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Farmer for a Day tent teaches kids about agriculture

MANCHESTER, Iowa — The Farmer for a Day tent at the Delaware County Fair in Manchester gives young visitors hands-on experience with livestock.

As the fair opened last week, Sue Willie of Manchester and her daughters Kristal Claussen and Sarah Kelchen unloaded a Pekin duck named Giggles and a Rouen duck named Giddiup.

They put a big Brahma rooster named One-Eyed Jack in a pen with several laying hens. Nesting boxes with back flaps were located at the back of the pen so children could collect eggs.

"When they aren’t looking, we put the eggs back for the next ones to pick," said Willie.

Rambo, a Red and White Holstein calf, provided by Vicky Fortman of Manchester, enjoyed sucking on fingers as children reached out to pet it. Several times each day, youngsters helped bottle feed it.

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The farrowing display is the exhibit's most popular. Mike Loecke of Manchester delivered two sows ready to farrow.

Visitors waited with great anticipation for the birth of the baby pigs.

The fair board has had to put bleachers out because so many people watched the sows farrow, said Jeannie Domeyer, Delaware County Fair manager.

"As each pig comes, there is an audible, ‘ah’ from the crowd," Domeyer said.

In the tent, children can pick apples from a tree, dig potatoes in a sandbox or guess what they’re feeling in a discovery box. Oats, corn, soybeans, feathers, wool and a horseshoe are part of the experience.

Throughout tent, sponsored by Farm Credit Services, posters provide facts about crops, cows, pigs and poultry.

Willie generally spends nearly all fair week at the Farmer for a Day tent, but this year her oldest daughter, Kathy Rahe’s baby son was at the University Hospital in Iowa City. She helped with farm chores and drove to Iowa City for visits so there was less fair time.

Farmer for a Day started six years ago to educate people about farming, Willie said.

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"It gives children an opportunity to hold a baby pig or a duckling or chick or bottle feed a calf," Willie said. "Youth growing up now don’t have the opportunity to learn these things."

The tent was staffed by volunteers, who are farmers or 4-H members, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

"It’s a nice way for parents and children to have discussions about where food comes from," said Claussen. "The kids go through the barns and see the pigs and chickens and cattle, and then they can come here and actually touch the animals."

A wood black and white cow that had udders made out of calf bottles filled with water provided a chance for children to  milk.

Willie said that she and her husband, Ken, always kept a lot of animals around the farm. They have chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, sheep, goats, horses, cats, dogs and a donkey.

"When the kids were in 4-H and FFA, they took everything that wasn’t nailed down to the fair," Willie said. "I kept the animals for the grandchildren, and now they’re in 4-H and FFA."

All four of the Willie’s children received their American FFA Degree.

"That was pretty awesome," Willie said. "I have four remarkable kids, and 4-H and FFA had a part in that."

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In addition to daughters Kelchen, Claussen and Rahe, Willie has a son, David.

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