WATERLOO -- Area school children got to experience livestock with all their senses Friday at the National Cattle Congress Fair.
Classes of second-graders who traipsed around fairgrounds as part of the Discovery Youth Program had the opportunity to pet everything from rabbits to goats. They also were subjected to all the scents of a farm yard, as Kaylie Livenz noticed while walking through the dairy cattle barn.
Her class of 18 children from New Hartford Elementary School was invited to stop and pet a trio of young calves resting in a stall, including one that was born the day before.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct that Friday is Kids Day, not Sunday.
"It smells kind of gross," said Kaylie, of the odor in the barn. "But they're kind of cute, the baby ones."
Starting Thursday, about 850 students, their teachers, and other chaperones came to the fair through the program, which is sponsored by Iowa State University Extension's Black Hawk County office. Seven schools, including some from Waterloo and Cedar Falls, participated Thursday with another 11 on Friday.
Students learned facts about the animals they visited in the barns from the people caring for them.
The New Hartford students heard that a single cow can produce 43 gallons of milk per day. Caleb Decker, from Valley Lutheran School in Cedar Falls, learned "that the cows store up food in the stomach" -- and that they have four stomachs.
Caleb noted they had gotten a close-up look at a lot of animals. "We've seen some cows, we've seen some chickens, lambs, ducks," he said.
One of the stops on their tour of the National Cattle Congress was the Sunrise Exchange Club Petting Zoo. For Addie Johnson, a student at St. Paul Lutheran School in Waverly, that may have been the best part of the whole day.
"You get to feed the animals, touch the animals, pet them," said Addie, noting she really liked the rabbits, ducks and mules. She fed an apple to one of the mules. "It really wanted another one," she said.
Students also saw a yarn-making demonstration by the Northeast Iowa Weavers & Spinners Guild. And they got to spend time in an authentic one-room schoolhouse on the fairgrounds, complete with people playing the roles of teachers.
Learning is central to the Discovery Youth Program. Along with touring the fairgrounds, students soaked up information about the animals at swine, dairy cattle, sheep and poultry stations in the adjacent Electric Park Ballroom. Each half-hour session was led by a retired teacher.
Mary Huffman told a group of students all about the 50 million pigs raised in Iowa each year. After weening from their mothers, the piglets eat about 650 pounds of grains over six months, reaching a weight of 250-300 pounds before being sold at market. She told students how the pigs' ears are notched so farmers can keep track of them and how their teeth and tails are clipped to keep the litter mates from harming each other.
"One of the things that this program does is help (schools) meet their standards and benchmarks," said Jane Ryan, who heads the Discovery Youth Program for ISU Extension. In bringing students to the National Cattle Congress Fair, it does a lot "just to make them aware of how important agriculture is to our state and our community."
The fair continues through today. For a full schedule, go online to nationalcattlecongress.com.