Area farmers and agri-business personnel spent time in local classrooms in late March, the 15th time the Watonwan County Farm Bureau has coordinated this unique event; students received several keepsakes from a variety of the area commodity organizations, including the pork producers, corn and soybean growers, dairy association, and the farm bureau.

On March 19, they were in St. Paul’s Lutheran School in St. James and Butterfield-Odin Public School, and they were at Northside Elementary the following day.

At St. Paul’s, speakers presented to grades two, three, and four--taught by Kathy Hoffman.

Dale Busch began talking about sheep, and he passes around a piece of “raw wool.” He said sheep are fed field corn, grass, hay, and soybean product.

While he’s always heard that, “You don’t need a lawnmower if you have sheep,” he said that’s not entirely accurate, because sheep are somewhat selective in what they eat. Lambs are 10-12 pounds when born, and they go to market for meat when they’re roughly 120 pounds--which takes about six months, he said. Ewes usually have one or two lambs, or three on rare occasions.

Busch also spoke about corn, telling the students that corn plants are both male and female--the ear is the female part, he said. In addition, one bushel of corn yields roughly three gallons of ethanol fuel.

Colin Hoppe and his brother, Landon, spoke about caring for pigs. Colin Hoppe brought a “show stick,” and they brought along a kit for combing, cleaning, and clipping pigs.

Colin Hoppe said it’s important for the pigs to have short hair, because long hair makes them look small, and they spray the pigs with an oily substance to make them appear shiny. Pigs have no sweat glands, which is why they roll in mud and need to be hosed down with water during hot summer days.

He said a full-grown boar is 250 pounds, according to market, while a full-grown sow is 200-250 pounds. It takes six or seven months after birth to achieve full-growth.

The largest pig at birth he’s ever seen was five pounds, and litters can range from five to 12 piglets, he said.

Yvonne Simon owns a reindeer farm, so she talked about the animals, which aren’t native to Minnesota--they live in the tundra. They eat soybeans, corn, sugar beet pulp, hay, and steamrolled oats.

They have furry feet, furry noses, and cloven hooves, and their feet are much larger than other deer, so they don’t get stuck in drifts, she said. They even have hair on the bottoms of their feet.

Both males and females have antlers, and they both lose their antlers--males in January and females in March-- annually and then grow them back each year, she said. The difference between antlers and horns, of course, is that antlers fall off each year, while horns continue to grow.

Reindeer have three layers of hair in winter, but they shed in summer, and they possess short tails, Simon said. Though reindeer are short, males (bulls) weigh 400-450 pounds, and females (cows) weigh 300-350 pounds.

When first born, reindeer are 9-20 pounds, and they’re typically born in snow drifts, she said. “They prefer that, because it helps kill germs.”

They start getting antlers when they’re two weeks old, and the antlers of males tend to be darker, because they’re fond of rubbing their antlers in the dirt, and females are not, she said. They have very strong necks, “and they’ve been farmed since 600 A.D., so they’re comfortable around people--and very herd-oriented.”

Minnesota is the fifth largest agricultural producer in the United States, according to the farm bureau. Employment in agriculture and food industry accounts for 15 percent of total jobs in Minnesota. Two-thirds of those jobs are off the farms in processing, distribution, supply and service sectors.

Minnesota also ranks fourth in agricultural exports, as the ag industry pumps approximately $75 billion dollars annually into the state economy and supports 340,000 jobs, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed March 23-29 as Minnesota Agriculture Week, which coincides with National Agriculture Day March 25--this year’s theme was “Agriculture: 365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to Feed.”

To read about the presentations given to students in Butterfield-Odin and Northside, please see the March 27 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.