Cow Camp For Kids
When Glen Johnson looks out and sees many young girls and boys leading calves
around his Steele County dairy farm, he chuckles with enjoyment at all the chaos taking place.
As the children are trying their hard- est to keep the animals in line, Johnson wonders if the camp should be renamed, “Cow Chaos.”
“There are cows running all over. Kids dragging on the ground. One crying be- cause the calf wouldn’t move and another one crying because it ran away,” Johnson related. “Some years have been worse than others.”
Such is the life for children in grades
K-6 at Cow Camp, which is offered through Owatonna Community Education, a pro- gram directed by Johnson’s wife, Deb Mc- Dermott-Johnson. Cow Camp was held the week of July 15 at the Johnson farm once again as it has for the past 12 summers.
Cow Camp is a hands-on experience
where children get to lead calves around the yard and wash them by hand. They also learn the birth dates and breeds of each calf. By the end of the camp, John- son hopes the kids aren’t afraid of the animals.
McDermott-Johnson came up with the idea for Cow Camp as a way to spur inter- est in agriculture and cows with young people, especially those who have never been on a farm before. As she looked at the programming offered by Community Ed- ucation, she found that there was nothing available for kids with agriculture.
“It’s amazing,” McDermott-Johnson said of Cow Camp. “This whole program is setting up for the next generation. It’s pretty impressive.”
One of Cow Camp’s success stories lies within Lilly Zollner, 18, of Owatonna. She went through Cow Camp as a third grader and now works on Johnson’s dairy farm. She assists with calf chores, field work, vet checks and other farm chores. The camp is responsible for getting her involved in 4-H as she joined the Pratt Commandoes.
Zollner assisted helping youngsters
during last week’s Cow Camp. “I’m giving back because I had such a great opportunity so other kids can do it,” she said. “It’s fun to work with the calves and
show the kids how to bond with them and
And as if the camp didn’t have a great enough influence on Zollner’s own child- hood, it’s also responsible for what she plans to do in her adult life.
McDermott-Johnson said Zollner is gifted in many ways. She is an accom- plished violinist, figure skater, theatre acting and other musical talents. “If she crashes on the ice, it’s no different
than getting knocked down by a heifer,” McDermott-Johnsons said. “I’m secretly admiring what her future is going to be like,” she added.
And as if the camp didn’t have a great enough influence on Zollner’s childhood, it also appears to be responsible for what she plans to do in her adult professional life as her future appears to be headed towards
the animals. She plans to attend the Uni-
versity of Wisconsin at River Falls this fall where she will major in animal science. Her career goal is to become a veterinari- an technologist.
She traces her interest in agriculture back to Cow Camp more than 10 years ago. “I want to work with animals,” Zollner says. “I just love being with the cows and showing them. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Cow Camp is in such popular demand that only a select few are able to partici- pate. The size of the camp is limited by the number of calves available on the Johnson farm. They match up each child with a
calf based on their size. “The last thing we want is for someone to get hurt,” Johnson said. Some of the calves are brought in from other area dairy farms just for the
camp. McDermott-Johnson said they’ve
had as many as 19 in the past. “If we get over 16, it’s unmanageable,” she said.
The children get to name the calves during camp. Some come up with funny names like Buddy and Della.
Johnson said the camp is important because people need to know where their food comes from. “Having them on the farm shows them how we take care of an- imals and have respect for them,” he said. “They absorb so much, so fast, they are on the farm seeing how things work.”
Another important reason for the camp, Johnson said, is showing them where their milk comes from.
Kylie Kruckeberg of Owatonna is another graduate of Cow Camp. She went through the camp nine years ago. She said the experience led her into both the 4-H and FFA programs.
“It’s a nice way to experience agricul-
ture while still living in town,” Kruckeberg said, noting she wouldn’t have been able to had this experience without Cow Camp.
Kruckeberg, a junior at Owatonna High School, started by leasing some animals from the Johnson’s and now she actually owns a couple of them herself. She comes out to the Johnson farm as much as she can. She plans to show three cows and two heifers at the upcoming Steele County Fair.
Cow Camp has impacted children in other ways. “I’ve had one parent who said we saved their son’s life because he had been hanging out with the wrong crowd prior to Cow Camp,” McDer-
The camp is basically focused on hands- on learning. “If you want them to succeed, you need to give them the hands-on,” McDermott-Johnson said. “The book is sufficient, but it’s not an enough of a deep dive into life.”
McDermott-Johnson said she would put this program on the road if she could for children all over to enjoy. “So many don’t get this experience,” she said. “They are making a memory that they will remem- ber the rest of their lives.”
Last week there was an advanced Pro
Camp for six more children who have already gone through Cow Camp in years past.
McDermott-Johnson said the equalizer in either of the camps is the cattle. “We’re all getting slimy together,” she said.