While some classrooms have a bunny or a hamster, children all over the United States had an Iowa dairy calf as a class pet this school year.
Lucy, one of Maassen Dairy’s calves, poses at a kissing booth for the Valentine’s Day Adopt a Cow update which was sent to schools all over the country. Lucy was one of three calves that were part of the six-month program. Photo submitted

The Maassen Dairy east of Maurice was among the dairy operations participating in the Adopt a Cow program during the 2021-22 school year through the organization Discover Dairy.

Discover Dairy is an educational program that works with schools across America to teach kids about where diary comes from and how dairy farmers contribute to society. Its Adopt a Cow program puts participating farms and schools together by giving classes a calf to virtually interact with as it grows.

Stefan Maassen, who co-owns and operates Maassen Dairy with his father and two brothers, said teaching youth about raising a calf was an enjoyable experience.

“A lot of kids have never been on farm,” he said. “It was fun to answer their questions and educate them.”

Maassen Dairy has been around for five generations. It began with current owner Lee Maassen’s great-grandfather in the early 1900s. Today, Lee and his sons — Aaron, Adam and Stefan — oversee about 1,350 cows. They raise all the calves that are born on the farm.

The students participating in the Adopt a Cow program received e-mail updates with photos and stories of the calf to create an interactive experience. There also were videos, lessons and activity sheets available. The updates went November-May, and the program ended with an opportunity for the class to live chat with the calf and host family.

Multiple schools were assigned to Maassen Dairy as the Adopt a Cow program works with thousands of schools and only about 40 dairy farms. Stefan recalled interacting with many students during their video chat with the schools at the end of the year.

“They have a huge group of people that go through this program,” he said. “We did a half-hour long Zoom call with the calves and showed them to the kids and told them what they eat and how we take care of them. It was just a fun experience for them to learn.”

The students got to name the calves and make them an honorary class mascot. They could even send letters to the calves and dairy families.

This school year was the first time Maassen Dairy participated in the Adopt a Calf program. They got into contact with Discover Dairy when the organization reached out to Adam Maassen, who is the president of the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance.

“They were just looking for a few more dairies,” Stefan said. “My brother mentioned it to me and recommended it as good dairy promotion and good education for the kids.”

The Maassens chose three calves for the program and sent updates about them with pictures to Discover Dairy who would send them on to the participating schools. There were even some holiday-themed pictures like a calf wearing reindeer antlers for Christmas and several calves at a kissing booth for Valentine’s Day. Through these activities, students got to follow the first six months of the calves’ lives and got to know dairy families.

Stefan Maassen said Maassen Dairy would be interested in participating in the Adopt a Cow program again next year if it is asked. Registration for the coming school year is open through Sept. 13. The program is free and open to groups like home-schoolers and after-school programs.

Look also

National Milk Producers Federation leadership expressed confidence that farmers would soon see a fairer federal system for milk pricing and highlighted dairy farmers’ robust response to the challenge of H5N1 influenza in dairy cattle at the organization’s Board of Directors meeting, which concluded today.

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