Cow visit to LeConte on March 17, 2016. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Buttercup the cow was a star guest at LeConte Elementary School on March 17, 2016. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Buttercup the cow was a star guest at LeConte Elementary School on March 17, 2016. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

Veronica Valerio, principal of LeConte Elementary School in Berkeley, arranged for her young students to meet a cow on Thursday last week. “As city kids it’s important for them to know where milk comes from,” she said. “They need to understand the whole process, from livestock to milk production.”

However, the several dozen kids who sat quietly listening and answering questions posed by Brandon Roberts, a mobile dairy classroom instructor from the Dairy Council of California, appeared to be supremely knowledgeable about all matters dairy-related.

To Roberts’ question about whether the children had consumed milk, yogurt or cream cheese that morning for breakfast, a majority of hands shot up. Asked if they knew how to milk a cow, a majority of hands shot up. Many were also more than happy to demonstrate their technique.

The kids’ enthusiasm was impressive, as was their delight when Roberts finally pulled up the door on his trailer to reveal Buttercup, an impressive Holstein who was wholly unperturbed at the sight of so many small eyes fixed on her, and simply carried on munching her alfalfa.

Brandon Roberts wove a lot of learning into his fun talk with the students. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

Roberts, who had tried valiantly but failed to fit his truck and trailer through the narrow gates and onto the school playground — the morning assembly was relocated from the playground to outside the front of the school — imparted an admirable amount of information during his interactive talk. It included an outline of the five main food groups; the different sections of a cow’s body (its tail is the fly swatter); what and how a cow eats (which includes spitting up food and chewing it again — a concept the students embraced); the importance of calcium; and the definitions of pasteurization and homogenization.

Roberts, who had brought the special mammal guest up from a family farm in San Martin, also showed the assembly the “milking claw” that is attached to a dairy cow’s udder in order to milk her. And, using his hand, he squeezed some milk from the cow a couple of times, provoking some screams and hasty retreats from a couple of students in the front row.

There was great excitement when it was revealed Roberts had also brought along a calf. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

The best was left for last when, from the back of the trailer, Roberts fetched a 1-month year old bull-calf. All the children were allowed to walk by and pet the calf, after which the outdoor farm-to-school lesson drew to an end.

The assembly was part of the Dairy Council’s Mobile Dairy Classroom program, described as an educational learning lab that teaches students enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade about cow anatomy, cow care on the farm, the milking process and agriculture technology. As demonstrated by Roberts, language arts, math and science are integrated into the lesson, which aligns with Common Core state standards.

The event was certainly a novel way to start a day at school.

LeConte student pet a calf on March 17, 2016. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
LeConte student pet a calf on March 17, 2016. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Although only a month old, the calf was calm as he was petted by a multitude of little hands. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...