2012 Wyoming Lusk Ag Expo introduces students to agriculture
Lusk Elementary School third and fourth grade classes were treated to a full day of agriculture during the town’s local Ag Expo on May 16. The Niobrara Co. Fairgrounds hosted educational stations and live animal demonstrations, and the Niobrara County Cattlewomen sponsored the day and provided a beef-based meal for the students.
“We started in 2000 after Linda Kruse and I talked extensively about the importance of creating understanding and respect for agriculture in young people,” explained Ag Expo Chairwoman Donna Hanson. “There are a lot of kids that just don’t understand agriculture, and have no idea what goes into making the bread and hamburger they eat. It’s important to show them that their food doesn’t just come from the grocery store.”
Each year a variety of volunteers provide insight to students on topics ranging from weaving wool, agriculture broadcasting and cowboy poetry, as well as traditional livestock-oriented topics.
“This year’s Expo was based on the book The Code of the West. The students watched a video on the Code of the West being alive and well in Wyoming before breaking into groups for the day. The teachers were very impressed, and one has even expressed interest into incorporating the Code of the West into the local school system,” said Hanson of this year’s theme.
Making lip balm that included beef byproducts, learning how wheat is grown and turned into bread, and seeing what cows eat and how the rumen works were a few of this year’s activities students participated in. Still, live animal demonstrations remain the most popular.
Niobrara County Game Warden Brady Vandeberg brought three of his hunting hound dogs to the Ag Expo, explaining to students that the animals were originally bred for survival and gathering food.
“One other very important thing they were bred for, especially in the west, was predator control,” Vandeberg said, noting that when ranchers first started moving to Wyoming there wasn’t much interest in hunting lions, bobcats and bears for sport like there is today. “So, there was really no control for those animals around, and they would kill the rancher’s livestock. In order to protect their livestock, they would use dogs like mine to chase those animals down and kill some of them so they would have fewer problems with them killing livestock. To this day, they’re still used heavily for that purpose, and play a very important role in agriculture in that fashion.”
Following an explanation of hounds, how they’re trained, how a person hunts with them and the role they play in predator control and agriculture in Niobrara County, Vandeberg allowed the kids to meet and pet his three dogs. For the demonstration portion of his time, he created a scent trail covering a wide area of the Fairgrounds, and then turned his dogs loose on it. The students were able to watch the dogs work from the grandstands while Vandeberg provided commentary on what was happening. The demonstration ended when the dogs located the hidden hide Vandeberg had planted in a tree.
From the hounds, the students moved to a live horse demonstration put on by local rancher and horse trainer Kitson Bolden. She performed various tasks on her horse, including putting on a slicker, opening and closing a gate while mounted, and crossing a bridge, all while explaining the benefits of those tasks in ranching scenarios. Following numerous questions, all the kids were allowed to pet “Snipe,” and several listed it as a highlight of the day.
“I liked it when she would pressure the back, and he would turn the back and the front of him would stay. And, when she would push close to his chest, his back stayed and his head moved,” said third grader Damien Swartwood.
The third and final live demonstration focused on a different type of working dog in the livestock industry – sheep dogs.
“These are Rambouillet sheep, which are a dual-purpose breed used for both meat and wool,” explained local rancher and successful dog trialer Steve Peterson as he turned his Border Collie, “Shawn,” into the arena. Peterson proceeded to demonstrate Shawn’s skill at moving sheep through various patterns and speeds, explaining that he uses the dog on his ranch to gather and work sheep and cattle regularly.
“It’s a lot like riding a horse, I can speed him up or slow him down with whistle commands,” he stated. Following the demonstration, he answered questions about his dog and sheep for several minutes.
Third grade student Skylar Jackson said he didn’t know a guy could move sheep using a whistle. He also said he learned that all female bees are workers at the Ag Expo.
“I learned that cows have four parts of their stomach, and when they eat, the little parts of hay go into the big part; and if it’s heavier, when it goes into their stomach, it just drops. Then when they’re hungry again they will puke it back up and chew it again; and when it gets smaller and they swallow it, it goes into their big stomach and then the other parts,” said Swartwood of what he learned from the Ag Expo.
Both young men said they had a good time, and would like to come back next year. They and their classmates all left with a bag filled with ag-related goodies from the Cattlewomen and various other contributors.
“This (event) does make a difference, and I always get very neat thank-you’s from the kids that amaze me at what is still stuck in their minds that they picked up at the Expo. This is such a nice event, and it’s mostly done by a volunteer effort, and we really appreciate people always coming through to make it happen,” Hanson stated.