June 6, 2009
Ag-Stravaganza teaches children to appreciate a life in agriculture
With a bleating sheep pinned between his knees, Brian Magee, of Cornell University’s teaching and research sheep center, displayed his shearing technique to a rapt audience of fourth-graders Friday.
Magee’s station was one of 16 at Cortland’s annual Ag-Stravaganza, an agricultural field day for school children from around the county held at the Cortland County Junior Fairgrounds.
The stations introduced children to various agricultural industries, including the lumber industry, dairy farming and maple syrup production.
The Ag-Stravaganza field trip was designed to foster in the children an appreciation for the agriculture industry by showing how it impacts their lives.
Heather Birdsall, senior resource educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, which hosts the event, said it has been offered in the county for the past 13 years. Cooperative Extension hosts the event through funding provided by the New York Standard Bred Horse grant, which the organization applies for yearly.
“It teaches kids in Cortland County a little about the different industries in agriculture,” Birdsall said Friday, on the second day of the event.
At one popular station, Katelyn Dawson of Dawson-Streeter Holsteins farm in East Homer and Colleen Currie of Currie Valley Dairy in Preble, displayed a 4-year-old milking Holstein cow and a one-week- old calf.
“We talk about the calf and how much milk the cow gives and how we get ready for show season,” Dawson said as the cow looked on, continuously chewing her hay.
Currie said she explains to the children that cows must have a calf in order to produce milk and that they should have a calf by the time they are 24 months old. Then every year they give birth in order to continue their milking production.
Currie said the children are always excited to see the animals.
“Farming is the No. 1 industry in Cortland County yet so many kids are never exposed to it,” Currie said.
Another presenter, Mary Cope, is a seventh-grader at Homer Junior High School who imitated for the children the various noises that roosters and chickens make.
Cope said she has always loved chickens.
As she held a silky chicken for the children to pet, Cope explained their feathers are the same as that of the other chickens, they just lack barbs holding the strands together.
She has been active with 4-H for five years and shows her chickens at the State Fair. Cope is studying poultry because she believes she should know about the animal she loves.
“If you show an animal, you need to know about it so that when an animal gets sick, you know what’s wrong with it,” Cope said.
Cope said she loves teaching at the Ag-Stravaganza because she likes to see the children learn.
“Having a part in the next generation’s knowledge is great,” Cope said.
Children learned about the different techniques between pacing and trotting race horses at another station.
Gerald Todd of Todd Farms in Locke, explained to the youngsters the different gaits of the two styles of racing.
“It has nothing to do with speed, it’s the way they move their legs,” Todd explained.
Pacers use a lateral stretch, where one hind and one front leg must be back at the same time. A trotter’s hind leg goes forward while the front leg goes back, the hooves almost hitting one another. Any break from pace or form and the horse is disqualified.
Kennedy Buchalla, a fourth-grader at Barry Elementary School in Cortland, got to sit in a “sulky,” the cart that is pulled behind the horses on a harness racing track.
Buchalla, who takes horseback riding lessons, said sitting in the sulky gave her an idea of what that type of riding would feel like.
“It was cool but I don’t think I’d like it. I think it would be hard because they are different reins than you usually use on a horse and it’s a different position,” Buchalla said.
Dr. Don Rutz, professor of Veterinary Entomology at Cornell University, praised the children for their intelligence. Rutz and his research assistants Colleen Strong and Glen Howser walked children through the various stages of the fly and taught them about alternative ways of controlling fly populations.
Strong said chemical control should be a last resort and she explained that introducing a fly’s natural predators, such as certain types of wasps, into an environment is an effective and safe way of controlling the population.
“There is an economic impact, it pays to keep the fly numbers down,” Strong said. She explained that studies have shown that if cows are bothered by flies to a great degree, they consume less and therefore their milk production is lessened and the fat content of the milk goes down.
Rutz said he was impressed that the children were all familiar with the various stages of the fly’s life, from egg, to larva to pupae to fly.
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