On a recent morning, the kids at a Oakland, Calif. school got a rare treat. They had the opportunity to meet Ellie, a Holstein cow from a nearby dairy farm. For some, it would be their first up-close encounter with an animal that produces the stuff they pour on their cereal in the morning.
For decades, the Dairy Council has brought cows to urban schools to show kids where their milk really comes from — a public service that will perhaps encourage them to drink it once in awhile, or to consider studying agriculture in college. More recently, however, an increased public awareness of milk allergies, lactose intolerance and the bovine growth hormones used by some dairies has put the industry on the defensive.
Leaning forward, the kids stared at Ellie’s jaw and counted aloud each time she chewed a ball of semidigested food, their voices growing louder and more incredulous as she approached 60.
They watched as the cud went down her throat, bulged into one of her four stomachs and came back up again. They shrieked when Byers squeezed one of her teats, sending a spray of milk toward the front row. They went wild when he brought out Rosemary, a red-and-white calf, whose soft coat they got to pet at the end of the program. The cheers reached fever pitch when Byers put a microphone up to Rosemary’s mouth as she suckled on a bottle of milk.