TOWN OF CALEDONIA — Cherry graham crackers sound good, in theory.
But that’s how Rusch Elementary fourth-grader Dakota Erickson described the flavor of the “robot pellets” he sampled Tuesday at Krejchik Farm in the town of Caledonia, the treats intended for dairy cattle.
“It was bad,” he said flatly.
Erickson and his peers learned several things about a cow’s diet from the dairy farm’s nutritionist, Dan Davis, during Portage FFA’s Food for America program. They learned that each day the cows drink 30 to 50 gallons of water, eat 46 pounds of corn silage for energy and fiber and 8 pounds of robot pellets — a “protein candy” that encourages the cows to use the farm’s robotic milking system.
Another student from Rusch sampled the corn silage. It tasted like pickles, she declared.
“Just don’t swallow it,” Davis said, reminding her that cows can digest silage because they have four stomachs.
Each day the cows also eat 7 1/2 pounds of high-moisture corn, 42 1/2 pounds of “haylage” for protein and fiber and 7 1/2 pounds of protein mix, which is different from cow to cow, depending on its nutritional needs.
That’s a lot of food, everyone agreed.
The “Feeds” station was only one of several set up for the national education program that boosts agricultural literacy for elementary students. Busloads of Portage Community School District fourth-graders from Lewiston, Endeavor, John Muir and Rusch elementary schools traveled to the 2,000-acre farm and were supervised and instructed by Portage High School FFA members.
High school students remembered farm tours from when they were fourth-graders, and that speaks to the program’s value, Portage High School FFA Adviser Theresa Schiferl said. High school students interacted not only with younger students, but their former elementary school teachers, all of them participating in activities like tug-of-war, arts and crafts and admiring animals in a petting zoo.
“A lot of these students think FFA is only for farmers, but we want them to know it’s so much more than that,” said senior McKayla McTier. McTier remembered going to Heinze Holstein Farm in Portage for Food for America when she was in fourth grade, an experience that should be big for a child who’s interested in agriculture but doesn’t live on a farm, she said.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm, (but) everything about agriculture is like a family. We’re always there for each other,” McTier said.
In the fall, McTier will attend the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to study animal science and artificial insemination. Events like Food for America, and the classes McTier later took from Schiferl in school “brought me closer to agriculture,” and shaped her career ambitions, she said.
Emmanuel Krejchik is of the fourth generation to work his family’s dairy farm, where he said he does “a little bit of everything,” including feeding and milking the cows, caring for calves and planting corn. Krejchik is a 2014 Portage High School graduate who sees Food for America as a means for younger students to find their interest – or stay interested – in agriculture.
More than anything the program should show young students the versatility of FFA, Krejchik said. “When I was in FFA I competed in ag mechanics, diagnosing and fixing (machines). There are a lot of people who fix the equipment who don’t farm.
“There’s also judging and speaking contests, a lot of good things that help you learn.”
In the petting zoo, freshman Kylee Beckius showed off her Norwegian Fjord named “Siera” — a speed pony that elementary students were surprised to learn could run up to 35 mph, even at her old age of 22 years.
In the cornfields, senior Jonah Ryce and sophomore Brady Paske showed the elementary students a John Deere 7920 planting tractor, which fascinated Rusch fourth-grader Perry Weidner.
“It’s interesting how fast it goes and how much it can plow,” Perry said after sitting in it. The tractor travels as fast as 25 mph and plants 16 rows of corn in each pass, Ryce told him.
In the calf barn, students from Lewiston observed Holstein dairy calves, where freshman Gaje Tessmer shared two facts: The calves can walk within an hour of being born, and they receive new bedding each day to keep them clean and free from their own waste.
In the interactive area, Portage High School junior Stasya Lurvey handed out “plant bombs,” which contained air-dried clay mixed with soil. After they’re tossed at the ground, she explained, they should sprout wildflowers.
“A lot of the elementary students have never been to a farm before,” Schiferl said of the daylong event. “Our FFA kids work together and develop leadership roles as they’re teaching the younger kids, and the younger kids get to see world of agriculture.”