Dancing away dairy stress

by Sally Colby

There’s no lack of stress among dairy farmers, and even the general non-ag public is becoming aware of the struggles in the industry.

Dairy farmer Katie Dotter-Pyle, of Cow Comfort Inn in Maryland, is feeling the current challenges in the dairy industry. She needed a break from the negativity, so she grabbed a brush, used it as a microphone and made a video of herself dancing to the pop song ‘Havana.’ She posted the video on social media and called it her stress relief.

Katie’s fellow dairy farmer friend Jess Peters and Jess’s brother Cole, who operate Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania, took that post as a challenge. First, Jess convinced Cole to dance the ‘Carlton’ to Tom Jones’ song ‘It’s not Unusual.’ After that video was posted, the fun began.

“I said, ‘I think we just started a dance battle,’” said Jess. “I posted it to her Facebook page and the second I hit the button to send it, this idea came into my head. I thought, we could do this big, so I texted her and told her I had an idea.”

Over the next several days, Katie and Jess texted one another about new thoughts for a dance video. They came up with a script, chose a song and decided on Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off.’ Since Jess and Katie live quite a distance apart, each of them filmed their own parts and Jess did the editing.

The goal of the two young dairy farmers was to have fun with the project and encourage others to have fun too. “We (dairy farmers) are getting national recognition now because of the Dean’s letters and the Walmart plant,” said Jess. “But this is pure fun. I’m not trying to teach anyone about what we do, or tell them why we do it. People seem to think we aren’t people like they are. I thought this was a good way to show people who aren’t dairy farmers that we like to have fun too.”

The video was hashtagged #DairyDanceOff and Katie and Jess encouraged others to create and share videos. Dairy Management Inc. picked up the video and has added other dairy farmers’ dance videos to the Dairygood.org website. Jess said they purposely limited the length of the video, and although the initial audience was dairy farmers, that wasn’t the goal. “We never intended it to be just dairy farmers — so many people are messaging me to ask if they can do this too.”

As of late March, the video had been viewed on Jess’s page more than 118,000 times with more than 1,200 shares. And that doesn’t count Katie’s tally. “We both have a pretty big following,” said Jess. “We get good engagement on a regular posts.”

Jess said doing videos isn’t out of her wheelhouse at all — she’s perfectly comfortable being silly and dancing in the parlor to whatever song seems appropriate. “I milk a lot, and my hands are busy,” she said. “Ninety percent of the time there’s a lot of time to think, so I come up with a lot of ideas. My big issue is usually the time to create those ideas.”

The video editing process takes quite a bit of time. Katie sent four videos to Jess, and Jess took about a dozen short videos on her farm. Jess said cutting and editing footage, and making sure their moves matched the music, took a good six hours. “It isn’t hard to do,” she said, “but it takes a lot of time. I wanted it to come out the way it looked in my head or I’m not satisfied with it.”

Jess films video clips with her phone, then uses a software program on her computer to do the editing. “I come up with an idea and I’m so excited about it,” she said. “Then I’m excited while I’m filming it. I look at it so much (while editing) that I wonder if anyone will even watch it. But I keep working on it, and when it’s all produced, I’ve put a lot of time into it so it’s going to be posted.”

In one of her videos, Jess said, ‘farmers and the people who support us have been quiet for too long. It’s time we stand up and tell the world we’re loud, we’re proud and we’re not going anywhere’…then breaks into a brief dance in the parlor to the tune of ‘Shut up and Dance.’

There are currently several dozen DairyDanceOff videos and Jess was recently tagged on Instagram by a German dairy farmer who made a video. “I’ve had groups in New Zealand share the video,” she said. “Katie and I have both been getting messages from farmers all over the world. A lot from British farmers who said it made them laugh and that’s what they needed right now. That’s exactly why we did this.”

Jess said it’s easier for people to act stupid and silly (in a video) after seeing others do it. “I’ve never been afraid to act stupid or silly to make people smile,” said Jess, who is active on social media and has fun doing short clips explaining what they do on their farm. “Making people smile is a valuable skill that is overlooked.”

Both Katie and Jess want the movement to continue and encourage farmers of all kinds to make a dance video and post it using the hashtag #DairyDanceOff so others can see it. “Pick a song, dance to it and film it,” said Jess. “Post it anywhere. Instagram and Facebook have been the big ones for us. Use the hashtag so people can follow along.” The video made by Katie and Jess that started the movement, along with videos made by other farmers, is on the Dairygood.org site at www.dairygood.org/content/2018/dairy-dance-off.

Exposing oneself on social media has its downsides, and Jess has been the target of negative remarks from vegans and animal rights activists. She has deleted negative comments from vegans because those comments aren’t the point of the #DairyDanceOff. “I don’t want my followers to get in arguments with them,” she said. “That isn’t what this is about. They make comments that our facts are lies, but there are no facts in the videos. All you see is a couple of cows, and it’s just us needing stress relief and a bright spot in our lives right now.”

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