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Learning About Farm Animals at Houston Livestock Show

Greg Flakus

Houston's annual Livestock Show and Rodeo features big name entertainers, rodeo contests, livestock auctions and a carnival, among other offerings, but it also helps educate an urban public about farm and ranch life and agriculture in general. Animals are the stars of this show.

This is where cows get all "prettied up" for judging or auction.

For families from farms and ranches, being around these animals is part of everyday life.

But they are in the minority, says the Houston rodeo's manager of agriculture exhibits, Joel Cowley.

“Less than two percent of the U.S. population is involved in production agriculture, directly involved, and of the six million people that live in the Houston Metro area, those that come to our show, this may be the only direct interaction they have with agriculture,” Cowley said.

So there are many educational exhibits that explain where the food we eat comes from.

One attraction examines how worms contribute to soil fertility and another shows a bee hive behind glass, which helps city folk understand the vital role of these small creatures in pollinating many crops.

But it's the big creatures that draw the most attention.

For a lot of urban families, a great attraction of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the chance to see a lot of animals up close.

Kids can get a good look at cows, sheep, pigs and other farm animals.

They can also see newborn chicks, fresh out of the shell and other chickens at different stages of growth.

One of the most popular attractions for families is the Birthing Center, where they can see newborn calves, lambs and piglets.

If they come at the right moment they may even catch sight of one of these animals giving birth.

Volunteer guides with farm experience, like Jackie Hill, explain the process and answer questions.

Girl: “How do you know when the cows will give birth?”
Hill: “Their muscles will start to contract and they will start to dilate and open up and you hopefully will be able to see the head of the cow.”

Having grown up on a farm in central Texas, Hill enjoys educating city folk about such natural events.

“It is surprising to me what little some kids know and some adults even,” Hill said.

But she says she enjoys answering questions from people young and old.

For three weeks every year, a bit of the country comes into the city to help Houstonians learn more about agriculture and the many animals that are part of it.

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