Joining forces the virtual way

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Dairy producers have made a lifestyle out of managing the obstacles or as some would say, making the pivot.

Milk prices too low, they pivot. Feed prices skyrocket, they pivot. TB hits the Michigan dairy industry, they pivot. And each time they make those adjustments to maintain their livelihood, they discover another layer of resiliency they had no idea existed.

Today they are pivoting to adjust to the COVID-19 outbreak and the havoc it’s wreaking on the industry from the parlor to the store shelves. While producers cannot control what happens at the processing and retail level, they are pivoting to the pandemic as it reaches the farm level. And the allied industry has joined in lockstep, virtually, for the benefit of everyone.

Kip Siegler, an MMPA member from Imlay City, Michigan, runs the YouTube channel, “Dairy Farming with Kip Siegler.”

Dairy Farming with Kip Siegler

“I think I can do that!”

Those were the words that began a new virtual community for MMPA Member Kip Siegler of Imlay City as he contemplated starting a YouTube channel. With the help of wife, Rochelle he launched “Dairy Farming with Kip Siegler” and over the past eight months he has gained nearly 12,000 subscribers to the platform and a million total views.

As Siegler hauls manure, milks the cows, shows the feeding process or starts his spring planting, he takes his audience along for the ride. While he is considerate of telling the responsible story of dairy farming, “I just go and it is, what it is. People like you raw.” Siegler, an MMPA Dairy Communicator, said. “If you’re funny, do that. If you’re serious, be yourself, because there is only one you out there. And there are so many people on YouTube watching every day, your people will find you.”

As a former member of the military, Siegler enjoys a large following from fellow veterans. Retired farmers also find their way to Siegler’s channel.

“It’s really rewarding to hear what the retired guys say, they tell me I bring back a lot of memories from their earlier years in farming with their grandfathers. I also have guys who sold their farms and watch the channel with their kids to show them what farming is like.”

Having followers from over fifty countries and hearing from viewers from coast to coast spurs Siegler to keep showing his day to day activities on the farm. Encouraging others, especially during difficult times is something Siegler specializes in, “People are looking for positivity. And they are looking for a solution to their problems. I know I’ve reached someone when I hear someone say, ‘I came on here to learn about farming but what I’m really doing is learning about life.’” He added, “It’s pretty cool when I can touch someone like that.”

With a recent family emergency, Siegler discovered the dedication level of his followers. His niece was in a bad accident and he asked for prayer.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people were saying they are praying for my niece and then they wanted updates. People get emotionally attached and I didn’t mean to do that, but they just want to know what’s going on and that’s really neat,” Siegler said.

The United Dairy Industry of Michigan hosted a virtual farm tour on Facebook Live in April. Moderated by UDIM Youth Wellness Manager Amiee Vondrasek, the video has since racked up nearly 10,000 views.

Virtual Farm Tours

Dairy Farming with Kip Siegler videos have been used in several public schools but they aren’t the only dairy-friendly videos showing up when the bell rings. United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) continues to provide virtual farm tours (VFT) for students of every age. In 2019 they hosted, for the first time, four live VFT’s for classrooms that had signed up previously. During the live broadcast schools could submit questions about what they were watching.

When COVID-19 hit, UDIM decided to tap into the technology that people are using to bring the farm to those who’s education has been interrupted by the pandemic. Using the combined talents of the UDIM team, UDIM Director of Industry Relations Jolene Griffin took everyone to her family’s farm and showed the viewers how they care for calves and cows and the feed they prepare for the cows each day. During the tour, Griffin talked about the nutritious and delicious dairy foods created from the milk the cows produce.

Supporting the VFT’s are a library of resource materials for schoolteachers and parents to download and use during instruction time at home. A scavenger hunt to use while watching the VFT’s and FAQ’s that are often asked during the farm tours are available along with other Milk Means More educational resources.

“This is such a dire situation and kids are having their lives uprooted and everything is changing. I feel for parents trying to do their job while maintaining the home and teaching their kids, it’s just so hard right now and we wanted to provide resources to help families and share about dairy,” Griffin said.

UDIM is also helping spread the word about where families can get free meals in their area that will include a serving of milk for each student for every meal.

“The UDIM website is a one stop shop for fun, education and nourishment for families,” Griffin added.

The MSU Extension Dairy Team offers weekly virtual coffee breaks. The topic “Improving the Targeting of Your Antibiotic Use,” involved a discussion with Animal Science Department Chair, Dr. Pam Ruegg (left) hosted by MSU Extension Dairy Educator Marianna Buza (right).

Virtual Coffee Breaks

While daily dairy is essential for everyone, some consider coffee to be an essential part of their day and the MSU Extension Dairy Team is hosting Virtual Coffee Breaks on several platforms.

MSU Extension Specialist Phil Durst said they started brainstorming about the idea last year. “We were simply looking for new ways to reach farmers with information, so we planned this series of coffee breaks and it turned out to be very timely.”

The coffee breaks took place live each Wednesday morning in March and April and are conversations lasting less than a half hour. They are available on YouTube on the MSU Extension Dairy Team YouTube channel along with other audio platforms like Spotify.

Covering everything from building consumer ag literacy and employee team building to producing quality milk and recommendations for 2020 corn silage planting, the coffee breaks provide another layer of programming from MSU Extension.

“MSU Extension really cares about dairy farmers and we want to help producers any way we can. We know it’s a very difficult time and yet we want farmers to know that they are incredibly important to us,” Durst concluded. “We praise them for their work, day in and day out, to produce healthy food products and we thank them for their work. So, we want to be a good partner with them as they produce quality food for our state, our nation and our world.”

This article was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »