COLUMBIA — In front of Rock Bridge High School last week, a line of students waited to milk a cow — squealing in surprise and awe when milk began to flow.
Elsewhere under the large white tent, Pig Pig — a 3 1/2-week-old potbellied pig — squealed, too, as she was lifted out of a warm blanket into the arms of eager students.
The Columbia Area Career Center hosted an Agriculture Day on Thursday morning in front of Rock Bridge High School to educate and interest high school students about agriculture and agricultural careers in Missouri.
“It’s more of a fun event than anything,” said Larry Henneke, one of four agriculture education instructors at the Columbia Area Career Center. “But we hope they learn something, too.”
The showcase featured live animals — including Pig Pig, a Holstein calf and heifer that students could learn how to milk, goats and sheep. There were also antique and new tractors, and the opportunity for students to try their hand at roping.
Additionally, eight universities with agriculture majors were on-site to talk to prospective students about a career in agriculture.
This was the third year for the Agriculture Day. Henneke explained that lots of students are removed from agriculture and don’t realize that their future careers might involve pigs or heifers more than they realize.
“A lot of kids sell agriculture in a big community short and don’t know it’s there,” Henneke said, pointing out that even an engineer might end up working on John Deere tractors.
Allison Brennan, a junior at MU studying animal sciences and Pig Pig’s caretaker for the day, agreed with Henneke that people don’t seem familiar with agriculture's wide influence on communities in Missouri.
“I grew up in Kansas City and went to a private school,” Brennan said. “I was the only person interested in agriculture. I think it’s great that they’re doing this.”
Brennan belongs to the Animal Welfare Club at MU, where members discuss both proper care of animals and the animal sciences. She said she brought Pig Pig because potbellied pigs have specific care needs.
Despite the unpleasant weather — which Henneke jokingly said was “ordered” — animals and caretakers stayed out the full four hours to help Rock Bridge students get a handle on the scope of agriculture in the state.
“People should familiarize themselves with animal agriculture because there are a lot of misconceptions,” Brennan said. “Most of the time, if you just ask someone what they’re doing, they’re happy to explain.”
Next year, Henneke said he hopes to display more experimental agriculture equipment to spark more interest in the field.
“This raises awareness of an economy that’s pretty strong in Missouri,” Henneke said.
“A lot of kids don’t understand the difference between that steer here and heifer there or the hamburger or hot dog they’re eating.”