Farm Day, held on the last Friday of September, is a beloved fall tradition for Marshall County's fourth graders.
Courtesy of the Farm Bureau Women, children were bused to the University of Tennessee's Dairy Research and Education Center on New Lake Road, just south of Lewisburg. In small groups, the children toured the milking parlor, met the Center's cow No. 482 with Farm Manager Hugh Moorehead, and pet some of the Jersey calves.
For this special morning the Center also became home for all kinds of farm animals - beef cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, horses - as well as exhibits explaining how our food is grown and prepared.
Even Chief Ranger Shane Petty was there with Copper, a young bloodhound, explaining how she can track people by their scent.
Petty is in charge of search and rescue in all Tennessee state parks, as well as doing criminal searches.
"I have one of the coolest jobs ever," he said to a group of attentive children. Petty explained that bloodhounds are not pets. "They're working dogs. All they are bred to do is find people." He said bloodhounds don't bark while they're on the trail.
"That's Hollywood," Petty said. When a bloodhound finds a person they will lick and sniff them all over, looking for the piece of cheese that has been their reward at the end of many practice hunts.
The Jersey calves live in separate little houses, each with a fenced enclosure at the front. Right now, explained Rosemary Heaton, they're participating in an experiment to see what type of bedding they do best on: sand, rubber mats, or gravel. Each calf has an activity monitor on a hind leg, which records how much time they spend lying down. Blood samples are drawn once a week and tested for cortisol, a stress hormone. One of the calves in the group is No. 6,000, the 6,000th Jersey calf born at the Center since the herd was started in 1929.
The placid cow in the pen with Moorehead was the 5,482nd born. She lay near the fence, so the children could stroke her head, and even let Moorehead squeeze a jet of milk from her udder to show the children where the milk comes from.
"She's been a demo cow before," he said. The cows all have registered names, relating to the name of the farm and their pedigree, and freeze-branded numbers to "help me know who they are," the farm manager said.
Mother and daughter Jane and Kim Caulfield brought a few sheep from their Far Out Farm on Delina Road. Kim told the children how sheep are sheared once a year, and then the fleece is washed, combed, dyed and spun. Kim was working with a hand spindle as she talked, but her mother was sitting down with a traditional spinning wheel.
"This is what I do for a living," Jane Caulfield said. "Raise sheep and sell wool."
The Caulfields have about 200 sheep of three breeds, Cotswold, Romney and Shetland.
"Different sheep have different-feeling wool," Jane said. Merino sheep produce soft itch-free wool, suitable for garments that will be worn next to the skin, while the Caulfields' sheep produce wool that's better for outerwear. Each fleece produces enough wool for three sweaters.
To protect the sheep the Caulfields have Great Pyrenees dogs.
"What you raise them with is what they protect," Jane said. "They're wonderful. We've never lost a sheep to coyotes, though we hear them howling all around us."
Near the sheep, retired teachers Peggy Warden and Jenny Conder were showing children what some vegetables look like when they're growing in the garden, and how they can be canned to preserve them for future eating.
"It may not be cheaper, but it tastes much better," Conder said. She fascinated children with her gadget that simultaneously peels, cores and slices an apple.