barn at your county fair, take the time to answer their questions and tell them about your project – engage with them and show them how you care for your animal. Always be sure to treat fair-goers with respect so they learn to understand, appreciate and respect our livelihood in the animal agriculture industry.
For more fair and exposition security and engagement tips, contact the Animal Agriculture Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-562-5160.