Lizzie Hynes, a fifth-grade student at Cumberland Head Elementary School, had a chance to experience the digestion process of a dairy cow first hand at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute’s annual Farm Days for Fifth Graders event.
CHAZY—Since 1982, the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute has hosted a free open-house to fifth-grade students throughout the region called Farm Days for fifth graders.
The three-day event, which ran June 4–6, consisted of eight hands-on exhibits, all led by students studying animal sciences from universities in places as close-to-home as Vermont and as far away as Puerto Rico.
The college interns are part of a summer-long research program that focuses on farm management, equine management and agriculture research.
“Farm Days is a good opportunity in a controlled environment for the (college) students to interact with a public that doesn’t know a lot about agriculture,” said Wanda Emerich, Dairy Outreach Coordinator at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute.
Emerich has been involved in Farm Days for fifth graders since 1983, and said her favorite part of the event is hearing how excited people get when they come face-to-face with the sights, smells and sounds of a working farm.
But, as the 506 elementary-aged students who recently visited the farm learned, the field trip wasn’t to a glorified petting zoo—there’s a lot of research going on at Miner Farm.
Emerich said a lot of that research is to study the interaction between food crops and milk production.
The types of feed are documented, along with how the stress of varying temperatures, humidity and overcrowding can affect the productivity of a group dairy cows.
The outcome of those factors—the components of the milk that is produced by the cows—is studied, with the goal of determining how efficient the cows are at producing the milk.
“Right now the research is still being summarized,” Emerich said. “There’s a lot of data that needs to be verified. We’re really trying to get more production per acre, because we aren’t making any more acres.”
The fifth-grade students, who were from Beekmantown, Chazy, Cumberland Head, Momot, Mooers, Morrisonville, Northern Adirondack, Rouses Point and Saranac Lake elementary schools, were divvied into eight groups and spent about 30 minutes at each exhibit.
The exhibits—horse behavior, field equipment, heritage exhibit, horse care, calves, feeds, dairy barn and Lavender, the fistulated cow—were all located on the Miner Farm property.
“The field trip experience should be more than a day off,” Emerich said. “We try to encourage our students that are giving the tour to challenge them with some math questions or some science questions.”
Some of the stops along the tour, like the heritage and field care exhibits, gave lessons in history, while others, like the fistulated cow, gave the students an opportunity to get a little closer.
“We try to keep the exhibits as hands-on as possible, and that one’s not just hands-on, it’s hands-in,” Emerich said.
Fifth-grade students took turns inserting their arms into Lavender, a dairy cow with a fistula—an artificial entryway that grants access to one of the bovine’s four stomachs.
Russell Miller, a veterinary science major at Purdue University in Indiana, explained the digestion process to the awe-struck fifth graders, who displayed a range of emotions as they took turns being elbow-deep in Lavender’s stomach, which went about its business as usual.
Miller also explained that Lavender, who munched on feed and seemed genuinely oblivious to the happenings around her, was fistulated in the name science.
“Lavender allows us to better understand forages and how they interact with the animal,” Miller said. “By doing that we can find out what the best feed to give livestock is, and determine what’s best for them.”
Some of the exhibits at Farm Days for Fifth Graders were not as bovine invasive.
Deanna Shenk, who is studying dairy science and animal and poultry science at Virginia Tech University, taught attendees about the feeding, housing and identification system of calves.
As the fifth-grade students took turns petting a dairy calf, she expressed a need for consumers to better understand the process of agriculture.
“It’s great being out here, teaching agriculture to kids,” Shenk said. “It definitely helps me know what people don’t understand and what people want to know about agriculture.”
The William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute will be hosting a free, open-to-the-public open house Saturday, Aug. 10 from noon–4 p.m.
For more information, visit www.whminer.com