Students visit agriculture center

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Fourth graders from Westhills Elementary School meet a friendly fainting goat during a presentation by Trent Jones, the county agricultureal extension agent in charge of 4-H. The goat, named Brownie, belongs to Hope and Elizabeth Taylor.

Elementary school students combined learning with fun on Friday when 4th graders from all over the county took a field trip to the Dairy Research and Education Center on New Lake Road for the annual Agriculture in the Classroom Day.

Divided into small groups, the children met dairy and beef cattle, horses, goats, sheep and chickens, and learned about life on the farm. They heard presentations on crops and gardens, learned a little about veterinary medicine from Dr. Ray Wakefield, and saw the Center's state-of-the-art milking parlor.

Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officer Doug Lowery held children spellbound as he told them about owls. Lowery had stuffed specimens of all four types of owl native to Tennessee -- screech, barn, barred and great horned -- and imitated their calls as he talked about the birds and how they hunt.

He was able to tell the students how each stuffed owl had died (one was hit by a car; another got tangled in a fence) and also described how a great horned owl had killed a man. Lowery also brought along a stuffed coyote that TWRA has had for a long time. "It's older than I am," he said.

Marcella Spence cooked cornbread over an open fire and talked about what life was like on a farm when she was growing up.

"It was hard, boys and girls," Spence said, "but we survived." They didn't have electricity at her home until after she graduated from high school. Spence emphasized she could still survive without power: "I have a well, a windmill and an outhouse," she said.

Judy Ruck demonstrated another survival skill, spinning her own wool. Sheep breeder and Extension Agent Ricky Skillington told the children that sheep are the "world's most versatile animal," since they can be used for wool, meat, and milk. There is only one sheep's milk dairy in Tennessee, but worldwide, Skillington said, more sheep's milk is drunk than cows' milk. There are over 300 known breeds of sheep, and Skillington had brought along a Shropshire, a Southdown and a Katahdin from his own flocks for the children to see.

Marshall County students are closer to rural life that children from big-city schools might be. About half of teacher Bonnie Dalton's class raised their hands when she asked if they had deer hunted. Nevertheless, many said "Eew!" and covered their noses in the milking parlor, and were horrified to learn that cow bones and hooves (as gelatin) are an ingredient in marshmallows. "I'm not eating no more marshmallows," exclaimed a boy when he heard that.

Other things to be seen at Ag in the Classroom included the baby dairy calves in their individual houses, horses, and a huge John Deere tractor. David Warren talked about forestry and B.D. Spence did magic tricks, while Henry Dowlen discussed crops and grains, and Jenny Cowder talked about fruits and vegetables and how to preserve them.