The person known as @IowaDairyFarmer on the social media app TikTok has amassed more than 4.2 million likes for his posts during the past four months.
    In real life, @IowaDairyFarmer is Dan Venteicher, who farms in northeast Iowa. His posts explain his family’s 180-cow robotic dairy and often debunk misinformation that frustrates dairy farmers everywhere.
    TikTok features videos 15 to 60 seconds long posted by users who have made it the fastest-growing social media platform in the world as of 2021, according to the blog “iconosquare.” The analytics firm App Annie estimates TikTok will reach 1.2 billion monthly active users this year.
    And while many dairy farmers have been using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram to highlight their practices for some time, fewer have caught the TikTok wave.
    Venteicher first signed on in March 2020.
    “It was really just something to do during the pandemic. I set up an account but never posted,” Venteicher said.    
    But a couple of things triggered him to post his first video Feb. 27.
    “I gave a tour to some college students and one of them had an account, so I saw our barn on a TikTok page. I started looking at the comments and was a little discouraged,” he said.
    The comments led him to explain why he and his family installed the feeding system the student featured in the video.
    Now, he is a TikTok regular, with one of his videos earning him 1.3 million views.
    “It was just a joke; it was ‘Five ways dairy farmers abuse cows,’ and I put it to a music beat,” he said.
    The video showed him pointing to the numbers 1 through 5 on the screen, with nothing written behind any of them.
    Other videos, including some which required much more planning, have been less popular.
    “The secret to success must be to put in as little effort as possible,” Venteicher said, tongue-in-cheek. “Some I thought were awesome fell flat. When I try to be funny, I don’t get a lot of views.”
    The views are what attracted him to TikTok rather than other social media platforms. It does not require a user to have thousands of followers to have their videos seen. Videos pop up in a user’s feed according to the app’s algorithm. Popular videos or those related to previous views pop up on the user’s home screen.
    Venteicher has gotten what he calls countless messages from people who knew nothing about cows or dairies but started drinking milk again because of what they learned from his posts.
    “We are changing people’s minds,” he said of the app’s power for advocacy.
    But he also deals with plenty of negative comments.
    “When they are nasty, I highlight what they said and talk about it,” Venteicher said. “It won’t change their perspective, but it can change others’ opinions. The negative comments, for me, are like water off a duck’s back.”
    He said he finds the videos which are viewed most often are those replying to an activist comment.
    Venteicher estimates he could do six or seven videos in a day and finds the app easy to use with a short learning curve. He spends about 20 or 30 minutes a day, at most, on the effort, except when he does a live video. Live TikToks can last 1.5 hours at times.
    The time does not bother him or his wife, Jamie, who also stars in a few of his posts.
    “I never had a hobby; I don’t fish or golf,” he said. “Now we might put the kids to bed and instead of watching a football game, I go to the barn and do a live TikTok.”
    The live videos address hot topic questions from viewers or might include comments about the family’s motivation to be dairy farmers.
    One live video peaked at 60,000 viewers, but his average audience is about 30,000.
    Using TikTok to highlight dairy farming fits Venteicher’s background. He has always enjoyed education and planned to be an agriculture teacher. He ended up on the family farm instead.
    “This kind of combines both worlds,” he said.
    But the quick success of @IowaDairyFarmer is a surprise to Venteicher.
    “It blows my mind,” he said.