Schoolkids learn a lot on Nebraska State Fair field trip

Nebraska State Fair volunteer Lee Ray tells Gates Elementary students (left to right) Jade Rauch-Wood, Nik Pavuk and Ethan Pamma that only two students can ride on a combine at a time.

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Gates and Lincoln Elementary students from Grand Island were the first kids through the Nebraska State Fair admission gates on Monday. But they certainly were not the last as elementary school students from across the state converged on the fair to make it Nebraska's Largest Classroom.

Buses unloaded students in a steady stream Monday morning. Each school group had its own itinerary. But as more and more schools arrived, it became common for the kids to converge at the same place, especially for some of the animal attractions.

The first stop for the Gates students was the Fonner Park racetrack — not to see horses, but to get rides aboard CNH combines that are manufactured in Grand Island. The procedure for boarding the combines was a little like passengers boarding an airplane, with students climbing metal stairs so they could get into the combine's cab for a spin around the track.

All the combines that roll off the CNH assembly line in a day take 85 tons of steel to produce. And all the CNH combines that come off the line in a year consume enough welding wire to circle the Earth 1.8 times.

While Gates students were riding combines, students from Grand Island's Starr Elementary were getting a look at the cattle barn, which displayed both dairy cattle and beef cattle.

Tiny, billed as Nebraska's largest steer at nearly 3,000 pounds, impressed a lot of Starr students. Tiny undoubtedly would make a lot of hamburgers and steaks, but his celebrity status will keep him from that fate. He has made many State Fair appearances.

Next to Tiny was a steer of more conventional size but not appearance. That steer had a plastic port in his side, which allows scientists to better understand how cattle digest food through the four compartments of their stomachs.

A video explained the digestive process in cattle and showed how scientists can reach in through the port on the steer's side to pull out food during its various phases of digestion.

Zion Lutheran students from Kearney visited the fair's birthing pavilion. There they saw 3-day-old piglets and a calf that was born early Monday.

More exotic animals are also part of the State Fair, the students learned.

After they finished with their combine rides, Gates students rode a tractor shuttle that took them past pens holding Longhorn cattle and another pen that held a solitary bison.

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