It was a moo-ving experience for the second-graders from Parker Road Elementary.
The kids had adopted their pet cow, Oreo, nine months earlier, but had only seen it in pictures. But on May 4, the children from the Ferguson-Florissant (Missouri) School District got to see Oreo in person for the first time when they visited Knebel Circle K Farms near Pocahontas.
“When we found out that our class won the contest for a free field trip to a dairy farm, my students were ecstatic,” said Heather Gain, the class’s teacher. “They couldn’t believe that they were going to meet our farmer and our adopted calf we named, Oreo.”
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Ellen Wheeler, coordinator of the program, said participating classes can “adopt” a cow from a local farmer. The students then follow the progress of their cow throughout the school year.
“Where their food comes from is so important to everybody who eats food, and kids want to know what the farmers are doing with their cows,” Wheeler said. “It’s just a way to bring the story of a farmer and the story of dairy to life.”
The program has been extremely popular, with more than 1,150 classes enrolled in the first year.
Circle K provides milk for Prairie Farms, which is how the farm became involved with program.
“They want us farmers to tell the story of what goes on out here,” said Jerry Knebel, owner of the third-generation operation that milks a 134-cow herd and farms 1,600 acres, producing corn, soybeans, wheat and hay.
Knebel, who bought the farm in 1979 from his grandfather, Leo, now considers himself “retired,” though he still reports to work every day.
“I think farming is in my blood,” he said.
Knebel’s eldest son, Jeremy, now helps run the farm, and 10 grandchildren also lend a hand. And they are needed, because being a dairy farmer is a job that never ends.
“We have to be out here 365 days of the year,” Knebel said.
No matter what else is going on, the cows have to be milked twice a day.
“That’s just how it is,” said Knebel, who conducted the kids on a tour and taught them all about the dairy business, including how to milk a cow.
Then came the moment the students had been waiting, the chance to get up close with Oreo.
Knebel pointed Oreo out from behind the fence. The students, bounced with excitement and stood on the tips of their toes just to get a better look. They called her name over and over, while waving their hands trying to beckon Oreo over to them.
Unfortunately, Oreo was very shy cow and decided to be observed only from afar. But according to their teacher, it was enough.
“My children really enjoyed meeting their adopted cow,” Gain said.
Though Oreo was somewhat aloof, other cows were not and came close enough for students to touch, making for a last memory, their teacher said.
“Visiting the farm was one of the best field trips I’ve ever attended in my 17 years as an educator,” Gain said. “The field trip brought the entire Adopt-a-Cow program to life. Getting out the classroom for real-life experiences is the best. I’m certain my second-graders will remember this program and field trip.”