Josh Rucker, 11, a 4-H volunteers holds a duckling for students with Oak Grove Kids in the 4-H Barn Tuesday morning at the Gwinnett County Fair. (Staff Photo: Meghan Kotowski)
LAWRENCEVILLE — In the mornings before the Gwinnett County Fair opens, thousands of children flock to the grounds with one mission: find the petting zoo.
Each year, the Gwinnett 4-H staff and volunteers lay down hay, bring in young animals and educate the children about barnyard critters.
On a few special days, preschools are invited to visit the barn before the fair opens to the public. The children have a chance to pet the animals while learning about their lifestyles and where food comes from before it hits the supermarket shelves.
“Living in an urban area, it’s important for us to show kids that there is agriculture,” said Pamela Bloch, Gwinnett 4-H County agent. “Providing an interactive experience for them really helps kids be able to learn about the different animals that are out there as well as experience the fair. A lot of the kids don’t see this everyday.”
Tuesday morning, Jana Domyslawski of Shadowbrook Baptist Weekday School brought a gaggle of giggly kindergartners to the barn.
Her group learned about ducklings, freshly hatched chicks, a donkey (Ellie Mae who was born at the fair a few years ago), chickens, sheep, goats, calves and rabbits. There are also two faux milking stations with a glove full of water, where the kids pretend to milk.
“They mostly get to touch them, which is fascinating to them because you can’t really touch most animals,” Domyslawski said. “Since (the animals are) babies, they’re as small as (the kids) are. They enjoy that part. Being able to be in a small environment to touch the animals, it means more to them, so they learn more.”
After leaving the fair, Domyslawski and her group returned to the school to recap their experience with the animals and then make cream in the classroom.
Once the young groups leave the 4-H Barn, there is another chance to learn more about where their milk comes from. In the livestock barn, a Mobile Dairy Classroom is set up by the Georgia Dairy Farmers.
Attendees of all ages can watch milking and feeding demonstrations, which features a fully operational milking parlor containing a live cow.
“I think they’re surprised at how much the (cows) eat and how much milk they make a day,” demonstrator Nicole Karstedt said. “The public doesn’t realize she has to have a calf every year.”
Karstedt said that, much to most people’s surprise, dairy cows eat about 100 pounds of food and drink 20 to 30 gallons of water to produce about 12 gallons of milk a day.
“The kids moo at her,” she said with a smile. “When the milk starts coming out, it pours out and they’re blown away to how much milk they give and how the whole process works. It’s pretty funny to see their reactions.
“It’s good for the (kids) to see that the milk isn’t grown in the grocery store. It doesn’t come from a jug. It comes from a cow first. They can respect it better when they see how much work goes into it.”
The 4-H Barn is open daily during the Gwinnett County Fair. It is located in a red barn with a massive brown cow next to the livestock arena, where the Mobile Dairy Classroom is located.