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Ag in the classroom

Tractors big and small were on hand for this year's Ag in the Classroom event, held Monday and Tuesday at Minnesota State Community & Technical College in Detroit Lakes.1 / 5
Tractors big and small were on hand for this year's Ag in the Classroom event, held Monday and Tuesday at Minnesota State Community & Technical College in Detroit Lakes.2 / 5
Jeff Kratchowill, who lost his left arm in a farm accident, gave a presentation on safety.3 / 5
HANDS-On learning opportunities offered during Monday's Ag in the Classroom sessions included a chance to pet live farm animals, from goats4 / 5
four-week old baby calf5 / 5

How fast can a person get caught up in the machinery of a piece of farm equipment?

"Faster than you can blink your eyes," said Jeff Kratochwill, speaking to a group of Detroit Lakes students during an Ag in the Classroom presentation Monday morning.

The longtime Brainerd- area farmer speaks from experience. Kratochwill lost an arm in a close encounter with a round baler almost 30 years ago.

"It was Aug 17, 1981, at 3:15 p.m.," he said after the DL students left to make room for the next mini-session.

Kratochwill, who currently works for Farm Bureau Financial Services as a senior field service underwriter, was one of several speakers at this year's Ag in the Classroom event.

Though he had to travel all the way from his Brainerd-area home for the event, Kratochwill was more than willing to do so.

"If we can save one child from getting severely hurt, this is worth every ounce of effort," he said.

Kratochwill's session on Monday also included a demonstration in which students were asked to participate in a simulated rescue of someone buried in a grain bin.

Two large plastic barrels, each filled with about 75 pounds of grain, were set up with large pieces of rope sticking out of them. The students were then called up in groups of three and asked to pull out the "person" attached to the other end of the rope -- under the mini-mountain of grain.

"Help! You've got to save me -- I'm sinking!" Kratochwill called as the students each pulled their hardest, yet couldn't budge the rope.

The reason for this, he told them after each group had taken their turn, is because a person would need to have 10 times the amount of weight, or lift, on the pulling end of the rope in order to make an impact.

In other words, to budge an object buried under 75 pounds of grain, you would need 750 pounds of lift to get them out.

The point of the demonstration, Kratochwill said, was to show the students that if someone falls into a grain bin, the last thing you should do is try to pull them out yourself -- because you will most likely end up right there next to them, in the same predicament.

"Over the last few years, two people in Becker County were killed in grain bin accidents," he said, noting that there had been another casualty from a grain bin accident in northwestern Minnesota, in just the past six months.

In another area of the M-State conference center, grain farmer Jerry Matter was demonstrating to a second group of students how easily a person's limbs can get pulled into a piece of power equipment, using a carrot and a small engine set up on a table.

Each time he started the machine, the carrot would end up chopped in pieces -- simulating what could happen to an arm, a leg, or even a whole body if it gets caught in the pinch point of the machinery.

"Don't ever touch anything unless it (the machinery) is off," Matter said, adding that he always takes the added precaution of unplugging the machinery when it's attached to an electrical outlet.

"When we work on motors, for double protection, we always pull the cord," he said.

Even if the switch is off, a person could accidentally bump that switch and start the machinery up again, Matter explained.

"Anytime you're around power equipment, you can get hurt," Kratochwill agreed. "Electricity is not particular about who it hurts."

Meanwhile, in another room, a group of retired and active dairy farmers talked to a student group about how much milk a single dairy cow produces in a year's time.

The answer? About 2,000 gallons. That means each cow produces about eight to 10 gallons of milk per day, 365 days a year, said presenter Kathy Jacobson.

To make all that milk, the cows each eat about 90 pounds of feed per day, and drink the equivalent of a bathtub full of water, she added.

"Cows eat a well balanced diet, just like people should," Jacobson said -- but unlike people, they prefer to eat the same thing every day.

Most dairy farmers prefer to grow their own grain to feed the cows, Jacobson continued. (And because cow manure makes an excellent fertilizer, they have a ready supply of that available to keep the grain healthy also.)

Unlike most people, dairy farmers have a year-round job that doesn't allow for vacations, said presenter Al Foltz.

The reason, Jacobson added, is that cows need to be milked twice a day, every day in order to remain healthy.

A cow's udder, which is where the milk is produced, has a very limited capacity, Foltz explained. If it gets too full, the cow becomes uncomfortable, and can even get sick, he added.

In another room, presenters Kevin and Denise Olson of Big Rok Angus in rural Detroit Lakes were talking about the differences between beef and dairy cattle.

Unlike dairy cows, beef cattle don't need to be milked twice a day, Kevin Olson said.

"We let the calves do the milking (by feeding from their mothers)," Denise added.

But beef farmers are also kept busy 12 months a year, Kevin continued.

"Our jobs change just about every month," he added.

In the winter months, for instance, the cattle need to be fed by hand because they're not able to graze outdoors.

In the summer, while the cows are out to pasture, the farmer is kept busy cleaning out the barns, mending fences and so forth.

In the fall, the calves and heifers are branded with both ear tags and tattoos, for identification purposes.

Other mini-sessions on Monday's Ag in the Classroom schedule included presentations on sheep and sugar beets, while Tuesday's mini-sessions focused on grains, pigs, maple syrup, potatoes and soils.

Monday's sessions also included a chance for the students to interact with live farm animals -- a baby calf, just a few weeks old; two lambs, two goats, a pony and a donkey were all on hand for the occasion.

There were also displays of both miniature and full-size farm machinery on Tuesday, with the students having a chance to get up into the cabs of the larger machinery to see how they operate.

Held on Monday and Tuesday, March 14-15 at Minnesota State Community & Technical College, the event included students from White Earth and Lake Park-Audubon as well as from Rossman, Roosevelt, Holy Rosary and Faith Christian schools in Detroit Lakes. (Frazee-Vergas will host its own Ag in the Classroom event next week.)

The annual event is organized by volunteers from the Becker County Farm Bureau, Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce Agri-Business Committee and Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District. For more information, contact event organizers Lowell and Mary Ann Jorgenson at 218-375-4611.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454