March 8 2024 11:32 AM

Providing a hands-on learning experience at a real dairy farm for local fourth graders is an annual tradition our family enjoys.

Understanding the significance of agriculture in our day-to-day lives and educating the public about where their food comes from has grown increasingly important over the last few decades. With more generations having been removed from the farm than ever before, now is the time to tell our story.

For the last 15 years, our farm has had the opportunity to tell our dairy farming story by hosting an annual field trip for our local fourth-grade students. Over the years, the planning process has gotten easier, but it still requires a lot of time and effort to make sure the children get a quality hands-on learning experience.

Hosting nearly 60 rambunctious fourth graders is no easy task. The week leading up to the field trip, the fourth graders are given a crash course on Wisconsin agricultural products. With FFA members as volunteers, each day the children are given a presentation on a certain facet of Wisconsin agriculture. Cranberries, honey, maple syrup, beef, dairy, and potatoes are just a few of the topics that are up for discussion. It always amazes me the looks on the kids’ faces when they realize where some of the products they use in their everyday life comes from.

As the dust from the buses settles in our front yard, the kids have arrived and are ready to spend their day on the farm. Local FFA alumni volunteers are each assigned a station that lasts about 15 minutes long, covering certain topics such as feeding, machinery, the milking process, calf care, and milk’s journey from bulk tank to the store. At these stations, fourth graders have the opportunity to ask questions to the volunteers, who are experienced in the areas that they are teaching, about what is going on and how it plays a role on farm.

Over the years, the “milk the cow by hand” stop has gotten more traction than any other. During this session, fourth graders have the chance to get a sense of what milking a cow by hand feels and looks like. With my dad guiding them, many screams and shrieks of nervousness and excitement can be heard from across the farm. For many, this is the first time that they have gotten to experience such a feat.

After a long day of learning all about what life on a real dairy farm may look like, the children can showcase their strength by competing in a farm-themed relay race. This includes carrying 5-gallon buckets of water, moving small square bales, and a wheelbarrow race. With each class competing against each other, their competitive side really shows.

Hot, sweaty, and normally tired, the kids then enjoy ice cream, milk, and cheese that have been donated by local milk plants, as their reward for a long day and a job well done at the farm.

Jenna Byrne

Jenna Byrne is an associate editor for Hoard’s Dairyman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2022, majoring in agricultural business with an emphasis in communications and marketing. She grew up on her family’s dairy farm near Neillsville, Wis.