Bucket Theory

Recently I wrote an article on subtherapeutic antibiotic use in cattle. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to write.

I changed my major from Animal Science to Agricultural Journalism because even though I loved it, I was never going to master chemistry; my brain just doesn’t process it correctly.
Writing on the other hand… well, that I get.
My mom's bottle calf, Charlotte.
However, trying to write about biochemical processes that I don’t fully understand was definitely not a walk in the park. It literally took me two weeks and I had four different experts review it for me before I even submitted it to my boss. It has yet to go to print.
If I had been writing it for a school project, I think it would have been easier to pretend that I knew what I was talking about. I could use big words and charts and graphs and probably get a grade. The difficult thing was that I needed to understand the subject enough to explain it, in plain terms, to someone who might know even less about it than I do, but without making them feel stupid.
I agonized for weeks before even beginning to write the piece. I judiciously picked out words like “judiciously” to make sure I was using them correctly.
I asked myself a million times during the course of research and regurgitation; “Why am I doing this?! Why don’t I just leave this to the experts?!”
Because the experts write to an audience up here *holds hand above head*, and more importantly, they’re missing the point. Consumers (my audience) don’t care so much about the science behind it, they don’t understand that anyway (most people don’t have a basic understanding of biochemical pathways). What they want to know is WHY we (agriculturalists) do something. Their questions occur more along the lines of, “Okay so we know it doesn’t hurt cattle to be fed in confinement, they’re perfectly happy, blah blah blah, but WHY is that important? How come you can’t feed them all grass?”
(I’ll have that answer on my next blog.)

Courtesy of Google Images
A very wise PR practitioner once explained it to me this way; as an advocate for the beef industry, (our)
audience falls into four different buckets. Bucket 1 consists of people that grew up on a farm/ranch and are actively involved in agriculture. Beef is all good to them. They’re excited about it; they don’t question it, because they know where it comes from. Bucket 2 consists of people who, although may be avid beef consumers, probably don’t know the person (or a person) who raised it. Bucket 3 consists of people who may not have anything against eating beef, but may be more easily swayed into not eating it due to some kind of fad, or an increase in prices. Bucket 4 contains the people that make the most noise – they are totally and completely against animal agriculture of any kind, and, fully dedicated to their cause, refuse to listen to reason or rational arguments.  
We need to waste less time on Bucket 4 and listen avidly to the questions of Buckets 2 and 3. We, as practitioners of animal husbandry, need to be transparent about our thoughts and actions, and we need to be VOCAL!
Our message needs to be that of “here’s WHY I do this” not “I’m right because of reason #1, #2 and #3.” Taking up a defensive posture isn’t who we are.
I know, it’s a daunting task! As I said, I agonized for weeks over this article, and my mother teased me. “Way to bite off the biggest, most controversial issue in agriculture today on your first run out the gate there, Jeanna Danger.”
As for my worries that I was “doing this wrong”, she reminded me of an episode from my childhood.

For those of you that have seen The Man from Snowy River, you’ll remember that the movie’s protagonist, Jim Craig, makes a heroic ride straight down the side of a mountain after a herd of horses. As a kid growing up in the Nebraska Sandhills, I had a buckskin “mountain pony” much like Jim’s. One day, Mom and I (and my younger brothers) were rounding up a pasture of heifers. A group of five broke away from the herd and decided they were headed to the back corner. Mom had Jake on the saddle in front of her, so I headed up the hill to bring those heifers back. If you’ve never worked heifers before, let me explain that their behavior can be similar to that of 13 year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert; high-headed, irrational and flighty. So these flighty heifers decided that, in an attempt to lose me and my horse, they would bail off the side of the hill, much like those mountain brumbies in the movie. Despite my better judgment, my horse followed suit. So I copied Jim, leaning back to help him keep his balance and hung on for dear life.
Mom’s reminder was “All of what, nine years old? You bailed off that hill and did what needed done. You’re doing just fine.”

My encouragement to those out there that are struggling to stay positive and vocal in the onslaught of negativity and noise from Bucket 4, that your mission is not to change their minds (just like they’re not going to change yours) but to move people from Buckets 2 and 3 to Bucket 1, or at least solidify their position in their bucket before they move to Bucket 4.
Be introspective about yourself and your industry, and focus on what you can do to improve, just like we have been for 100 years.

Good luck!
~Danger Out

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