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By Staff | May 29, 2009

Childhood is a wonder-filled time. Each day brings a bounty of new discoveries, many of which involve cooties.

It’s been so long since I was a kid, the things that took place during my childhood are now found in the paleontology section of the library. The most common dating associated with me is the type that involves carbon 14.

My wife, sensing a marked increase lately in my curmudgeon level, suggested that I go on a class trip. An actual class trip with a bunch of actual kindergartners!

This how I came to spend a couple of hours at South Dakota State University’s dairy farm with a flock of little kids. My task was to observe Diane Broksiek’s class as they learned how their milk and ice cream begins its journey.

Having spent the first 40-some years of my life as a dairy farmer, visiting a herd of Holsteins is not exactly my idea of excitement. But since this would be the first cow contact for many of the kids, I thought it might be fun to watch their reactions.

The big yellow bus arrived at SDSU’s dairy farm and disgorged a buzzing swarm of tykes. Each child seemed to be a perpetual motion machine; each had obviously been equipped with the perpetual sound option.

All I could think was, “Good gosh! Was I ever that young? Did I ever have than much energy? And do those little critters ever shut up?!”

A nice young man named Kent, who works at the dairy farm, was introduced as the tour guide. The teachers and volunteer helpers then somehow managed to herd the writhing swarm of youngsters into the milking parlor.

Many of the children began to hold their noses as they entered the barn. Comments such as “Ewww!” and “cooties!” and “I smell cow!” filled the air.

Kent did an excellent job of explaining how the milking system works, how dairy cows lead pampered lives and so on.

He then began to take questions.

Some of the kindergartners made comments instead. One announced that he had a loose tooth while another informed the group that her family owns both a cat and a dog.

A little blonde girl who was wearing blue barn boots raised her hand and asked Kent if he wore nose plugs during milking.

“No,” he replied with a patient grin. “I actually sort of like the smell!”

This comment elicited a loud chorus of “Ewww” from the group of budding young scholars.

The chattering swarm was next herded out to the alley where the cows are fed. Noses were again held and the question “What’s that awful smell?” was loudly asked.

“Silage,” said Kent. “The cows like it, but don’t try it yourself. It isn’t very good.” “Hmmm. How would he know?” I wondered.

Kent told the children how the cows are fed a TMR and that they get to sleep on soft straw beds. Meanwhile, a couple of moppets tried to hand-feed a cow. The cow reacted by lifting her tail and doing what cows do when they lift their tails.

“Look at that!” exclaimed a little boy, his voice overflowing with awe. “She just goes wherever!”

“Don’t get any ideas!” warned a nearby adult volunteer.

Next on the agenda was visiting the baby calves. As we exited the feed alley, I saw a little girl scoop up two handfuls of silage and stuff them into her pockets. The little girl’s souvenir will no doubt be a surprise for her mother when she next does the laundry.

As we swarmed toward the calf huts, numerous youngsters asked me when it was time for ice cream. I said I didn’t know. Several then informed me, using their best outdoors voices, that their favorite flavor is chocolate. “With extra sprinkles!” declared a ponytailed towhead.

One little boy suddenly froze in his tracks. Off in the distance, a dairy farm worker was moving stuff with a skid steer loader. I leaned down and asked the lad, “You want one of those, don’t you?”

He simply nodded to the affirmative, never taking his eyes off the skid loader.

The calves, as might be expected, were a huge hit.

Many of the baby bovines came out of their huts to greet their pint-sized visitors. The youngsters quickly forgot their concerns about cooties and began to pet the calves.

One of the kids asked, “Why do calves have such wet noses?”

I couldn’t resist. “Because they have such long tongues,” I replied. This brought forth another very loud chorus of “Ewww!”

I believe the kindergartners had a good day at the dairy farm. I think they learned a lot about dairying, and I was reminded what it’s like to be young and loud and carefree.

I just hope SDSU’s dairy cows weren’t offended by all that talk of cooties.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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