Youth across Nebraska are telling their friends about the time they put their arm into a living cow. This is just one of the fun and educational activities available in the Nebraska Extension Husker Mobile Beef Lab.
The beef lab aims to teach youth about microbiology, ruminant nutrition, food production, forage resources management, anatomy and physiology, and more. The mobile lab also provides the opportunity to discuss animal husbandry and welfare in the beef industry and clears up any confusion. The highlight for many is learning about the science of the rumen animal digestive system and the four compartments of the cow’s stomach. Youth are able to take what they’ve learned and actually feel it by putting their arm into a fistulated steer.
The fistula goes into the rumen of the steer, which is the largest compartment of its stomach. Traditionally, it is used to monitor feed and diets, ultimately making livestock rations more efficient. A common question educators receive is whether the fistula hurts the steer. The answer is no. The steer does not know it’s there and lives a normal life. There are no nerve endings in the stomach so the steer is not able to feel when someone sticks their hand into the rumen.
Nebraska Extension first introduced the traveling exhibit in eastern Nebraska in September 2011 and has since traveled to more than 70 locations with 15,000-plus youth and adult participants. A second mobile lab is available in western Nebraska.
“The focus of the mobile lab is exposing youth to livestock and educating them about the complicated digestive system of ruminant animals,” said Nebraska Extension Assistant Racheal Slattery. “We also cover natural resources and plant science when discussing nutrition and dietary requirements of ruminants.”
The mobile labs travel to schools, fairs, festivals and other community events. Recently one of the labs made a stop at Yuckology Camp at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. This camp takes an exploratory, “yuck” approach to the body’s digestive system and participants learn how good and bad bacteria either keep people strong or weaken their bodies. While many might think the term “yuck” perfectly describes how they feel while sticking their hand into a steer, Nebraska Extension Educator Lindsay Chichester says there is no need to worry.
“Our teaching team is by your side the entire time,” she said. “Our steer is very mellow and does this a lot. There is nothing in there that can hurt you.”
For more information on the Husker Mobile Beef Lab, visit http://huskerbeeflab.unl.edu.