Childhood is a wonder-filled time. Each day brings new discoveries, many of which involve cooties.     
It’s been so long since I was a kid, events that happened during my childhood are in the Ancient History section of the library. There are times when my behavior is eerily similar to Walter Matthau’s character in the movie Grumpy Old Men.        
My wife suggested that I counter my growing curmudgeonliness by going on a field trip with a group of kindergartners.      
So, I spent a few hours at South Dakota State University’s dairy farm amidst a throng of kindergartners. I wanted to observe the tykes as they learned how milk and ice cream begins its journey to their tummies.      
I was a dairy farmer for the first 40-some years of my life, so visiting a herd of Holsteins isn’t exactly exciting. But this would be the first cow contact for most of the kids; I thought it might be interesting to witness their reactions.      
A school bus arrived at the dairy farm and disgorged a swarm of jabbering little humanoids. Each child was a perpetual motion machine, and each had been equipped with the Loud Outdoor Voice option.     
All I could think was, “Good grief. Was I ever that young? Did I ever have that much energy? And do those little critters ever shut up?”     
A nice young man named Kent, who worked at the dairy farm, was introduced as the tour guide. The teachers and volunteer helpers then somehow managed to herd the squirming horde of youngsters into the milking parlor.      
Many of the children began to hold their noses as they entered the barn. Comments such as “Ewww” and “Cooties” and “I smell cow” filled the air.      
Kent did an excellent job of explaining how the milking system works and how dairy cows lead pampered lives. Then he began to take questions.     
 Some of the kindergartners made comments instead. One announced that he had a loose tooth while another informed the group that her family owns both a cat and a dog.      
A little blonde girl who was wearing blue barn boots raised her hand and asked Kent if he wore nose plugs while he milked the cows.    
“No,” he replied with a patient grin. “I actually like the smell.”      
This comment elicited a loud chorus of “Ewww” from the flock of budding young scholars.      
The chattering mob was shepherded out to the barn’s feed alley. Noses were again held; the question “What’s that awful smell?” was asked loudly.      
“What you smell is silage,” Kent explained. “The cows like it, but don’t try it yourself. It doesn’t taste very good.” I wonder how he knew that?      
Kent told the children how the cows are fed a TMR and get to sleep in comfy, straw-bedded free stalls. Meanwhile, a couple of moppets tried to hand-feed a cow. The cow reacted by turning around, lifting her tail and doing what cows do when they lift their tails.      
“Look at that,” exclaimed a little boy, his voice filled with awe. “She just goes wherever.”     
“Don’t get any ideas,” warned a nearby chaperone.     
Next on the agenda was visiting the baby calves. As we exited the feed alley, I saw a little girl scoop up two handfuls of silage and stuff them into her pockets. This souvenir was probably a pleasant surprise for her mom when she did the laundry.      
As we strolled toward the calf huts, some of the youngsters asked me when it would be time for ice cream. I replied that I didn’t know. Several kids informed me, using their loudest outdoor voices, that their favorite flavor is chocolate. “With extra sprinkles,” shouted a ponytailed towhead.     
One little boy abruptly froze in his tracks. He watched, mesmerized, as a dairy farm worker moved hay with a skid steer loader. I leaned down and asked the lad, “You want one of those, don’t you?” He simply nodded, never taking his eyes off the skid loader.      
The calves were a big hit. Many of the baby bovines trotted out of their huts to greet their pint-sized visitors. The youngsters instantly forgot their concerns about cooties and began to pet the calves. One of the urchins asked me, “Why do calves have such wet noses?”      
Unable to resist, I replied, “Because calves have such long tongues.” This elicited another vociferous chorus of “Ewww.”      
I think the kindergartners had a fun day at the dairy farm. They learned a lot about dairying, and I was reminded what it’s like to be young and carefree and loud.      
I just hope that SDSU’s dairy cows weren’t offended by all that talk about cooties.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to e-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.