Learning about animals

Some weren’t so sure about the clucking bird sitting in Ann Young’s arms.

When asked if they wanted to pet the chicken, a few preschoolers and toddlers gathered Thursday morning at Johnson County fairgrounds on shook their heads. One even burst into tears.

Seeing a chicken up close, rather than in a book or on TV, can be a little weird at first. But getting kids that up-close view of the animals that make up their food is the goal of the fair’s Read-Touch-Taste program. Aimed at kids ages 5 to 7, the program is offered twice daily by the Purdue Extension Office during fair week with the goal of teaching children where their food really comes from.

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Extension volunteers read the preschoolers a story about animals, and then the children get to see the animals. They also eat a snack and do a craft.

Siblings Vince Reese, 2, and Alli Reese, 5, of Franklin, and Elijah Tanner, 4, sat down to color a hat with a chicken.

“It gives them a chance to step outside the regular fair stuff and learn,” said Sheri May, who took a group from her day care, Sheri’s Safari Daycare, to the program.

The group goes every day. So far this week, in addition to chickens, they learned about sheep and goats. The sheep were a favorite of Keghan Ellis, 5, who said he loved learning about the different sizes and shapes the animals come in and especially the fur on the sheep’s heads.

Seeing the animals up close is a new experience for most of the kids, and one they can’t get every day, May said.

“It gives them an opportunity to get away from their normal routine and learn from people who work with the animals. We can’t get a goat, cow or a pig into the day care,” she said.

Caring for their pigs

By Thursday, several livestock shows were over for the week, but the animals were still in the barns.

The Burton family, who live in Providence, were tending to their animals, three 6-month-old crossbred Hampshire pigs, distinguishable from other breeds because of their black-and-white coloring and considerable size. All three weigh more than 300 pounds.

After wrangling the hogs since they were 8 weeks old, Dalton Burton said he enjoyed seeing his hard work from this year pay off — he got second-, fourth- and two sixth-place awards for the pigs.

Besides baseball, Burton, 11, a Custer Baker Intermediate School sixth-grader, said showing pigs is his favorite thing to do.

Ricki Smith, a Bargersville breeder who sold the Burton family their pigs, said judges look at how well the animals walk. So in addition to feeding them and taking care of the animals, 4-H’ers like Dalton also have to practice walking them slowly to show that they have a good gait.

The 4-H’ers also practice keeping them calm. The shows rank the animals for having large rumps and shoulders — areas where the most tender meat is concentrated for ham, bacon and pork chops, Smith said.

Dalton’s parents, Esten and Jennifer, as well as their other children, Wyatt, 8, and Karlie, 4, help take care of the pigs. Wyatt Burton won a medal for showing one of the pigs, a barrow, earlier in the week in a junior 4-H division.

The parents said the sense of family and community is a big reason to keep their kids in 4-H. The kids develop lifelong friendships and get a chance to hang out at the fair all week.

You don’t see Kindles, cellphones or other electronic devices lighting up when the kids are with their animals — a nice change from the norm, Esten Burton said.

He said he still has good friends he knew from his years hanging out in the very barn where his own kids were showing their animals. He didn’t show animals himself, but he would hang out with his friends who did.

He fondly remembers getting into mischief after hours at the fair. For example, people would come to the barns in the morning to find that their pigs were wearing lipstick, he said.

— Compiled by Anna Herkamp

Anna Herkamp is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at aherkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2712.