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Where does your milk come from? Second-graders learn the process

Dairy farm field trip a district tradition

Lowell — Second-grader Jedi Peterson grinned broadly while feeding an eager calf from a large bottle. 

“It’s really hungry!” said Jedi as the calf tugged aggressively on the bottle.

“My cow is drooling a lot,” said second-grader Mikayla Bierhobbs, who fed another calf. “This cow really likes this kind of food.”

Along with studying animals and plant life, Cherry Creek Elementary students have learned about communities this year as part of second-grade standards. A highlight of their learning was visiting a dairy farm in their own community to see the milk-producing operation in action.

“Cows have to give birth for them to have milk,” said second-grader Teddy Pope about a fact he learned while touring Swisslane Farms, a more than 100-year-old dairy farm in Alto that is home to 500 dairy cows.

The students toured the farm through Dairy Discovery, the non-profit education arm of the farm, to learn about where their food comes from, what goes into raising healthy cows and how the farm contributes to an important part of the local economy.

“You will see lots of cows of all ages, because we have to care for them for the first two years before they can grow up and make milk,” said Renee McCauley, Dairy Discovery executive director, as she started the tour of the the 91-acre farm via a hay wagon ride (not a “hayride,” students learned, since they were, technically, sitting on straw.)

Along with feeding calves, students saw medium-sized heifers and big cows, while learning the many steps involved in bringing cold milk, yogurt and cheese to grocery store shelves. They practiced making cow feed by digging their hands into different ingredients and learned about corn silage. They also sipped fresh milk and saw a calf born just 10 minutes earlier.

Milking the Curriculum

A focus of second-grade social studies standards is communities, including farming communities, teacher Heather Kresge said. 

“Part of that standard talks about rural, urban and suburban, what all that looks like and how it’s different. Because this is their community, it’s a great way to connect them with, ‘This is why we are rural; this is what makes us rural.’”

In terms of science, students learned how a cow begins to produce milk and the milking process. They watched how cows are milked at the farm using a robotic process.

They also learned about the “cow kitchen” where feed is stored, and the farm’s sustainability measures.

Students mix up ingredients for corn silage

Annie Link, a fourth-generation dairy farmer at Swisslane Farms, said helping students develop a growing appreciation for food and farms is part of preparing for the future of the operation.

“I want them to appreciate the food that’s on their table every day, to have a deep appreciation and understanding about where that comes from,” Link said. “We are trying to create an authentic experience. I want them smelling, getting their hands into it and having that connection.”

Read more from Lowell: 
Historical figures come alive in classroom turned museum
Fifth-grade leaders offer schoolwide improvement ideas

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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