calf roadside instagramIntegrity is who you are when you think no one’s looking. Not that what you’re doing is wrong, but never assume others see things the way you do.

We should always be prepared to share why we do things the way we do.

To the right is a screen capture from my Instagram feed a few months back that really caught my eye. The user (identity removed) isn’t involved in agriculture and was most likely a passer-by as a few ranchers in Montana were moving cattle across a highway in the midst of traffic. A normal occurrence when moving cattle from one pasture to the next during grazing season.

The image caption says:  #Cows were being herded by two men on horses yelling derogatory terms. The cows were confused and were going in opposite directions. Some of it made me giggle, some of it made me curious, and some of it made me upset.”

I’m not suggesting how these ranchers or cowboys were handling their cattle was improper. Nor am I suggesting we should fear every passer-by snapping a photo of our ranches. But we should be more observant of how others perceive our actions.

This gal may or may not have been complete upset by what she saw on the highway that day in Montana, but who’s to say she doesn’t have that lingering doubt about ranchers’ ability to handle cattle properly? Obviously something about their use of derogatory terms while yelling at confused cattle moved her enough to share on her social media feeds.

This in and of itself isn’t a big deal. But when you start looking at the bigger picture, there are several stories out there that hurt us. Groups like PETA are sharing stories that connect with consumer emotions and paint a horrible story of animal agriculturalists. Even if it seems like the smallest of circumstances (see example here), they’re painting a picture that we’re trying to hide something. Our use of legislation to protect ourselves from those intending to do harm doesn’t help the matter, is dead in the eye of public opinion, and shouldn’t take the place of much more effective methods of transparency we have at our disposal.

Bottom line, don’t be afraid to evaluate your methods and make adjustments where appropriate. One of the most dangerous phrases to justify an action is “…because we’ve always done it that way.”

Call out bad actions when you witness them. Be cognizant of how others view our work. Take advantage of industry programs that promote best management practices. Always be prepared to share why it is you’re doing things the way you do.

What other examples have you seen where someone’s experience of agriculture may have been misrepresentative of what was happening? How could have the misperception been changed?