When the classroom moves to the farm, kids have a lot of questions.
"Does it hurt a horse when you nail a shoe to its hoof?"
"How many eggs does a queen bee lay in a day?"
"Can I hold a chicken?"
Barton County’s 18th annual Kids Ag Day was held Wednesday at the 3-M Farms northwest of Great Bend. Every fourth grader in the county was invited to experience farm life, touring the farm on a trailer stacked with hay bales for seating and pulled by a tractor. They also watched a horse being shoed, learned how farmers combat soil erosion, met some beekeepers and talked to a modern-day cowboy.
T.R. Esfeld’s "Cowboy Ways" demonstration has been a part of Kids Ag Day since it began. He’s one of a couple dozen volunteers who organize the event each year for the Ag Committee of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development. After students heard his talk, one wanted to know how to aim a lariat when lassoing a calf, and another asked whether many cattle had died from heat exhaustion in this particularly hot summer.
Most of Esfeld’s cattle adapted to the 100-degree weather, he said. As for aiming a lasso, "It’s like throwing a baseball," he said, tossing a loop over a metal calf.
"You learned a lot today," Esfeld told the boys and girls. His final lesson: "One farmer or rancher can feed your whole school."
That was the idea behind Kids Ag Day when it was first created. While agriculture plays a huge role in Barton County’s economy, children were growing up with fewer chances to visit a farm and experience it first-hand. The program has changed little over the years, although it always depends on who is available. Beekeepers Bruce and Greg Swob are newer presenters, and there isn’t a dairy presentation any more. (But students do get to watch a cow being milked at the Kansas State Fair.)
Putting the lessons in terms kids can understand comes easier when they can see things themselves. Vic Martin, an agriculture instructor at Barton Community College, showed children wheat, soybeans and feed corn at the "Ag Trivia" tent. "Which of these do you eat?" Martin asked.
The children recognized the corn, but Martin explained this corn is fed to animals. You "eat" it when you eat meat from a corn-fed animal. But, he told the children, they eat a lot more corn than they realize. For example, a can of soda most likely contains corn syrup.
"Some of you weigh about the same as one bushel of corn, — 65 pounds," Martin said. And one bushel of corn can sweeten 400 cans of pop.
Great Bend High School’s FFA organized and ran a petting zoo, and holding a chicken was a big attraction..