Curious Kids Spend Day at the Farm

6/1/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

MILTON, N.Y. — Dave Leggett, a 4-H livestock program educator, got some interesting answers to his question, “What’s your favorite dairy product?”

“Oreos!” a little girl said.

“Popsicles,” a young boy hollered.

They were among the 320 elementary school kids who attended the May 21 Animals, Food and Agricultural Life Field Day hosted by Saratoga County Cornell Cooperative Extension at its 4-H training center here.

For many kids who have never been on a farm, it was the perfect way to gain an appreciation for agriculture and how important it is in their daily lives. The event is held annually and exposes children to all kinds of farm-based operations and animals including sheep, horses, goats and chickens.

In one class they made butter by shaking heavy cream in small plastic containers. Saratoga County Dairy Princess Molly Pokrzywka and her alternate, Hannah Curtiss, helped with the project.

Kids then watched a working beehive and saw how maple syrup is made as they rotated from station to station throughout the grounds.

“This gives them a little sampling of all the agricultural options,” said Julie Curren, 4-H outreach educator. She works throughout the year in local schools, helping teachers with core curriculum programs.

Leggett, one of several staff and volunteer instructors, patiently explained the difference between things that come from milk and those that don’t.

Even fun, tasty items such as ice cream and yogurt are dairy products, he said.

“Why does a cow have four stomachs?” one boy asked.

“It helps them process fiber,” Leggett said.

He brought along a young calf for his presentation and told all about the things they eat, starting with milk right after being born, followed by sweet-tasting molasses-treated calf starter, and then hay and corn silage as they get older.

Julia Bradley, a parent helper, looked on as her son, Hunter, absorbed what Leggett was saying.

“I grew up on a farm,” she said. “My parents still have beef cattle and thoroughbreds there. When Hunter goes there he shovels stalls and feeds cattle. Plus, we have chickens and guinea hens at home. I think it’s great for kids. It teaches them responsibility by doing chores.”

4-H equine educator Jen Stevens let kids get an up-close look at her 12-year-old Morgan horse named Awesome. She explained how Morgans are named for Justin Morgan, who first developed the breed in Vermont.

“Two hundred years ago we didn’t have tractors, right?” she said. “A horse like Awesome might have plowed fields or cut hay.”

Stevens then explained how to tell a horse’s height.

“No matter where you go in the world it’s universal. All horses are measured in hands,” she said.

Likewise, she pointed out the four main equine color groupings bay (brown with black mane), chestnut (brown with reddish mane), grey and black depending on their breed.

“Of course, you’ve all seen a paint horse, too, right?” she added.

Jen Close, a Saratoga Springs first-grade teacher, said the field day reinforced what kids have been learning about the life cycle of animals.

For example, poultry farmer Wendy Smith of Ballston displayed her special breed of chickens, a frizzle silky mix, with baby chicks.

Children from Schuylerville Elementary School, in second-grade teacher Kristen Becht’s class, have had similar lessons recently.

“They’re asking questions about eggs and how they hatch,” Becht said. “Most of them haven’t been on a farm. This let’s them see first-hand what it’s like.”

Smith also told kids that she has to protect her chickens against predators such as coyotes, raccoons and hawks. “These chickens depend on me to feed and water them,” she said. “Everybody who has a pet, that pet depends on you.”

Jean Teal, owner of Stormhaven Farm in Ballston Spa, has 40 Lamancha goats that she raises for dairy purposes, including one that she brought along to be milked.

“This is a good way for kids to learn,” she said. “And it’s a lot of fun.”

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