Cowshed tweets becoming an international hit

By Katie Holland, katie.holland@dailypost.co.nz

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At first glance, dairy farming and Twitter may seem worlds apart.

However, Rotorua farmer Colin Grainger-Allen, aka @NZcows, is proving a hit on social networking site Twitter with regular updates on life on the farm.

More than 1000 people around the world - both country and city folk - follow Mr Grainger-Allen who tweets on everything from calving to grass growth to milking to the weather.

It began in 2009 when he was looking for a way to connect with other farmers, many of whom don't get a chance to physically meet up on a regular basis.

"I originally wanted to do a blog but I am not a great person at writing lots of words."

So Mr Grainger-Allen, who is from the United Kingdom but has been in New Zealand for 12 years, turned to Twitter.

"Twitter is 140 characters so I thought I can do this," he said.

"It's used quite a lot in other countries [among farmers] where it's taken off more than here."

He admits he is surprised to have become one of the most followed New Zealand farmers on Twitter, a popularity that has brought added pressure.

"I am more conscious of what I say ... but on occasion I still use it to say what I am thinking if I have got a strong opinion about something."

For the most part his tweets - almost 3000 of them - are about everyday life on the farm, where he sharemilks 550 cows. That means his smart phone goes everywhere he goes.

"It [tweeting] is starting to be a bit more on my mind, making sure I do it more often and keep the story going," he said. "[How often I tweet] varies depending on what we are doing, if there's anything of interest."

He said he likes to tweet photos, which often but not always feature his cows, and has had many interesting discussions with farmers from the USA and the United Kingdom.

"Our type of farming is still quite unique, particularly cow numbers ... they don't understand how we do it."

Last month, Mr Grainger-Allen was invited to be a guest speaker at a Social Media for Farmers forum in Wellington, where he spoke to 40 industry representatives.

He said agricultural businesses were waking up to the fact farmers were increasingly embracing technology so they needed to promote their services across all media.

Keen to spread the word, he is working with New Zealand Young Farmers towards launching #agchatnz where at a regular time each week farmers will "meet" on Twitter to ask and answer questions of interest.

He admits Twitter is not everyone's cup of tea and he still comes across farmers without a smart phone or regular internet access.

But he hopes the chance to pick up knowledge and "meet" new people may lead to a few more smart phones in New Zealand cowsheds.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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