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4-H clover Minnesota 5-8 year-olds explore animal science with Extension 4-H

2 kids holding up rabbit art projects

Nearly 45,000 Minnesota youth explore animal science in 4-H. A new program called Down on the Farm engages the youngest of Minnesotans in introductory animal learning.

Did you know there’s a breed of cow that makes golden milk? It’s the Guernsey cow and a naturally high occurrence of beta-carotene, omega 3, calcium and A2 protein gives their milk its famous golden hue. This is one of the interesting facts that youth and their families learned in the very popular 4-H Down on the Farm learning series.

Crystal Reith, Extension educator from Cottonwood County, along with a team of educators and volunteers leads this effort to educate Minnesota young people about how vital animal agriculture is in their daily lives. The project stemmed from an observation that 4-H had limited animal science programs for young elementary age youth. “Animal science is a popular project in 4-H,” said Reith  “We saw an opportunity to introduce younger youth to farm operations and help them see how things run on farms besides their own.”

But it wasn’t just youth living on farms who were interested in this learning series. Youth and families who had never stepped foot on a Minnesota farm were eager to learn more about the wondrous animals Minnesota farmers raise. In total, 203 youth have participated in 4-H Down on the Farm and 60% of them live in towns and cities. According to Brandi Schaap, Extension educator from Pipestone County, it was a challenge to create a learning community that met learners where they were, whether already having farm experience or being brand new to all things ag. “A lot of youth don’t have previous experience or background with farm life, so we shaped the curriculum in a way that was interesting and exciting for youth from all backgrounds," said Schaap, who led the sessions on beef farming.

Down on the Farm

Tearnee holding up her horse art project.
Tearnee Smith, Winona County

And speaking of beef, did you know calves weigh 80 pounds when they are born? 4-H Down on the Farm featured six animal species over a six-week online series that included hands-on and visual learning elements. In between weekly live sessions, filled with 30-40 youth from all over Minnesota, the learners received species-specific activities to expand their knowledge and ensure they were engaging their heads and hands in exploration. The online sessions often included videos from local farmers showing youth how they care for animals on their farm. 

Leah Polejewski, an Extension educator from Lyon County, enjoyed interacting with the youth as she showed them how she raises goats and sheep. Her session included basic information about nutrition, breeds, and temperament, all fundamental to raising healthy livestock. “I’ve never held a large program like this before," said Polejewski. "The youth were so engaged in our online learning community and it was amazing to see youth who were new to farming with curiosity and excitement.”

Tearnee Smith, a 7 year-old from Winona County, took part in the entire series and said that the horse session was her absolute favorite. “Horses only need 3 hours of sleep!” Tearnee exclaimed with excitement. “I really liked making homemade butter and ice cream too,” she said. After 4-H Down on the Farm, Tearnee signed up for, and excelled in, “Bowling 101” a for-fun 4-H knowledge competition for K-2 grade youth who are interested in animals. “Tearnee knew a lot of the questions from what she learned from participating in Down on the Farm,” said her mom Elisabeth. 

Putting knowledge to the test

3 kids sitting at a table with art projects.

Madelyn Thelemann is a 6 year-old from Le Seur County who also joined the learning community. She enjoyed learning about the animals she doesn’t have on her own family’s farm. “I liked learning about the horses. They can have twins!” said Madelyn. Not only did Madelyn learn about a topic she loves, she also made connections with other youth who share her enthusiasm. “This was a great way to be involved with other people during COVID,” said her dad Jared.

It wasn’t just Tearnee and Madelyn who were positively impacted by the animal science learning that this Extension educator team offered. 93% percent of youth and families reported learning more about animals from the Down on the Farm learning series and 75% plan to share what they learned this summer at a local county fair. 

Is your family interested in learning about animals with 4-H? Pick an animal and start discovering!

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