Learning STEM Through Agriculture on a Nebraska Farm
Elisabeth: I feel like I basically live in a science laboratory, whether it is the crops that are grown in the field, the nutrition that dad has to figure on his cattle to figure out how they're going to gain best, or helping my parents in the vet clinic.
June: They help us in most everything that we do, and I just see it as life. This is what we're doing, and they do it along with us, but there's nothing that we do here that doesn't probably involve science.
Ryan: I'm the fifth generation to operate this farm. On this farm, we grow corn and soybeans and some alfalfa. Most of the corn gets fed to our cattle that we feed at the feed yard, so it's kind of a fairly common Midwestern type of family farm setting.
June: He has a veterinary science Bachelor's and I have an animal science Bachelor's. And then we went on and got our Doctorate degree. Yes, we're scientists, and that's what we do. But I see myself more as a food safety veterinarian, making sure that your food is healthy, so you don't have to worry about it when you cut into a steak or a piece of chicken or whatever it is that you choose for your protein source.
Ryan: Drove 4, so I'm putting in, 5340 high moisture corn, and up to 5850 a supplement.
Elisabeth: In the livestock industry, that's all science, the feed rations that dad has to plan are very in-depth, and it takes a lot of strategic planning and thinking.
Cort: Why do we give more hay to the younger cattle?
Ryan: Because they came off the pasture and so their tummies are used to--
Cort: And hay is like grass.
Ryan: Roughage. Right, right.
When you look at the cattle, they're a biology experiment right there. Ruminant nutrition, it's different than mono-gastric, so you can look at nutrition on how they eat, and the ingredients that they eat.
June: So there's a triangle here. And this is her jugular vein, and that's her cervical vertebrae, and then--
Ryan: You can look at them from an immunological standpoint, how your vaccines prevent them from being sick, those kind of things.
Elisabeth: So this morning I vaccinated the five-way vaccination, so that prevented five different viruses. And because of the prevention, we don't have to use as many antibiotics. It's much more efficient for us, because there's less sick cattle in the long-run, and it's for the health of our animals.
Ryan: Should be good. We get Reveler 200, Bogo Shield cleanup.
Elisabeth: Computers are definitely used in every aspect of our operation. At the feed yard, we have a program that we enter treatments and vaccinations for different pens of cattle. And because of that, we're able to make sure that the withdrawal dates are correct and that cattle aren't sent to market while there's still antibiotics in their system. This steer has an abscess right here on his neck. You're okay, buddy.
Cort: Normally, we just give them the vaccine. But usually there's something wrong with at least one steer other than that it needs vaccines. One of the cattle had an abscess, like right under his chin, there. So we had to flush it out.
Ryan: You can go over to the crop side, and you turn to agronomy. You know, that's something you learn when you're little, fertilizer, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium. And water conservation, erosion. I mean, it's just seems like it is all around us.
Elisabeth: Even the way our pens are designed, whether it's the slope of the pens, or how the water run-off happens, or even the electric fence, that's all physics, and that's all science. So like I said, I literally live in a science laboratory.
June: My kids, since they were newborn have ridden in the saddle with me at the feed yard, and so they've looked at steers every day since they were little. And so steers are what they do.
Erika: I go with Liz and we ride pens at the feed yard in the morning, and check for sick or hurt cattle. Also every morning we wash our 4H show cattle, and brush them up, just working with them, get them ready for the fair.
Ryan: Okay, question number one, which steer is the Hereford market steer?
June: This is a market steer class, and so these guys will be hamburger and steak in a little bit, and so he's evaluating them, good structure, and he wants good balance, he wants a thickness throughout from his rear all the way to his shoulder, and you want a wide back, because that's where the main part of your tenderloin, your prime rib, that's where that comes from.
Carsten: So what we did, we had about six different animals. There was a market and a breeding for each type of animal. And we just had to pick the best one that would suit it for that thing. Like you'd pick the largest animal with the best muscle for market.
Elisabeth: As far as the pet clinic goes, I've been taught anatomy since I was three. Just watching them and learning from them.
June: So cats don't have as long of a cervix, or a body of uterus. So with dogs, that'll stretch the womb out. You want to get closer to the ovaries. With cats, you can usually pull their ovaries out.
Elisabeth: The spay that we did, I've helped mom do those spays for many years. And I learn about suturing.
June: Their little minds, ever since they were little when Ryan would be doing an necropsy on a calf, "What organ is that? How does that organ function?" He did life science and anatomy and physiology as they went.
Ryan: Critical thinking is something I want my kids to learn more than anything. And that goes beyond the farm. Whether, you know, just thinking critically about, "Does this process make sense?" Or, "Should I do this or not?"
Elisabeth: I think there's absolutely no comparison to actually just doing the work and watching it happen. There's no way that you can learn that by sitting in a classroom and having somebody tell you that. I think that since I've grown up with my parents, I've learned so much, just basic problem solving that I don't think you would get if you're not in the workforce.
Ryan: There ya go.
Cort: There we go.
Ryan: Okay. Now, make sure, are they on zero?
And I think through problem solving, I think it teaches our kids to not be dependent on others. Create your own opportunities, don't depend on somebody else to come along and fix it for you. And as a parent, sometimes it's hard to step back and let them problem solve, put one of the kids to do a job, and they're doing it wrong, and you just have to walk away and let them learn. And my dad did that to me. And I think as a parent, I'm finally realizing, he did have to bite his lip or turn his head, and say, "Well, figure it out."