Planting the seed of dairy knowledge, appreciation

Educational initiative sees continued growth


LANCASTER, Wis. — Elementary school aged children around the country are a little more knowledgeable after watching their adopted calf grow throughout the school year.

Wisconsin host farms have been prevalent in the Adopt A Cow program for around five years. This year, three Wisconsin dairy farms participated including Selz-Pralle Dairy from Clark County, Vision Aire Farms LLC in Fond du Lac County and Orthridge Jerseys in Grant County.

Derek Orth from Orthridge Jerseys has just completed his third school year with the program. Orth milks around 250 cows with his family near Lancaster. This year, 421 classrooms and 11,783 students adopted two Jersey heifers named Laramee and Roni from Orth’s farm.

Orth said it is important to him to give youth a positive connection to the dairy industry.

“The biggest thing is to give students the opportunity to see what happens on a farm and what happens to the calves for the first nine months of their lives,” Orth said. “They see how we spoil them and care for them just like their parents care for them at home.”

Two of the classes that adopted Laramee and Roni organized a field trip to Orth’s farm this year. One of the schools was from the Madison area and obtained funding for the field trip through a grant from Discover Dairy. Having the students and parents at his farm opened Orth’s eyes to how unaware consumers are about dairy farming.

“People overall are very curious and almost awe-inspired because of what they’re learning,” Orth said. “They really had no idea what had to go on for a gallon of milk to get to Kwik Trip.”

During a previous school year, Orth was once recognized in public by a teacher participating in the program. Her school was almost 100 miles away from Orth’s farm and he said she was so excited to meet him in person. She even had photos of the adopted calves on her phone.

“When I first got asked to do it, it seemed like one more chore to take all these pictures and answer all these questions, but the positive impact has been phenomenal,” Orth said. “It is very cool to be noticed for being a dairy farmer.”

The Adopt A Cow program is part of Discover Dairy which is based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The initiative has grown into a nationwide educational opportunity for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Brittany Snyder is the dairy education program manager for Adopt A Cow.

“Our ultimate goal is to build trust in the dairy industry so that when these kids have purchasing and buying power, they are making the right choice,” Snyder said. “We’re working with kids, so even though they’re not the ones actually making the purchase in the family, they are still very persuasive.”

The program partners with 14 of the 16 dairy checkoff organizations across the country to find host farms. These farms choose a calf that is born in September for area schools to virtually adopt. The classes receive updates every month throughout the school year. The updates include photos of the calf, heights and weights for the students to record on a chart in their classroom, and a virtual farm tour and discussion in the spring.

The program started in 2014 as an initiative in Pennsylvania. The coronavirus pandemic caused a huge growth in enrollment. The year prior to the pandemic, the program had about 900 classes. When schools shut down and all learning was virtual, their participation increased to 70,000 classes and almost 3 million students.

“Adopt A Cow has always been inherently virtual, so it was very virtual friendly,” Snyder said. “It was a way to keep the kids’ attention and give them a positive experience to reference for dairy.”

The Adopt A Cow program is just one of the ways Discover Dairy educates youth about the dairy industry. They also provide lesson plans for teachers free of cost.

“The program puts Discover Dairy in a great spot with teachers because it’s not adding another thing,” Snyder said. “It replaces resources that they’re already using but with something that is dairy focused. In each lesson, there’s writing skills, reading skills (and) team building skills that are all built into activities and plans.”

Snyder said the students get very attached to the animals they adopt and she often receives calls and emails asking if a school can purchase the animal. She said she also sees the host farms grow more confident as they realize how much the students look up to them and appreciate the work they are doing on their farms.

“It never ceases to amaze me just how many people get involved and how many people it truly changes the way they think about dairy,” Snyder said. “They now know a dairy farmer and they have a connection to somebody real.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here