The average age of farmers in Kentucky is about 57 years old, according the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Fewer and fewer farmers are passing on their enterprise to the second and third generations, and that could create a very real farmer shortage. Recently the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture hosted an event for Kentucky youth to build agricultural awareness and an interest in dairy. 

Nearly 70 participants came out to the UK Dairy Farm for Dare to Dairy, an interactive program that taught the basics of dairy nutrition, calving, cow comfort and mobility, milking and reproduction.

“We’re doing this to promote agriculture and to encourage kids to go into animal agriculture and veterinary science when they go to college,” said Elizabeth Chaney, UK College of Agriculture senior and UK Dairy Club president. “Dairy farmers have had a heck of a year; really the past five years have been hard. We hope kids who come to this will want to come to college here and learn about all the research and new technology and then take all that back home to the farm.” 

Chaney, an agricultural economics senior, grew up on a dairy farm near Bowling Green. The farm has been in the Chaney family since 1888 and the family operates Chaney’s Dairy Barn and Restaurant. Chaney said each year her family hosts upwards of 13,000 school children for farm tours where they educate students about the dairy business in a fun way.

Few have farm background

“Not everyone grows up on a farm,” Chaney said. “In fact most of the people in our Dairy Club don’t have a farm background.”

But she said many of them have had “a-ha” moments at college where they knew agriculture is the career they wanted. She and her fellow club members, along with UK animal and food sciences faculty and staff, were hoping to create some of those “a-ha” moments for participants of Dare to Dairy. “I’ve seen it happen,” Chaney said. “Sometimes when the kids see the milk come through the lines it’s like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.”

Larissa Tucker is a senior Extension associate for dairy youth programs at UK. She helped organize the interactive day. At the nutrition station, students got to see a how the rumen works. They learned about calves’ special needs and saw how the udder works. After a milking demonstration, the participants had a chance to put together everything they learned through a scavenger hunt — going back to each station to find answers to questions.

Tucker said she believed the event was good for the UK students as well as the 4-H and FFA students who attended from all over Kentucky.

“It gives our students an opportunity to show younger kids the things they’ve learned here at college they think are cool,” she said. “We tried to make it an event that shows the dairy industry is alive and well in Kentucky.”