Students at Jim Darcy Elementary Friday got to touch a duck’s bill and webbed feet, learned that llamas don’t bite because they only have bottom teeth and the only vegetable rabbits can’t eat is lettuce.
The school’s annual Ag Day provides opportunities for students to make their way through about a dozen stations around school grounds. In one classroom, a woman was talking about spinning wool. Outside, students held chickens, petted lambs and tested their skills on a roping dummy. And, in the parking lot, they were awed by tractors, a baler and a combine.
It’s a 30-year tradition at the Helena valley school that Principal Brian Cummings inherited when he came on board. He said it takes the help of at least 60 volunteers to put on the event.
“It’s part of the culture and climate of this building,” Cummings said. “A lot of the presenters are connected to the Jim Darcy family and agriculture is part of their lives.”
One of those members is Becky Stearns who, along with her son Jacob Stearns, manned the chicken station.
“This is a great deal for kids,” she said, looking around all the various spots available. “They learn so much and have so much fun.”
Jacob said raising chickens is easier than most people think, requiring only food, water and a clean coop.
Erv and Mo Lischke, a farming couple from Victor, brought alpacas and llama to the school. The couple does a lot of educational work in the Bitterroot Valley and this is the second year they have helped with Ag Day in Helena.
Mo told the students that the difference between alpacas and llamas is the ears.
“Alpacas (ears) are curved like bananas and llamas are straight up and down,” she said.
Second-grader Leah Fry giggled as Sir Prize, an 8-month-old alpaca, nibbled pellets from her hands.
“It tickles,” she said.
First-grader Sage Dean liked the llamas the best of everything she saw at Ag Day.
“I didn’t know they couldn’t bite,” she said.
Dean said a llama would make a good addition to the animals she already has at home: chickens, goats, pigs and a colt.
Classmate Kahn Schlegel said Ag Day is the best school day of the year.
“You get to look at all the animals and learn about them,” he said.
Ag Day was started by retired teacher Bev Weber. Second-grade teacher Shelley Sharp said when she started teaching at the school in 1975, the land all around the school was filled with livestock.
“There were cows once in these fields and it’s a neat way to keep the rural idea,” she said.
Peggy Bartmess took over once Weber retired and even though her children no longer attend Jim Darcy, she still organizes the day.
“It’s really important to keep this going because it’s really important kids know where their food comes from, especially since agriculture is our No. 1 industry in Montana,” she said.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/IR_AlanaListoe