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Animals attract students to fourth annual Agriculture Awareness Day

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/06/2013 11:22 AM

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MINNEAPOLIS — Comet the llama was stopping traffic on Church Street.

The llama was one of several animals on display during the fourth annual Agriculture Awareness Day. The event was April 16 on a pedestrian section of Church Street on the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus.

Rick Carlson brought three llamas to the event. Two were in a pen under a tent and a third stood on the street. Comet stood calmly in her halter as college students were attracted to her as if she had magnetic pull.

Lydia Richardson, a U of M senior who hails from LaCrosse, Wis., and Ellyse Wagener, a U of M senior from Hudson, Wis., said they saw the animals when they walked to class, and another friend told them about a big buffalo hide. They decided to stop and pet the animals.

They walked up to Comet and struck up a conversation with Carlson. He let the duo walk Comet across the pedestrian corridor. The llama seemed quite at ease.

After walking her back to Carlson, he gave the young women a treat to give Comet, which the llama ate out of Richardson's hand.

Carlson has 55 llamas. Carlson's Llovable Llamas are favorites for birthday parties, petting zoos, agricultural programs at schools and nursing home visits. Two of his llamas starred in Llama, Llama, Red Pajama, which was put on in Hopkins last year.

The llamas are used to people in part because of their 4-H program, Carlson said. Seventy Carver County 4-H members lease their llamas as 4-H projects. The 4-Hers come out to the farm and work with the llamas, training them to lead, brushing them and leading them through an obstacle course.

The 4-Hers also named Comet, who's about a year old. Her mother is Haley.

"Llamas are very smart animals," Carlson said. "They are good with kids … good with people."

"They do cause traffic jams," he said, surveying the crowd gathered around Comet.

Llamas have several uses. They are sheared for wool, are guard animals and are used for packing animals in some countries, Carlson said.

Just down the street, Pork Ambassador Sarah Marketon stood shivering next to Nancy, a seven-month-old gilt from the university. Marketon, of Howard Lake, attends the U of M, and spent the day answering questions.

People wanted to know why pigs' tails are cut, if the gilt had birthed piglets yet, its age and name and about the hog's personality. Others asked questions about what happens on a hog farm.

The awareness event is a good thing, Marketon said, because many students on the Minneapolis campus never come to the St. Paul campus. Some may not even know the St. Paul campus exists, she said. Students on the St. Paul campus, however, do have classes on the Minneapolis campus.

Princess Kay Christine Reitsma also was answering questions. She was in the dairy tent, where people were stopping by to see Minnesota's iconic Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Some shared their state fair Princess Kay story.

Questions ranged from what's the difference between Greek and regular yogurt — Greek is thicker with more protein — to animal care.

New to this year's Agricultural Awareness Day were goats.

Gretchen Sankowitz, of Waseca, brought four goats to Minneapolis. One was a full-blooded Boer yearling doe, who will be in the show ring. On the other side of the pen, a five-year-old doe stood by her two January wethers. Sankowitz described the five-year-old as a working girl. The doe is 50 percent Boer, which is more likely to be raised on a commercial goat farm.

Boer goats are meat goats, Sankowitz said.

Sankowitz sells her goats as breeding stock, as 4-H projects and for food consumption. Goat meat is a red meat, and it's the most eaten red meat in the world, she said.

The most common question she received was about the goat's horns, which are there to help keep the animals cool. The long ears and white coat are also designed to keep goats cool, Sankowitz said.

Other animals on display included chickens, beef cattle and lambs.

Steve Lammers, a U of M junior from Johnsburg and co-chairman of Agriculture Awareness Day, said 3,000 to 3,500 people daily walk through the portion of Church Street where they set up.

Volunteers arrived at 5 a.m. — when it was dark and cold — to begin setting up pens and tents on the pedestrian mall and he expected they'd be there at 5 p.m. taking down. The actual event ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Lammers was pleased that U of M child cares brought children through to see and feel the animals. They started that outreach last year, and it continues to grow.

The main purpose of Agriculture Awareness Day is to engage consumers, he said.

Planning for the fifth annual event starts at the debriefing held this week or next, with more intense planning beginning when school resumes in fall.

When asked what that planning includes, Lammers grabbed a binder off a table and started paging through pages of permits. They are required to have an outdoor space permit, food permits and a plan to dispose of waste. Every three years, they must complete a packet for the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Every student who handles animals must also be certified.