Students at San Miguel Elementary School welcomed a four-legged visitor Tuesday morning.
A four-year-old light brown Jersey cow named “Mocha” ate hay while a crowd of students learned about her in two different assemblies. The school’s preschoolers through third graders attended the first presentation, and fourth through sixth graders attended the second presentation.
“Even though we are outside, we call this a mobile classroom, just like it says here on the trailer,” said Mobile Dairy Classroom Instructor Steven Miller. “So that means you’re going to learn something.”
Miller asked the students to pay attention and participate. He informed them that he was going to ask them words to repeat throughout the presentation and also ask them questions about what he discussed.
He didn’t have to ask them twice. The excited children shouted their responses during the first presentation.
“When you hear the word ‘dairy,’ besides Dairy Queen, what else do you think of,” Miller asked the students at the beginning of the presentation.
“Milk!” shouted the students.
“Where does milk come from?”
Miller told the students about different types of cattle. Black and white cattle, or Holstein cattle, are the most popular type of breed in the U.S. There are more than 1.5 million dairy cows in California, he explained, and a million of them are Holstein. They produce more milk than any other cow, he said. One Holstein can produce up to 120 pounds of raw milk in one day, he added.
Holstein cattle, however, have less cream in their milk, he said. So other types of cattle, such as Mochca’s breed, are used to produce milk used for dairy products like ice cream, he said. Jerseys, Miller said, only produce about 40-50 pounds of milk each day.
Before opening the side door to the trailer, Miller quizzed the children about 900-pound Mocha, and they shouted their responses out loud. Many of the students were excited and screamed for a brief moment when he finally opened the door, but a couple in the front row were scared and cried.
Mocha was born and raised in California, he said, on a dairy farm called Bullfrog Farms, which is located in Imperial County. The farm has about 4,000 dairy cows. Roughly 3,000 are milked twice a day, he said.
Mocha now lives at Mission Viejo High School, he said, where they have a 5.5-acre school farm.
“Mocha travels with me everyday to different schools,” Miller said. “She’s a very lucky cow. She doesn’t have to live at the dairy. … She’s now what we like to call a ‘happy, very spoiled, South Orange County cow.’”
Miller explained Mocha’s trailer and how she travels. He talked about Mocha’s identification tag, or “cow bling,” which is used to keep track of the cows. Mocha is 9077. All of her information is recorded in a computer at the farm, he said.
Miller explained how she eats. Humans chew their food up and down, and cows chew side to side.
Mocha grinds up her food. She eats alfalfa hay, which has more protein and calcium than any other hay that’s available, he said. She also eats grain twice a day, he added, which looks like “granola cereal.” It’s mixed with corn, barley, oats, molasses, salt, vitamins and minerals. In one day, Mocha eats 45 pounds of hay and grain. She can drink up to 50 gallons of water on a hot day, he said.
Miller also talked about the Mocha’s anatomy. Her head weighs about 45 pounds, he said.
“Is your head every going to get that big?”
“No!” the students shouted.
“Wait to high school,” Miller said.
After Miller explained the digestive system, he talked about other parts of a cow's anatomy, as well as milk processing. Using his hands, he demonstrated in the air how to milk a cow, and the children mimicked his moves. Then, he demonstrated on Mocha, aiming toward the crowd, which prompted laughter and screams.
Following the presentation, Miller answered a few questions from the curious students. A couple were concerned with Mocha’s travel safety. He reassured them that the mechanism used to keep her head in place doesn’t harm her, just keeps her safe and compared it to a seatbelt.
After the question and answer session, Miller opened the back door of the trailer to bring out a black and white calf named “Olive.” Every student—unless they chose not to—got a chance to pet the small calf.
Students weren’t the only curious audience members in attendance. Several parents attended the presentation to hear about cows, but also to watch their child’s reaction.
“I wanted to see my daughter and my son’s faces when they see a cow, because they haven’t seen a cow before,” said Caroline Ulugalu, whose preschool-aged daughter and first-grade son attended the first assembly. Her fourth-grade daughter attended the next assembly, which had a bit more detail about the digestive system and milk processing.
Miller is one of six Dairy Council of California Mobile Dairy Classroom instructors who travel to California schools. The Dairy Council of California educates students about nutrition. The council offers classroom programs, materials and workshops for teachers.
For eight years, Miller has traveled as a Mobile Dairy Classroom instructor to Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
“When they grow up, they’re going to want to know where their food comes from,” Miller said after the presentation. “It’s important that they know where their stuff comes from, what this cow has to do, and not only dairy farmers, but what farmers in general have to do to get them their food.”
This was the Dairy Council’s first visit to San Miguel Elementary, Principal Heidi Bergener said.
“Providing opportunities to expand their horizons and make them better community members and aware of our society is what we’re here for,” Bergener said. “I hope they learned how important it is to learn where their milk comes from and where their food comes from so they have a greater appreciation for the things that they do want.
“We’re thankful for the opportunity to be able to provide our students with an experience such as this.”