Thin, plastic, shoulder-length gloves were all that stood between the arms of hundreds of students and the inside of a steer’s stomach complete with digesting grass.
“I liked sticking my hand in the cow because it made it more fun and active than just sitting around,” said Rachael Shields, Columbia FFA chapter president.
The touch-and-feel live exhibit was just one of 25 stations at the MU Bradford Research and Extension Center’s FFA Field Day. About 770 students from 25 schools across Missouri attended the third annual event Tuesday. Some of the stations included information about judging market lambs, navigating through a corn maze with a Global Positioning System, growing rice and beekeeping.
“We hope these students leave with a new appreciation for the diversity of agriculture and the science behind it,” said Tim Reinbott, Bradford Research and Extension Center superintendent.
Glasgow FFA advisor Jim Thies brought his students because he saw the field day as a chance for them to gain exposure to MU and awareness of how research takes place.
Rachael and fellow Columbia Career Center student Kale Dempsey said that attending the event was a required part of class, but it was enjoyable.
“I had never seen a queen bee up close before,” Kale said.
Both students said attending the field day is beneficial to rural and urban students.
“This exhibit really opens all the city kids’ eyes that you can do a lot of this stuff even if you live in a city,” Rachael said. “I’m a city kid and I’m the FFA president.”
“A lot of kids in our class would not gain exposure to these aspects of farms if they were not here,” Kale said.
At an exhibit focused on biotechnology with Kathleen Pyatek, an MU research specialist and lab manager in the soybean genome mapping laboratory, students learned about how genetics and technology help soybean breeders create better varieties.
“We want (the students) to gain the idea behind selecting plants on genotype instead of phenotype which can be affected by the environment,” Pyatek said. “We are doing a demonstration about how to get DNA out of some wheat germ since they’ve never seen DNA before,” Pyatek said.
To extract the DNA, wheat germ was mixed with warm water. Liquid laundry detergent was added to the mixture and then the final step involved mixing in rubbing alcohol. Pyatek said all these ingredients can be found at a grocery store.
In addition to learning about crops, Chip Kemp, a youth leadership program director, brought market lambs for the students to judge.
“The neat part about this experience is that a lot of rural and urban kids get the opportunity to come out here and touch and relate to an animal,” Kemp said. “My hope is that these students realize with a little time and thought, they can evaluate an animal as well as anyone else, but it is a process.”
For Reinbott, planning for this year’s field day has been under way since the spring when he contacted MU researchers to serve as presenters. All but the bee station included MU faculty and staff as presenters.
“The program has grown over the past three years,” Reinbott said. “We started with 350 students and 16 stations.”