For Kirbie Nichols, co-owner of Speedwell Farms in Lyndonville, the average workday starts in the barn at 3:30 in the morning, Pop-Tart in hand. It takes her an hour to get the milking units affixed to the first eight of 107 milking cows on the dairy operation she runs with her father, Brian Nichols, and family friend Herbie Bennett.
Between her daily chores of milking, breeding, calving and moving cows, the 20-year-old also finds time to create TikTok videos. Nichols is one of a few Vermont farmers to consistently post farm-related content on the short-form video app.
She began posting videos about the farm in January 2021, when she made a TikTok of herself prepping to milk the cows. The clip, set to the song “Thank a Farmer” by James Wesley, received more than 900 likes. She realized people could engage with and learn from her posts.
Her first video to go viral, “Manure Happens,” got half a million views. It was about accidentally sending milk to the milk tank from a cow being treated with antibiotics. Normally, while cows are receiving medication, their milk is thrown away. After a prescribed withholding period, their milk is safe to drink again. Nichols made the video to cope with the disappointment of having to dump the entire tank she accidentally tainted.
@farmerkirb Manure happens😬 Sponsored by Carhartt #fypシ #bartenderireallydiditthistime #fypsounds #dairyfarmer #vermontfarmlife #carhartt #vermonttiktok #fypage ♬ original sound – Tik Toker
“That’s the worst thing that could happen … to put a treated cow in the tank,” Nichols said. In a recent video, she filmed herself draining a tank of contaminated milk to show her audience what farmers do when this occurs.
Showcasing her life as a young woman in agriculture for her 6,236 TikTok followers has become a passion for Nichols. In one of her latest videos, she lists the cows she would have as bridesmaids to the song “Bridesmaids” by Kylie Morgan. Pinky, one of her favorite cows, got her through high school, she explains in the video. Barb would post her bail.
“She’s nuts. She’s crazy. She’s funny. And if she was a person, I’d probably party with Barb,” Nichols said of the cow, whose name is short for Barbados, one of many Speedwell cows with notable monikers. While scratching chins and getting sloppy, purple-tongued kisses, Nichols recited more: Shania Twain, Wreck-It Ralph and All Night Long.
“I like to go into the barn and actually know who I’m looking at,” Nichols said. “I can go into the barn right now and tell you exactly who she is just by the ear tag or based on her udder.”
Nichols is the second-youngest of seven siblings and the only one to work on the farm. “She just loves it,” her aunt Kathleen Nichols said. “It’s almost like getting bitten by a bug or something, and she’s got that bug.”
Several other Vermont farmers who have been bitten by the same bug share their experiences on TikTok. The most popular is Gold Shaw Farm’s Morgan Gold, who has 2.1 million followers. (See “Viral Spiral”) Others include Plymouth organic vegetable, herb and flower grower Fiddlers Green Farm (nearly 9,400 followers) and Swanton-based farm pet Nelson the Donkey (1.1 million followers). The videos of Nelson’s loud, whiny bray and conversations with his human mom often go viral.
While Nichols’ dad doesn’t mind her sharing videos about the farm on TikTok, he does have some hesitations. “Our whole family has farmed since forever,” Brian said. “And we got all these people out there trying to tell us how to do it.”
Though the TikTok videos haven’t impacted the farm directly, Nichols sometimes receives questions about farm practices, and she responds by explaining why they do what they do. She wants to incorporate more education in her videos while continuing to show how much she loves her cows. She plans to carry on the Speedwell legacy once her dad retires.
“She’s farming like an old man but doing it like a 20-year-old girl — with a TikTok,” Kathleen said.