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Looking At Ranch Life Through The Eyes Of A Child

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Classroom visits offer great insights into how kids view farmers and ranchers.

There’s nothing more candid and sweet than talking with a child. Their innocence is palpable, and their eagerness to learn is great. As an author of a children’s book, “Levi’s Lost Calf,” I have the great privilege of speaking at classrooms and libraries across the country. Last week, while I was in California to speak at the World Ag Expo, I had the opportunity to read my book to more than 1,500 K-6 graders in the Visalia area, thanks to my sponsors, the Tulare County CattleWomen.

Of course, Visalia is a farming community, so these students aren’t exactly strangers to agriculture. However, I’m guessing I am the first South Dakota cattle rancher they had ever encountered.

As I described the cold and snow of a South Dakota winter, and the responsibility ranchers have to make sure cattle have feed and water, these kids’ eyes widened. I told them the story of being snowed in for 11 days without electricity during the infamous blizzard of 1997, when I was in elementary school like they were. I also explained that how we live is much like how pioneer Laura Ingalls Wilder describes life in her books. Because many of the students have read her books, they could relate.

If you ever want to feel like a rock star, go to an elementary school as an author. The kids cheered and waved, and the kindergartners offered a lot of hugs and proclamations of “I love you.” The questions from students following my presentation were, well, let’s just say it’s hard to prepare for what these students threw at me.

So I thought I would share today some of the interesting and thought-provoking questions I received from these California students. I’m sure those readers who volunteer with their state’s Ag in the Classroom program have run across many of these questions before. Meanwhile, for those who may be interested in doing a classroom visit, these might help you prepare for the hard-hitting questions of a fifth grader.

Here are some of my favorite questions asked by children, who offer a little different viewpoint of the world and how they see farmers and ranchers:

  • How much does a calf weigh when it’s born?
  • How old is a cow before she has a baby?
  • If you could choose, would you rather be an author or a rancher?
  • What would you be if you weren’t an author and a rancher?
  • What do cows eat?
  • Do you know how to milk a cow?
  • How does a baby get born? (Oh boy, how do I explain this one?)
  • How is a baby calf made? (Parents, really...I’m not going to have the birds and the bees talk with your kids. Sorry, not taking that bullet!)
  • Why do cows have to live outside?
  • Have you ever had a calf die? (Gulp, how do I say yes without causing a school-wide crying session?)

I’m not going to lie; I doubt I answered these questions perfectly. Frankly, kids can be some of the toughest customers I come across in my conversations with consumers, the media and my peers. I think taking a moment to see agriculture through their eyes can offer us insights into how we need to frame our messaging in the future.

Overall, these book readings are a great excuse to share my agricultural story with young people My goal, at each and every one, is to help them fall in love with the cowboy and ranch life. My message that I repeat over and over again is, “Ranchers care.”

How would you have answered some of these questions? Have you done classroom visits? If so, what book or resources do you use? What has worked well, and what would you skip next time? Share your best advice, so we can all get better when we promote agriculture at schools.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

Midwest Farm Girl (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2013

What an awesome experience! I have done several Ag in the Classroom activities with students of the same ages. One of the most memorable lessons was based off a book about food around the world. Their questions were very enlightening and I was shocked as to how interested they were in the topic. I even learned of various foods from around the world through this lesson.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 20, 2013

As a grandparent that works in International Agriculture I can say I have learned a lot about life from children. I too was raised on ranch in the Intermountain region and trust me do not say something died or will die to a child. I have had the opportunity to set in villages in Central Asia, Africa and South America with children and an fascinated with their love for life and agriculture.

on Feb 20, 2013

I think It's very important when showing non-farm/ranch kids about our industry that we have our own children involved in the demonstrations doing just what they do when they are at home helping on the family farm/ranch.

Things like vaccinating , ear-notching, castrating, branding, tagging, and heeling calves. Any task our children are competent doing safely.

It gives the operation a whole different look to the viewers.

I believe it really helps the non-ag children understand the farm/ranch lifestyle of providing food for the worlds dinner table.

Bring up the fact that some of these farm/ranch kids actually own and operate their own operations.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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