Dust In My Coffee

Loving my life as a woman in agriculture one sip at a time

     Steve and I are pen pals with two different schools through the Nebraska Farm Bureau Pen Pal Program.  We have a class of kindergarteners in Omaha and a class of fourth graders from Columbus.  The purpose of the program is to help kids understand more about where their food comes from and to build relationships with farmers and ranchers.  You can learn more about getting involved in the program here.  
I am with a kindergarten class in a north Omaha school.

After showing pictures and passing around containers of 
feed ingredients the kids received many items including
new crayons and booklets about beef.

     During the school year we correspond through letters with each class.  We tell them about our farm and family. They tell us about themselves and ask us questions.  When we first became part of the program a few years ago I was quite surprised at some of the questions.  They included “Do you only eat the food you raise?”, “Do you make all your own clothes?” and “Do you ever go shopping?”   We also receive more typical questions about what we feed cattle and how we care for them.   Besides writing letters throughout the year we send a something special at Christmas and we visit the class in the spring.  We were very fortunate this year when our Columbus class received permission to come and visit us.

This is no ordinary school bus!

     Steve and I transformed the shop from the farm mode to the classroom mode.  We had the five animal pens on one side with rows of tables and chairs on the other.   Included in the visit was a lunch of grilled hamburgers and ice cream.

It takes quite a bit of time for this transformation to occur.  The
wooden benches were made by our son, Jeff, a few years ago
as a 4-H project.  They came in handy for more seating.

      As soon as we learned the fourth graders would be coming I knew we would want to add items of interest that we don’t normally have here-like a petting zoo!  When I asked several of my 4-H families about loaning me their animals for this they were very supportive.  We ended up with two rabbits, baby chicks, a lamb, two goats and a bucket calf.  Our Bichon, Zoey, became an added attraction during lunch.  

Kids petting the chicks, rabbits, goats and lamb.

      We decided to split the group of fifty kids in half.  Steve took one half over to see planter and a feed truck. A couple of questions he received were “What’s it like to live on a farm” and “How do we make sure a sick animal does not get into the food supply”.   Steve has lived on a farm his whole life so it might have been easier for him to answer how living on a farm has changed since he was a child! He was able to easily explain how we make sure only healthy animals enter the food supply.     Food safety is a top priority that you can learn more about here.  

Part of the group when they were with Steve.  We had been receiving rain
and cool weather so the planter was in the standby mode. 

     I kept the other half of the group in the shop.  The 25 kids split into five groups and rotated around to pet the animals and ask questions about them.  I was holding the lead rope of the calf which ended up allowing me to encourage the timid children to touch the hair and offer him some hay.  The kids didn’t ask me many questions so I asked them questions.  I focused on what the value a beef animal besides food adds to everyday life.  You can learn more about that here
The kids loved to try to get the calf to eat some hay.  We
talked about what a baby calf might eat-milk-and how
we feed a calf that is not with a cow-a very big bottle.
      While the kids were visiting one of our veterinarians stopped in.  He talked to the kids about the shots we give the animals similar to the ones they receive to keep them from getting diseases.  He also explained why and how we use antibiotics just like they might receive them to recover from an illness.  The kids asked very good questions and seemed to understand the answers they were given.
The kids were very polite with many hands up to ask questions.
     We continued the tour of the feedlot so the kids could see how feed ingredients were weighed and loaded on the truck, where we give the animals their shots, how the holding pond keeps all the water from the feedlot from entering any rivers or streams and then they spend quite a bit of time near a pen of cattle.  The cattle did become curious in spite of the bright colored jackets and chatter of the kids.      
I am not sure which group is more interested in the other here!
     We explained that our cattle are not pets but that we do want to give them quality feed and care.  I asked the kids if the cattle looked crowded and in unison they said “Nooooo” which almost scared the cattle!  The kids saw how the feed is placed in the bunk and how the cattle go up and drink from a tank whenever they want. They saw black tubing with sprinkler nozzles above the bunk line that I explained was used for cooling them off in the summer.  

This is the picture I used to show how the sprinklers work.
     During lunch we visited with the kids and I showed them some large pictures we have on foam board to help them see the sprinklers in use on the cattle during the summer and the cattle laying on bedding behind the wind breaks in the winter. As soon as they finished eating the kids all wanted to pet the animals again with our Bichon, Zoey, also getting some attention.
Getting ready for mass distribution of burgers!
     As the group prepared to leave we gave them each a bag of items we had collected from various commodity groups.  The hamburger eraser from the Nebraska Beef Council was a big hit.  The kids and teachers were very grateful for the visit to our farm.  We were very grateful for the opportunity to have them here so they could see for themselves what a feedlot looks like.  Hugs were freely given from the kids as they boarded the bus.  While our intent was to educate it was the friendship we created with them that will hopefully have a lasting impact.
A group picture while we were touring the feedlot.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” 

 John C. Maxwell

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