I want to talk a little bit about communication.
One thing I have noticed being a veterinarian in a mixed animal practice is that we don’t talk to all our clients in the same way. We talk about the same things, but we use different words. And I don’t talk to my family and friends the same way I talk to my clients. I suppose this is normal, you wouldn’t talk to your boss the same way you talk to your kids, but you probably aren’t talking about the same thing.
I was a little bit surprised to realize this. We talk about things like nutrition, diet, water, bathroom habits, and quality of life with cat and dog owners and with livestock owners, but we don’t use the same words. And sometimes the pet owners don’t understand what we’re talking about with the farmers. I’m a pet owner and a farmer. And sometimes it’s easy for me to forget who I’m talking to.
Don’t get mad – it’s not your fault that you don’t know what we’re talking about. It’s our fault – the vets, the ones with all the education. We don’t translate well. Farmers and pet owners are working in two different worlds. Although no one likes to talk about it, farming is a full-time job. And just like you look for ways to save money in your business and in your home, farmers are looking for ways to save money in theirs, too.
So we talk to farmers about things like production. Using this word makes us sound like we work in a factory, where the only goal is to have a bunch of product to sell at the end of the day. Well, we are looking to have some product to sell (otherwise there would not be any hamburgers for dinner tonight). But we also want to have happy, healthy animals while we’re doing that.
When we talk about production, we’re talking about how much the animals are growing, how much milk they are producing, how much muscle they are building, or how many eggs they are laying. All of this (and more!) can be changed by making sure we are paying attention to things like the animals’ food quality and amounts, water quality, and environment. No farmer wants to skimp on food bills – that means they’ll have skinny cows who are not making milk, beef calves who aren’t growing, or calcium-deficient chickens who are not laying eggs.
Just like you don’t want to buy the cheapest food for your dog, or his hair coat will be dull and rough, and he might have diarrhea. (Yuck. No one likes that.) At the same time, you don’t always go out and buy the most expensive dog food, when the one priced in the middle will work just as well. And you ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on which brand of food to buy.
Farmers are asking the same questions that pet owners are asking. We all want the best things for our animals. We just use different words to get to the same point.
Do you think farmers are just “factory managers?” What made you think that?
Dave Kunkel says
Enjoying your posts very much…great job!
Diane Norton says
Love it! Hits home with me, as well. The translation can be a bit different between Chicago pet clients and southern Indiana pet clients as well!!
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Diane, good point. Communication happens differently in different parts of the country, and we need to be mindful of that.
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Dave, thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the new site!
So my question is how do you as a vet or I as a client (pert owner/farmer) work to bridge the communication gap? What are some key words that the average person can use when asking questions about the “production” of the livestock that provides food for them, and how can the producer begin to respond in ways that are both technically correct and easy to understand?
Andrea T. says
As a veterinarian and farmer, what talking points and keywords do you find it would be most useful for consumers to know, or know to ask about. Coming from a farm family myself, I like words like “production” but, as mentioned in your article, most consumers have negative associations with that type of phrase. How can we as specialists in our area balance technical terms with ease of understanding for our consumers/clients?
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Andrea, you’ve got a great question, and this is the basic reason that I started this website. I’m afraid there is not an easy answer. As farmers, I think we need to be careful when we use words like production, efficiency, and operation – words that are traditionally associated with factories and high through-put processes. That’s not what farming is about, and that’s not what we mean when we use those terms. As consumers, we need to ask lots of questions, and not make assumptions. We’ve all heard the statistics that less than 2% of the US population has any direct connection with farming anymore. That means that 98% of the people in the US don’t have much of an idea about what farmers do every day. Farmers (and anyone in the agriculture field) need to be aware of who they are speaking to, and adapt their language to fit the audience. Instead of production, efficiency, and operation, I try to use words like growth, diet, weight gain, and farm. It’s not always easy, and I know I don’t get it “right” all the time, but being more aware of this communication gap has helped me be a better communicator. I think just being aware of the words we are using, and the connotation they may have with our audience will go a long way.
When in doubt, ask too many questions, and over-explain.
Kami Wong says
I work for a state agency, CalRecycle, here in California. I am in the Office of Education and the Environment dept. and we create a free K-12 curriculum educators. We found a picture on your website that we would like to use in one of our booklets and wanted to see if we could get permission to use. It is here, http://agricultured.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/dry-corn-plants_thumb.jpg
If so, do you have a high resolution file of it?
Thank you for considering and if you would like to contact me, you can at 916-319-9939