Many students have seen cows, but not many had touched one until they attended Farm Day at the LSU AgCenter campus dairy on April 18-20.
Farm Day is a 30-plus-year-old event sponsored by the LSU AgCenter School of Animal Sciences and gives elementary school children the opportunity to interact with traditional and some not-so-traditional farm animals.
Students from East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes started arriving around 9 a.m. and rotated through the various stations to see, touch and learn about various animals, said LSU AgCenter dairy science professor Bruce Jenny.
"There is no set agenda per se," Jenny said. "At each station, our students give a little presentation about the animal, then the kids get to touch the animals."
Until last year, Farm Day was a two-day event. A third day was added to allow hearing and visually impaired children to enjoy the event at their own pace.
More than 1,500 students were invited to the event from 30 schools in the area, said LSU animal science major Stacey Vignes, a sophomore from Hammond.
"We started planning the event in November by sending Save the Date letters to teachers," she said.
The children are so excited to get so close to the animals, it's hard to tell what their favorite station to visit is, Jenny said.
"We normally have dairy and beef cows, calves, ponies, ducks, goats and rabbits," Vignes said.
Two stops that hold a crowd each year is the fistulated cow, where the children can watch as a dairy science student reaches inside the cow's stomach to show them what it has eaten and the 22- year-old African tortoise that weighs 75 pounds.
"We try to have as many animals as possible for the kids to see and touch," Vignes said.
The children are not the only ones having a good time at the event. Parents also got a refresher course in food production.
Matilda Clark attended Farm Day with her granddaughter, who is in first grade at Bernard Terrance Elementary in Baton Rouge.
"I think it's very important for them to see where the milk comes from, how the cows produce the milk and what happens before the milk is taken to the store," Clark said.
Nora Alexander, a teacher at Bernard Terrance called the event a "win-win" for the teachers, parents and students.
"Most of our students are from the inner city and would not get this opportunity any other way," Alexander said. "I remember chickens on the yard and a family down the street had a pig, but that was it."
Alexander said this makes a perfect learning experience because it meshed with the science lesson the students are learning in class.
"I think a major difference between inner-city schools and other schools is our students don't normally get these opportunities," she said.