Lessons Learnt Number Four – Using Social Media to Amplify Youth Voices

Social media is all around us. Facebook pops up onto our screens with notifications, we spend hours admiring Instagram images and we check in with the twitter-verse. In the ten years since Picture You in Agriculture (PYiA) was born we’ve used social media to share our stories, create conversations and build relationships over countless interactions. In this edition of our Lesson Learnt series we talk to Young Farming Champions Bessie Thomas and Anika Molesworth to find out how social media can be used to amplify youth voices.

Bessie Thomas uses Facebook as her social media platform of choice to share her life on Burragan Station in western NSW. “I like Facebook for its ability to be short or long form,” she says. “I’m primarily a long-form writer and enjoy Facebook’s ability to allow me to explore my thoughts thoroughly, use language as it pleases me (especially for writing with comedic affect) and then add visuals to suit.”

Bessie at Burragan.JPG

Bessie.JPG

Just as Bessie enjoys Facebook for its long-form option Anika prefers the brevity of Twitter. “Twitter demands less wordiness and is relatively easy to use,” she says, “and I can use short sentences and one link or a picture.”

Whatever the choice of platform both girls agree it is connecting to your audience that is most important. “Having a public Facebook page is like creating my own little community,” Bessie says of her audience who come to her to experience real-life on a sheep property. “The one aim of my Facebook page has always been to show the human side of farming, show that I/my husband/our family/farmers in general are real people with the same everyday hopes, dreams, problems, desires, challenges, illnesses, brain-farts, morals, ethics and ideals as everyone else. I want to show that we are individuals who care, not just mass production food factories. We are not perfect; we are just as human as everyone else.”

For Anika using social media is about connecting with people who can spread her environmental and climate change messages. “I think Twitter is well used by farmers, researchers and politicians who are connected to the topics I am talking about,” she says, “and I like you can tag anyone, no matter who they are. For example I sometimes engage in a Twitter conversation with policy makers and where else could I do this?”

Anika Twitter

Using images and video is a trademark of many social media platforms and both Bessie and Anika use these to great effect. Bessie recently created a video after drought-breaking rain fell at Burragan. The video reached over 20,000 people and was picked up by the Sky News Weather Channel. See footnote

Anika has recently compiled short videos to share on Twitter where she talks about such subjects as renewable energy and climate change. “I am really interested in amplifying the voice of rural Australia, so I asked myself, how can I project my story further and raise awareness of topics I believe are important? I decided to make a series of short videos of me on my family’s farm. Walking around my paddocks I try to give observation and insight on my life in Far West NSW around a central theme of climate change – both its impacts and how it can be addressed.”

Anika admits, that although she is familiar and comfortable with Twitter and has built up an engaged audience and has being identified as the most influential agriculturalist on Twitter , there is always more to learn. Bessie too, finds it a continuous learning process but has these tips for creating successful posts:

  • Create authentic content. Don’t use give-aways or ask for likes and don’t post just for the sake of posting. Amplify your voice in a curated way.
  • Respond to comments and private messages and, in doing so, build trusted relationships.
  • Know your purpose, or aim, and stick to it.
  • Create an emotional connection. My best posts are the honest ones where I am celebrating the highs and also admitting vulnerability. Whinging and complaining posts tend not to do so well.
  • Spell-check! See footnote

Picture You in Agriculture provides all Young Farming Champions with training in social media skills during their immersion workshops and encourages them to share their experiences. Young Farming Champion Alana Black has recently contributed to this by creating a social media strategy document, sharing with YFC how to create engaging content. Just like Bessie and Anika, Alana’s believes it is about connecting with an audience to start a conversation and deliver a positive message about agriculture.

Footnote

That moment when Sky News wants to put your video on national TV and your dad rings to remind you of the ” i” before “e” rule except after “c”

A reminder we should all aim for progress not perfection

Can you imagine hand feeding 20,000 mouths in a drought?

Continuing our Lessons Learnt from the Drought series with Young Farming Champions Peta Bradley and Bessie Thomas

Firstly some background for this story.  In Australia, a large land holding used for livestock production is known as a ‘station’. Most stations are livestock specific – classed as either sheep stations or cattle stations depending upon the type of stock raised – which is, in turn, dependent upon the suitability of the country and the rainfall. The owner of a station is known as a grazier, or pastoralist and, in many cases, Australian stations are operated on a pastoral lease. Australian sheep and cattle stations can be thousands of square kilometres in area, with the nearest neighbour hundreds of kilometres away. Some stations have over 20,000 sheep in their care.

All stock workers need to be interested in animals and handle them with patience and confidence. They need the skills to make accurate observations about livestock like judging an animal’s age by examining its teeth, and experience in treating injuries and illnesses as well as routine care requirements such as feeding, watering, mustering, droving, branding, castrating, ear tagging, weighing, vaccination and dealing with predators.

Those caring for sheep must also deal with flystrike treatments, worm control and lamb marking. Pregnant livestock need special care in late pregnancy and stockmen may have to deal with difficult births.

Apart from livestock duties, a stock person will also to inspect, maintain and repair fences, gates and yards damaged by storms, fallen trees, livestock and wildlife. Source

In the first two instalments of our drought series we talked to Young Farming Champions predominantly involved in cropping operations. Today we speak to Bessie Thomas and Peta Bradley who represent sheep and wool, and discover the strategies they have employed to survive, the changes drought has enabled and the importance of mental health and family.  Bessie and Peta’s family farms are both in NSW but very different in terms of topography , sheep carrying capacity (10:1)  and acreage  (20:1)

Wilcannia to Armatree.JPG

The last two years have reminded both urban and rural Australia that drought is an inevitable part of the Australian landscape and its impacts are wide reaching.  Both Bessie and Peta’s families know their first priority is their families and the animals in their care and its imperative to access drought response resources promptly and maintain wellbeing.

Team Thomas

Bessie and husband Shannan from Burragan Station, 100km east of Wilcannia* in western New South Wales, run a merino operation in partnership with Shannan’s parents.

Team Bradley .jpeg

Team Bradley 

Peta comes from Armatree, 100km northwest of Dubbo where her parents, Jenny and Craig, run a Border Leciester Stud and commercial merinos (with cereal and pulse cropping).

For both properties 2017 and 2018 were years of below average rainfall. “In 2018 we had 83mm for the year which is less than 30% of the annual average, and the year before was also only about 60% of the annual average,” Bessie says. “It has turned the countryside to dust and dried up dams, and the heat waves have cancelled any moisture from showers we have had.”

Dust storms

Feeding sheep at Burragan Station 

Similarly Armatree has been reduced to a 300mm annual rainfall (down from the average of 520mm). “This equates to our farm being relocated to Broken Hill,” Peta says. “2019 has commenced with January being the hottest on record and zero rainfall recorded on the chart.”

Strategies common to both operations are reducing sheep numbers and feeding stock they have identified as drought resilient. At Burragan they have de-stocked by 50% and sold all of their 500 cattle, while at Armatree stock have been reduced by over a third.

“We’ve been feeding for more than 18 months which affects finances, creates time pressures and puts pressure on vehicles and trailers. It becomes mentally and physically exhausting,” Bessie says. “Feeding out hay in heat, wind and dust is some kind of torture.”

Jenny and Craig Bradley.jpg

The Bradleys ( Jenny and Craig pictured here in 2014 ) are looking forward to seeing barley crops like this one when the rains return Source

“Our farm stores enough fodder to feed all stock including finishing lambs for a full twelve month period, well beyond a normal drought,” Peta says, “but we used all stored fodder in 2017 and have had to purchase fodder for 2018. To accommodate this cost we have maintained selected breeding stock only. We have also sold lambs as early as possible after weaning, undertaken measurements on stud stock lambs as early as permissible and selected the stock we want to keep  well ahead of normal time frames.

IMG_3202.jpeg

Some lambs getting ready to be weighed through the automatic drafter/scales at the Bradley’s farm.

The measurements the Bradley’s take before they decide which animals they will keep include:

  • Body weights (weaning – 12 weeks of age, 5 months and 7 months)
  • Ultrasound fat and muscle measurements
  • Scrotal circumference on rams

In total an animal that is retained as a breeding ewe on the Bradley farm has in excess of 50 measurements recorded in her lifetime. These measurements are taken to be put into the genetic evaluation for sheep – allowing them to choose the animals that are genetically the best to breed from.

Weaning early, utilising confinement feeding and drought lots and always remaining flexible in our management decisions have been ways of dealing with this drought.

Ewe with Triplets.jpg

The Bradley’s select their sheep for productivity. Every now and then you come across a special sheep. This ewe is having triplets again – for the fourth year in a row! She has reared 9 lambs in three years. 

Weaning early in drought is important as lambs are competing with their mothers for grain. This allows the ewes an opportunity to get back into condition faster and also removes the competition for grain and fodder from the breeding ewes on the lambs.

Even the wool clip has been negatively impacted. Heavy, dust-laden wool sells for fewer dollars per bale.

Wool.jpg

But surprisingly the drought has had upsides. For years the Thomas’ had been discussing keeping Burragan purely as a merino property and transitioning Shannan’s parent’s property into dorpers, and that is a vision the drought has enabled/forced them to do. The drought has also highlighted the need for planning and flexibility in plans, and the critical need to put people first.

“Ensuring that we make time for ourselves and the family whether it is maintaining exercise routines, weekends away or taking family holidays are as important, if not more so, as practical farming,” Peta says, “as is the importance of networking to ensure we are operating at best practice.”

Bessie copes with the drought by downloading her thoughts and images through social media and this compilation of her 2018  year has led to the family being offered a week’s holiday at Port Stephens, courtesy of the huge generosity of Alloggio.com.au owners Will and Karen Creedon, the Port Stephens Council and Hon. Scot MacDonald MLC

And although the constant raised dust is destructive to the land – filling grids and yards, blocking gateways and covering fences – Bessie can still find joy.

Dust

“The dust storms are ominous and interesting, I quite enjoy the dramatic skies that come with them – as long as I am safely in the house!” Bessie says

*Think it’s hot at your place? A property near Wilcannia broke the record for Australia’s highest overnight temperature in mid-January, reaching a minimum of 35.9C.

Thanks Bessie and Peta we know that by you sharing your stories you will give hope to others facing similar challenges

#StrongerTogether #YouthVoices19 #ThisisAusAg #YouthinAg

See Andrea Davy’s wonderful story on Bessie in the Rural Weekly here 

Read Peta’s story in The Land here

Visit the NSW DPI Drought Hub here for more information