The cute meter soared off the charts Thursday when hundreds of urban school kids came face to snout with baby pigs, woolly sheep, curious goats and a tuckered-out calf Thursday in downtown Omaha.
Piglets squealed. Frank the calf drank from a bottle. And a few boys and girls pinched their nostrils or pulled cardigan sweaters over their noses to ward off barnyard smells, despite the fact that pine shavings in animal pens dominated the atmosphere.
The third- and fourth-graders from across Douglas County were taking part in Aksarben Stock Show school tours at the CenturyLink Center designed to provide a glimpse into agriculture and how it’s part of their daily lives in ways they couldn’t imagine.
“It’s somewhat cute and it’s somewhat weird,’’ said 9-year-old Madison Miles, lowering a red cardigan from her face momentarily to describe meeting a 6-day-old piglet face to face. She is a fourth-grader at St. Cecilia Catholic School.
Classmate Maddy McGuire, 9, who had been pinching her nostrils, said the squealing piglet sounded like a crying child.
Dennis Toalson, an agricultural business instructor at Southeast Community College in Beatrice,
Nebraska, said such encounters are an important first step in introducing city dwellers to the state’s leading industry. Toalson and 10 student volunteers are displaying a pair of sows — one expected to give birth today and the other already nursing a litter — and goats, sheep and a calf at the stock show through Saturday.
“We’re just here to educate kids and bring city and country together,” Toalson said. “We’re looking at a market that has no idea what goes on in the agriculture world.’’
Many St. Wenceslaus Catholic School students dressed for the day in cowboy hats, western shirts, jeans and boots. Luke VanDyke, a third-grader, added a bandit’s kerchief over his face.
Kids heard that the piglets weighed about 2½ pounds at birth and in five months will weigh 280 pounds.
The piglets feel warm to people because they have a body temperature of 102 degrees. Their ears are notched at birth to link them to a mother and litter.
The exhibit keeps it simple. Kids are permitted to touch the critters. Banners and posters provide dozens of believe-it-or-not details about ag animals, from chickens to horses. Displays of one-gallon water jugs and buckets and bags of livestock feed near each animal show how much each eats daily.
For example, a goat’s daily diet consists of three gallons of water, one pound of alfalfa, a half-pound of rolled oats and two pounds of brome grass. A 1,000-pound feeder calf will consume 30 gallons of water, five pounds of alfalfa, four pounds of high-protein dried distillers grain with solubles, 13 pounds of rolled corn and five pounds of brome grass.
And the college students answer questions.
“We get some crazy ones,’’ said Emily Kotas of Hastings, Nebraska, an agribusiness student who staffed the goat pen. “One kid asked when the pigs were going to lay eggs. A lot of these kids haven’t been around animals. It’s really a good experience for the Omaha kids to have.’’
Some kids standing at the calf pen didn’t know what they were looking at. Some thought it was a dog; others, a goat. The uncertainty surprised Kristin Roth of Friend, Nebraska, a livestock student.
“How do you not know what a cow is?’’ she said. “But they live in the city. They don’t know where their food actually comes from. A lot of kids said their beef comes from Walmart. We knew they didn’t know much, but we didn’t know they don’t know this much.’’
Taten Banzhaf of Cambridge, Nebraska, a diversified agriculture student who worked the calf pen, said it’s important to be honest with the visiting pupils.
“When they ask what’s going to happen, we tell them cattle are made into hamburger,’’ he said. “They need to know. There needs to be more things like this experience for kids.’’
Brandon Zenger of Belleville, Kansas, an agribusiness student in the sheep pen, said it’s important for the public to see how well farmers care for their livestock.
Zenger’s pen partner, livestock student Mark Jameson of Wallace, Nebraska, said animals provide livelihoods, and care of the resource is a way of life.
The Animal Zone exhibit is open to the public for free, too. Asia Mann of Omaha brought her two children and a friend’s son, ages 3 and 2.
“This is very nice,’’ she said. “It’s exciting for the kids. We don’t get around all this a lot.’’
School tours continue today. The stock show is open to the public through Sunday.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1127, email@example.com
Correction: Elora Cleveland's name previously was misspelled in a photo caption with this story.