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Bridging the gap between urban and beef farm

Elementary students from southwest Manitoba beat the Ag Ex crowds Oct. 24 with an agricultural education event around cattle

The day before Ag Ex is all about setup for most, but the festivities were already in full swing for 360 of the region’s Grade 3-5 students.

Moo!Mania, the fair’s nod to public education and the cattle industry, returned in the lead-up to the fair. One of three major events organized by the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba, the four-day Ag Ex is the most cattle-centric and features both purebred and commercial shows as its main draws each year.

Nine years ago, organizers turned that focus to education and introduced Moo!Mania, drawing largely from Brandon schools.

This year, 14 classes from both Brandon and Carberry filtered around the bustle as exhibitors set up stalls, groomed animals and processed entries Oct. 24, ahead of the main event Oct. 25-28.

“They come in and, really, they’re learning about the cattle industry,” trade show and program co-ordinator Jennifer Skiehar said. “So the schools come in and there are six sessions that the kids will go to, and they’re going to learn about the life cycle of a cow, the inside of a cow, benefits of beef, business of beef, the history of the beef, as well as beauty school for cows.”

Beef beauty

Appropriate for an event that boasts the province’s largest all-breed cattle show, breed development cropped up in both the day’s content and questions, while “beauty school” introduced the concepts of cattle showing and grooming, concepts often foreign to students not involved in 4-H or youth cattle programs.

“The beauty school for cows is usually the kids’ first time, the majority of them, unless they’re actual farm kids, to see a cow up close,” Skiehar said. “A lot of them, when I go to do school visits, they’ll say, ‘I’ve never seen a cow; they’re in the farm; they’re in the field.’”

Questions are not always light however, she added, sometimes branching into politically charged topics like hormones or animal welfare.

“What I’ve found is you have to take it down to their level,” she remarked when asked how she approached those questions.

“I have been asked a number of times, four or five times maybe, are we mean to the cattle? And I’m like, ‘Not at all. These cattle are babied. They are treated, very, very well,’” she said.

The event closed with the business side of beef. The show ring, which would fill with purebred cattle competing for both Ag Ex and, in the case of Charolais, national titles later in the week, became the site of a mock auction.

For ‘sale’

Select exhibitors volunteered their cattle to be shown and “bid” on, with students using mock money they had earned by answering questions through the day.

For 10-year-old Darby McCormack of Grenfell, Sask., it was a chance to get his cattle into the ring, as well as showcase an industry his family has been part of for generations.

According to the McCormack Family Ranch website, the Saskatchewan producers are seventh-generation ranchers, now involved in breeding purebred Simmental and Maine-Anjou cattle, along with grain production.

“Lots of kids in my class only think a bull has horns,” McCormack said, adding that he hopes events like Moo!Mania might dispel some of those misconceptions.

Running out of room

The program has hit its size limit and is consistently full, Skiehar said.

“Unfortunately, every year I have to say no to some schools,” she said. “I would love to grow it, but the way the schedule works, it just really isn’t feasible, unfortunately.”

In 2009, 180 students attended the inaugural Moo!Mania compared to 360 today.

“Which is really good for the schools and the kids,” Skiehar said. “They come out. They have a good time. They earn their ‘Moo Bucks’ by answering questions. Hopefully they learn a little bit. We’re really hoping that they learn from the cattle producers themselves, so that they’re not getting misinformation and they get to see a cow up close.”

A string of livestock events followed the Oct. 24 Moo!Mania over the next four days, including the 2017 Canadian National Charolais Show and Sale.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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