Kids get up close and personal with animals on the farm
RURAL AUSTIN — They came by the busload Tuesday, pouring out into the quiet countryside curious, excited and full of fun. Many had never been on a farm before.
The 400 third graders from Lyle and Austin schools were enjoying the "Day on the Farm," an ambitious idea from the Agribusiness Committee of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce that started in 2006.
The purpose is to provide students with a greater appreciation of agriculture, and a better understanding of how food and other products get from the farm to their tables and homes.
At the Sayles Dairy Farm, the tour included a visit to the milking parlor, calf barn and an agronomy site, which gave the students an introduction to the science and economics of crop production.
"Today we’re going to learn a lot about milk and cheese," said Paul Baessler, a former teacher of agriculture who greeted the students at the farm.
"Do you know what breed these black and white cows are?" he asked. "They’re dairy cows," said one. "They’re bulls said," another.
Baessler switched to facts that might amaze parents as well as children. "Every day a cow will drink a bathtub full of water," he said. "Even more when it’s hot."
"And they eat 90 pounds of food a day. If you ate that much you’d be eating all day long."
That brought out lots of chuckles and, perhaps, a lifelong understanding of the high price of milk.
Dean Sayles took on the teaching role inside the parlor, where cows are milked by machines. He showed children how he cleans each cow, adding a quick demonstration of where the milk comes from, which really got their attention. His finale was to show them how the milking machine works.
"Stick your finger way in," he said. That generated a lot of noise.
A bit later and up the road at the Larry Gerlach Farm, a chicken-and-eggs operation, sons Dan and Brad Gerlach vied with their dad’s piglet building for students' attention.
The two had turned a playhouse purchased from a neighbor into a chicken station. It has a main floor roosting area for egg-laying hens, a ramp down to a fenced feeding area and a lower level that provides a cool retreat in summer.
"There’s something about chickens that kids like," Dan said.
Linnay Yarger, an ag instructor at Austin High School and an FFA adviser, was also a presenter at the farm, explaining the role of a combine on a farm where cornfields reach out to the horizon.
At the third stop, the Darell Ingvaldson farm, children saw a variety of critters, including steers, llamas and pheasants.