Note: This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course.
On March 25, 2017, we had the privilege of bringing the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” educational outreach program to the Joe Bearden Dairy Research Center here in Starkville, MS. Our group’s station for the event, “Moo-ving On Out of Mama’s House”, sought to examine and shed light on some of the common practices used throughout the dairy industry regarding calf management. Specifically, we looked into calf separation, nutrition, housing, and overall healthcare.
Wanting to give guests an up-close and personal look into the dairy industry, we brought out a seven-day-old bull calf (nicknamed “James”) for children and adults alike to interact with. Despite having to relocate our station to the dairy’s old parlor due to the weather, James was still kept in his hutch with free choice water in an effort to simulate the real housing conditions of many dairy calves. James proved to be the perfect sidekick when it came to winning the hearts of visiting families. We saw little kids’ eyes grow wide when they realized they would get to help feed James with a bottle.
Besides the fact that getting to witness the next generation develop a passion for agriculture alone made the event’s significance undeniable, this interaction also allowed us to spark some educational conversations. We discussed with both children and parents why James’ hutch keeps him healthy and warm, why we need to provide colostrum soon after a calf is born, and even the important topic of why we separate the cow and calf. While the kids continued interacting with James, parents took the time to dig a little deeper and ask specific questions. Many parents were intrigued by the type of starter diet the calves are fed, how long they remain in the hutches, and whether the calves are housed in groups or alone. These questions created dialogues about the different dairy breeds, cow and calf management protocols, and even genetic selection differences between beef and dairy cattle.
We were somewhat surprised to find how genuinely interested everyone seemed to be in trying to educate themselves and their families about where their food comes from. It was a true joy for our group to share our knowledge with them throughout the event. This was a learning experience for us as well as we were able to reach out to the general public, apply our knowledge, and share with them the facts surrounding our agriculture industry as a whole and why we are so passionate about it.