As spring is soon to arrive, so too are my spring farm tours. I have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years, and spring is my favorite season to show children around our farm. The baby animals are a big draw and the teachers love the opportunity to have a farm-themed unit to tie the field trip together.
    I hatch chicks in our laundry room, and the lambs and goat kids always seem to be born in March and April. Calves are a steady item year-round. The ducks and geese are busy doing their business and sitting on eggs all spring. We have a cat lady in our neighborhood, who usually brings us kittens. One of our friends also will bring over a runt piglet or two every spring.
    We have teachers that have made their reservations last spring to be sure to get the right date for their classes to visit. They are organized and like to have a structured tour, knowing what is going to happen when. Some teachers wait until after the New Year to call and save a spot on the calendar, and yet there are a few who wait to see what is available next week.
    Sometimes I’ll have new teachers who haven’t been to our farm before, and they will ask questions. Usually it is about what the kids will do, how long the tour is and the cost per student. This year I had a teacher call and ask about our goats. She was wondering if they have horns and big beards. Her students want to see goats just like in the book, “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” The children were so interested in horns that were used to buck the troll off of the bridge they couldn’t stop talking about it for days. Well, the students will be disappointed when they see the goats, but maybe feeding the goat kids will let them see how special a baby goat can be. I have them listen to the sounds the babies make to communicate they want to eat. Many kids will imitate the sound, laughing and giggling.
    Stories and books that get the children thinking and dreaming about animals and farming are great resources for teachers to use to prepare them for the day when they are face to face with these critters.
    A cow is much bigger in real life than in “Click, Clack, Moo.” This is a story about cows that find a typewriter in the barn and send letters to Farmer Brown requesting electric blankets. It is a great book that adds humor to the thinking that cows in a barn are cold. I get to share with the student that is not how it is in my barn. Our cows’ body heat warms up the barn for me in the winter so I get to milk them in comfort.
    The little red hen lives in my chicken coop, but she doesn’t make bread like the story written by Florence White William. The little red hen and her girlfriends make eggs, and only one egg a day. The story has a lesson about working together and helping each other. Important in our world today as much as when it was written long ago.
    Every spring at least one young visitor will ask me about a spring pig. I think all piglets are as sweet as Wilbur, but our spiders don’t write messages like in “Charlotte’s Web” written by E.B White. In fact, I sweep down the webs because I am not fond of spiders.
    After listening or reading these stories, the children can imagine these animals. But when they see them up close, often nose to nose, the farm becomes a magical place where they can interact and feel passionate about wanting to become a farmer. What better life can it be when we farmers can pet kittens, bottle feed piglets and hold chicks all day.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 135 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.