Summer is sneaking up, and it’s time to plan what your kids will do when school lets out. Let me tell you about a fun farm camp that enchanted boys and girls last year.
On the first day of the Miles Smith Farm 2022 summer day camp, 19 kids aged 8 to 14 descended on the farm. Most of them didn’t know a lead rope from a clothesline. My job was to teach these young want-a-be-wranglers how to handle reluctant 150-pound calves who wanted only to return to their moms.
Camper training started with demonstrating how to sit on the lead rope. I showed the campers how to bend at the knees, hold the lead line with their left hand, and put the lead under their butts with the other end in their right hand and sit on it. When done correctly, rope-sitting gives humans a superpower. I know. I’ve used it to control 800-pound cows.
I warned the campers never to wrap the rope around a hand. The line can snag on a wrist if the calf runs off and drag the holder. I also told the kids if the calf insists on running off, just let it go.
Each team of two campers was assigned a calf to train for Friday’s cattle show. The campers spent four days washing, walking, and cuddling with their calves to prepare for the show. The calves were not always obedient; Buttercup kept running to her mother, who was watching from a nearby field. But Buttercup’s team, Irish and Max, were fine and, with help from a counselor, would retrieve Buttercup.
At least two counselors were on duty during calf training to keep everyone safe, but the camp wasn’t about just calves. The kids rode horses Snap and Moose and Curious Bleu, our 11-year-old Scottish Highland riding steer. Campers also learned how to feed the goats, the donkey, sheep, pigs, rabbits, and chickens and played in the sprinklers at the end of each day.
Each team led and herded its calf around the temporary show ring on the last day. When the judge (me) asked them, the campers told the audience of parents and friends about their calves. The calves were calm, and the campers acted like they’d been showing calves their whole lives.
The most challenging part of camp for me was the judging, so this year, we found a volunteer to judge while parents, family, and friends watch the show.
Last year Connor and Miles washed their dirty calf named Sophie to a brilliant white. Max and Irish kept Buttercup on course. Freddie, the youngest and most rebellious of the calves, tried to bounce around the ring, but team Elysium and Rowan kept him under control. I’d asked them if they wanted to switch Freddie for a steadier calf. But Rowan said, “No. We don’t want to give up on Freddie.”Rose and Molly had Butterscotch, the biggest and most reluctant calf, but they prevailed. Poppy felt ill that day, but team members Lyle and Lochlan got back-up calf Harmony bathed and ready to take her into the ring. Each camper could have won a ribbon at any county 4H fair. I felt like a proud mother watching her children shine.
Our camp is a function of Learning Networks Foundation, which is the nonprofit aspect of Miles Smith Farm. And there’s plenty of learning at both ends of the lead rope.
This year we’ve scheduled four weeks of camp from July 10 to Aug. 4, 2023. The day camp is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday. Once again, this year, campers will be assigned calves to train and will have play time, like dashing through the sprinklers on a hot day or playing hide-and-seek in the hay. We have lots of activities planned, but the most fun comes from the animals. A livestock farm has a way of providing a variety of challenges and fun.
Don’t let your child or a child you know miss out. Registration is open, but space will fill quickly, and scholarships are available for those needing them. Enroll at: https://www.learningnetworksfoundation.com/cuddle-a-cow/summer-camp/