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NMSU's Kids, Kows & More program teaches thousands about agriculture

LAS CRUCES - A group of elementary school children watch as New Mexico State University's Extension specialist Pat Melendrez sheers a 250-pound ewe. Right before their eyes the female sheep goes from having a fluffy coat of wool to getting the equivalent of a crew cut with less than a quarter inch of wool remaining.

New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service specialist Pat Melendrez shears a sheep while students at San Miguel County's Kids, Kows & More field trip watch. The students are among the thousands of third- and fourth-grade students in 19 New Mexico counties who attend the agriculture education program each year. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Melendrez is among the many volunteers who share their knowledge and love of agriculture with thousands of third- and fourth-grade students across New Mexico, who are introduced to the world of agriculture at annual Kids, Kows & More field trips in their county.

NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service agents in 19 counties coordinate the field trips for students in Santa Fe, Moriarty, Clovis, Portales, Roswell, Artesia, Carlsbad, Hobbs, Tucumcari, Albuquerque, Gallup, Farmington, Socorro, Silver City, Ruidoso, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Belen, Raton and Springer. Each event is a collaborative effort of area agriculture professionals and volunteers.

"This program teaches school-age kids where their food comes from and about the agricultural industry that is in their area," said Alfred Gonzales of Texas A&M University's Extension Service, who coordinates the program in New Mexico and Texas. "They get to watch a dairy cow being milked, or see a bee hive up close. Many even get to pet a horse. The idea is to provide elementary teachers and the children with an experience somewhat like a trip to the farm."

Since it would be logistically impossible to take an entire school district's third- and fourth-graders to a farm, the county Extension agent organizes a field day at a central location where several agriculture professionals talk about an aspect of farm life.

The children have the opportunity to learn about farm animals such as dairy cows, sheep, horses, bees and even stock dogs; crops such as chile, alfalfa, cotton, pecans, apples, wheat, corn and peanuts; and vegetable gardening.

In several counties the students learn that curds and whey are not just words in a nursery rhyme but are by-products of making cheese.

Or they learn about the good, bad and ugly insects as NMSU Extension entomologist Carol Sutherland shows the students mounted insects that are common in New Mexico, as well as some of the world's largest insects from other parts of the world.

Kids, Kows & More began in 1990 and has become a collaboration between NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, Texas A&M University and Southwest Dairy Farmers. The New Mexico Beef Council, Soil and Water Conservation districts and the New Mexico Farm Bureau also participate in some county's programs with volunteers talking about nutrition or life on a ranch, water conservation demonstrations and other topics.

One of the highlights of the day for the students is Cody Lightfoot of Southwest Dairy Farmers talking about dairy cows and where milk comes from. The students laugh and interact with Lightfoot as they learn facts about dairy cows, such as, a dairy cow eats 60 to 100 pounds of food and drinks a bathtub full of water each day, and one cow produces 2,500 gallons of milk each year.

"It takes 72 hours for the milk to go from the cow to the grocery store," Lightfoot told a group of students at Las Vegas. "And no, chocolate milk does not come from brown cows."

For information about the Kids, Kows & More program in your county, contact your county's NMSU Cooperative Extension office.

NMSU's participation is an example of the university's continuing outreach efforts to help educate and improve the lives of people in New Mexico.