July 15 2023 08:00 AM

Highlighting the science behind dairying is how this advocate builds trust with consumers.

The author and her family own and operate a 570-cow Holstein and Jersey dairy near Berlin, Pa.

For Katheryn Bosley, getting people excited about learning about dairy is a rewarding way to support her industry.
Even as a little girl, Kathryn Bosley wanted to connect with the consumers who asked to pet her cattle at fairs and shows. Those early interactions led to a journey of advocating for agriculture and a highly successful alter-ego known as “Cow Nerd.”

Today, Bosley balances completing her master’s degree with creating posts on social media about agriculture, dairy cattle, farm life, and the science behind it. Calling herself a “nerdy dairy farmer’s daughter,” she shares information to connect consumers with farm facts.

Bosley grew up on her family’s small dairy, Tierney Farm Jerseys, in northern New York with her parents, Jennifer and Charles, and her younger brother, Patrick. Focusing on breeding, marketing, and showing long-lasting, productive, and high-type Jerseys, she had many opportunities to exhibit cattle.

“While my family was at our county fair or the Big E, we’d commonly get asked by members of the public if they could pet our animals,” Bosley explained. “They’d also often have questions about dairy farming, and I was always eager to talk about farming and my family’s way of life.”

She eventually served as a county dairy ambassador for six years and then as Dairy Princess. After earning a bachelor’s degree and an associate degree at SUNY-Cobleskill in 2021, Bosley is now pursuing her master’s degree in animal science with an emphasis in applied dairy cattle genetics at the University of Minnesota.

During her first year of college, she started following other dairy “agvocates” on social media. “I had always wished while growing up that more people could understand and feel more connected to agriculture,” she described. “Ag has always been a huge part of my life, and I had found it difficult to connect with people who couldn’t really wrap their heads around this way of life. I wanted agriculture to be something I could connect with others over rather than something that divided us.”

Taking it online

Four years ago, she and her cousin Katelyn began their own “agvocating” on Facebook and Instagram as “Cousins & Cows,” which has since transitioned into “Cow Nerd.” Bosley has tackled topics like animal genetics, dairy breeds, A2 milk, lactose intolerance, environmental issues, and technology, along with farm stories. She uses data and facts to break the information down.

“I have always been very interested, and honestly obsessed, with the science behind dairy farming,” she said. “I wanted it to be cool to be nerdy, especially since it isn’t always considered cool as a young woman. I was never made to fit in a box while growing up, so I wasn’t going to change myself just to fit a mold on social media.”

Most of Cow Nerd’s early growth came from friends and family. “In the beginning, it can be very difficult to break out of the ‘ag bubble’ and reach members of the public so that you’re not just preaching to the choir about agriculture,” she said.

About three months after starting Cow Nerd, Bosley had her first high-performing post, which tripled her number of followers in a week’s time. The post was a heartfelt open letter responding to public anti-meat comments made by a celebrity.

“While it started positive, that was when I had my first swarm of anti-agriculture trolls hit — and by ‘swarm,’ I mean thousands of animal rights activists who shared my post to their groups to specifically organize a brigade of very ugly comments,” she said. “It was overwhelming to say the least. My first instinct was to try to respond to these comments with correct information, but it became increasingly clear that nothing I could say would change their minds or stop the ugliness.”

Bosley temporarily deactivated the page and eventually gained more resources for content moderation. While there have been a couple of swarms in the four years since, none have ever reached the scope or vitriol of that first event.

Over time, she has learned to deal with negative comments, seeing them as an opportunity for discussion, not confrontation. Whenever possible, she uses a reader’s question as a learning opportunity.

Creating her community

For Bosley, maintaining her page along with her college studies means careful scheduling and time management. Most of her writing is done on a weekly basis, with topics usually planned out by month. She still tries to watch for emerging and hot button topics and be flexible.

“Sometimes I rework topics I’ve covered before, but when new information is coming out or I’m discussing a topic I haven’t covered in a while, it takes more time to do the background research for the post,” Bosley said. “My focus and education is mostly in dairy cattle care and genetics, so when I’m discussing a topic a bit outside of that, I am extra diligent with my sources.”

She links source articles to her posts so readers can learn more about related topics. Bosley also breaks the topic into digestible chunks and connects it to current topics and things they have going on around the farm.

She highlights controversial topics on “Mythbusting Monday,” which can lead to discussion from nonag readers and the ag community alike. Bosley tries to reply to as many genuine questions as possible.

“I love having a mix of followers, with people from agriculture backgrounds, including dairy and other sectors, and people not connected to ag,” she said. “My ag followers sometimes beat me to answering questions, which I appreciate. I try to chime in when I get the chance. If someone makes a comment that isn’t completely correct, I try to correct it in a way that acknowledges their perspective without being too aggressive.

“Some of my favorite comments are when people talk about enjoying learning more about the dairy industry,” Bosley said. “I also love it when they want to share my posts with other people to get them excited and to break down complex topics.”

One of her favorite opportunities has been competing in College Aggies Online, which is a scholarship program hosted by the Animal Agriculture Alliance that trains the next generation of “agvocates” on social media use, blog writing, and graphic creation. This later led to an ag communications internship with the Alliance in the fall of 2021.

Bosley admits she has been amazed at how far Cow Nerd has come in the last four years.

“I took a risk and it has paid off a hundred-fold,” she said. “I’ve grown and learned so much as a person, especially in the way of confidence, poise, and the ability to break down difficult topics. I gained an understanding of different perspectives and deepened my knowledge. I realized my passion for communication and education, along with science, and made so many amazing connections.”

It’s cool to love cows

As she continues her collegiate studies, she also helps with dairy outreach and extension activities. She sees these as possible stepping stones to her role in advocacy in the future.

“I would absolutely love to eventually be involved in extension and/or teaching at a university level in some way,” Bosley said. “I enjoy dairy research and science as well, but I especially enjoy finding new ways to break down these topics into ways that get other people excited to learn and apply this information.”

Creating farm videos, appearing on podcasts, and writing blog posts have all been part of being the Cow Nerd, and Bosley would like to continue those activities as well as mentoring 4-H youth, especially those interested in pursuing a career in agriculture and science.

“I want to show it’s cool to be excited and ‘nerdy’ about these topics,” she said. “Ultimately, I can see myself continuing as Cow Nerd for the foreseeable future as I continue my education and career, and my goal is to continue to expand my role as an agvocate both on and off of social media.”

To learn more about the Cow Nerd, follow her on Facebook and Instagram.