Cowboys, cattle, and Facebook
How social media is helping to connect ranchers' work with modern America.
By Lauren Chase
It is too often that Americans don’t understand the cowboy way of life.
Not only that, they can’t begin to explain where their food comes from and how it’s produced. The disconnect from the land has driven individuals to believe that cowboys don’t exist in real life, just in old Western films.
This is where I step in.
I am a recent University of Iowa graduate with a degree in both Journalism and Anthropology. During the summer of 2010, I interned at the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) in Helena, Mont. Coming from a non-agricultural background, I arrived in Big Sky Country with no horse, no cowboy boots, no hat, and no understanding of ranching.
My internship was to travel to ranches throughout the state, interview ranchers, and take photos and videos for use on MSGA’s social media websites. What I thought would be an interesting way to combine journalism and anthropology skills turned into a lifetime passion for advocating for the beef industry and ranch culture.
I returned to Iowa after the internship, only to bombard my family and friends with tales of the West and information on beef. After graduation in December, I desperately wanted to return to Montana and help promote the cowboy way of life. MSGA created a position for me to do this and I am now the multimedia outreach specialist.
This means I am expected to travel to more than 300 ranches during my first two years, putting on more than 30,000 miles to tell the Montanan family ranch story.
Cowboys, cattle, and Facebook. This combination doesn’t seem like it fits. However, as social media sites collect more followers, advocating for agriculture has become essential, in order to reach millions of people with the cowboys’ message.
A positive messaging paradigm humanizes agriculture and social media creates a digital café, allowing users to start casual dialogues about ranch life, learning about the people behind where their food comes from.
MSGA’s goal is to share with the world that ranching involves caring, committed, and intelligent people who love working with their family, working on the land, and working to take care of animals. In the first month of working, I have snapped more than 3,000 photos at 15 different ranches across the state. I wake up when the ranchers do and document feeding cows, prepping horses, pitching hay, checking heifers, preparing lunch, moving cow/calf pairs, and so much more.
After logging anywhere from a few hours to a few days with these families, I edit and post content to MSGA’s Facebook and Twitter sites, hoping the our non-agricultural friends will start to learn about family ranch life.
Eventually, my photographs will be made into coffee table books, which will include photo collages, mini biographies, and quotes about the love of ranching.
As I continue to learn about what it means to be a cowboy, through social media and my books, I hope the world will too.