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"Trombone cow guy" is a farmer first

Staff writer

Even as he builds a sizeable catalogue of hit viral videos, farmer Derek Klingenberg of Peabody is still primarily just that — a farmer from Peabody.

The video-making comes in his down time and during work. He’s not some entertainer who just happens to live on a farm, he’s a farmer who happens to be entertaining.

His most recent video splash came when he affixed a camera to a drone high in the sky and filmed his cows eating down below. The Klingenberg touch is that he laid feed in one long swooping curve beneath two piles, which became recognizable as a smiley face once the cows found the chow.

The video is nearing 500,000 views since being posted Jan. 27. What most viewers are likely to overlook in the video is perhaps its most obvious facet: It was work. Klingenberg’s cows needed to be fed that day.

Klingenberg markets himself as “trombone cow guy” on his social media sites. He knows who he is to people online. Maybe that’s why he tried public speaking and quit to be more committed to his family. Because when he’s Derek, the farmer, he can be more than a niche, he can be a fully realized person.

“I have creative ideas all the time,” he said. “I do it for myself. I just have to do it or I’ll go crazy. It’s entertainment, but at the same time, it’s good for positive advocacy for agriculture. It’s kind of like I’m doing two things at once.”

He forgot the third thing: farming.

Klingenberg was born and raised in Peabody. He played trombone in the band, first at Peabody-Burns High School, then at Kansas State.

“I’ve always been a musical person,” he said. “My mom was musical, and all three of us boys were musical. This video thing’s kind of a newer thing, but it allows me to sing and play trombone and banjo.”

Klingenberg often parodies popular songs, replacing the lyrics with farm-related lyrics.

In a 2014 video featured on the Ellen Degeneres Show, no singing was required. He played the melody from Lorde’s hit song “Royals” as his cows came running from beyond the horizon to gather around, listen, and moo along.

“Other farmers that saw it, it wasn’t such a mystery to them why they would come running to me,” he said. “I think that was more urban people that found that surprising.”

Growing up in rural Kansas, Klingenberg had little connection with the rest of the world. The Internet didn’t exist. Rural kids and urbanites didn’t cross paths.

“MTV was the only way you could connect,” he said.

The decision to create a YouTube account was one he had mulled for a while before jumping in headlong in 2012.

“I decided to go for it,” he said. “Since then I’ve just had to learn what people want.”

He has a fairly firm grip on that, though he still has his self-doubts. His brothers, Grant, who operates Klingenberg Farms with him, and Brett, who’s a Mennonite pastor in Nebraska, are his consultants.

He has lots of ideas, and sometimes his brothers will shoot down ones he pitches. But not always.

“I actually don’t put up stuff sometimes. I’ll make videos, then scratch them,” he said. “I don’t know. I just watch it, then I’m like, ‘I don’t like this.’”

Knowing what people want comes with a catch — knowing what they don’t want. Klingenberg said he feels pressure to keep to his theme.

“I just can’t stick anything up,” he said.

The attention makes him nervous. There’s initial excitement of being mentioned by national news outlets like Ellen and NPR, which featured his recent drone video, titled #CowArt, in a blog. But then the nerves take over as he waits for reactions.

“I get terrified,” he said.

Most of the reaction is positive, though. He understands you can find negative comments on anything if you look hard enough, but he said most are “funny, fun comments.”

He said he’s thought of making a video of his cows basking in their newfound celebrity.

“Just being famous cows, standing around, chewing their cud,” he said. “Demanding more corn in their feed.”

Klingenberg himself gets no special treatment, however.

“My friends always make fun of me and stuff, but it’s all in good fun. I don’t think they talk about it too terribly much,” he said. “I’m just the same old guy around here.”

Last modified Feb. 11, 2015

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