Ten Wisconsin dairy calves taught their unique farm story to tens of thousands of school kids across the state thanks to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW) and Discover Dairy’s Adopt a Cow program.
From August – October 2020, Wisconsin classrooms registered to “adopt” a calf from one of three Wisconsin dairy farms as a classroom mascot or pet. Then, from November 2020 – April 2021, classrooms followed the calf through a series of updates and photos provided by their farm families. Supplemental lessons kept the students engaged in learning and exploring where their food comes from.
The first year of the program in the dairy state has been a rousing success, to put it mildly.
“Our initial goal was to reach 75 classrooms or about 1,500 students,” says Karen Doster, DFW director of youth and school programs. “But so many schools and educators were interested in learning the real story of where dairy comes from, the program expanded to reach 1,640 classrooms and more than 28,000 students in grades kindergarten through eight.
“Ultimately, students in 286 schools in 85% (61 out of 72) of Wisconsin counties adopted a calf to learn more about dairy farming,” she adds. “The extensive use of virtual learning opened the door to the program wider than we ever expected.”
Building trust in dairy
These interactions between farmers, calves and kids laid the groundwork to increase trust and appreciation of dairy farming. Through these virtual visits, students and their teachers got a first-hand look into dairy farming, how farmers care for their cows and their land, and how milk is produced on a farm before it reaches their table and schools.
“It’s been fantastic to see educators and students develop a relationship with a farm,” says Doster. “And it’s great for farmers because this is a wonderful opportunity to share the remarkable story of their farm.”
The dairy farmers at Synergy Family Dairy in Pulaski, Roden Echo Valley Farm near West Bend, and Creamery Creek Holsteins of Bangor, are the first Wisconsin dairy farmers to share their stories through the Adopt A Cow program. Thanks to the words and photos from these farm families, Sweetie, Cookie, Ruby, Jemma, Petunia, Penny, Peanut, Sharlamagne, Seroogy and Dorito offered students a glimpse into the life of a dairy calf, what they eat and how they are cared for to the delight of classrooms in hundreds of schools.
“Being from Wisconsin we know all about farming, but it’s getting sparse in our area due to subdivisions,” said a suburban fifth-grade teacher. “I was so lucky to be able to talk about farming to my class and it was because of Seroogy.”
Since the program kicked off, kids and educators have communicated directly with the farms through an interactive portal to ask questions about the calves and farming, including:
· “Do dairy farmers really get up at dawn?”
· “How often are animals fed and what’s in their feed?”
· “Does Petunia get in trouble?”
· “How big is the bottle used to feed calves?”
· “What is the hardest part of being a farmer?”
In the coming days, each farm will host a live chat to wrap up the program and enable kids to virtually meet their calf and share updates about her progress.
Other states also joined the Adopt a Cow program to enhance understanding of dairy farming. Growing from its early beginnings in Pennsylvania several years ago, during the 2020-2021 school year more than 73,000 classrooms from all 50 states registered to the Adopt a Cow, reaching more than 1 million students.
To learn more about the Adopt a Cow program and other dairy education resources, visit https://www.wisconsindairy.org/Youth-and-Schools/Dairy-Education.