Although in the beginning it had no name, the program originated in 1991 with a nudge from livestock farmers who were concerned about the lack of statewide livestock learning opportunities for youth through Extension.
With support from Cornell’s Dept. of Animal Science, Dr. Tro Bui who was working with swine producers at the time enlisted the help of former 4-H educator Steve Dennis to host a day-long statewide program which focused on meat animal science.
Holy Cow! Exploring a cow's rumen with help from Dr. Debbie Cherney
The idea was to create a unique program exposing youth to the scientific method of inquiry, biological life processes and encourage them to consider an agricultural science-related career.
The most inspiring place to offer this one-day series of workshops involving research and hands-on labs was Cornell University and youth ages 9-12 years were the target audience.
In 1992, Dr. Bui worked with additional Extension educators to offer HorseFeathers – a one-day program focusing on horses and poultry. Participant feedback was very positive and requests for workshops on other species resulted in the name change to Animal Crackers. “This allowed the program to be flexible, rotating the species focus each year,” states Dr. Bui. Since, 1993, the focus on horse and livestock alternates yearly and there is a four-year program rotation of rabbits/cavies, dogs, poultry and goats. In 2008, a dairy cattle focus was introduced and will continue in alternating years, also.
Who is Involved?
Animal Crackers continues to be a collaborative effort in planning and implementation between campus faculty/staff and Extension educators. Dr. Bui explains the program’s success “…it was built from the grassroots level and still is. Community educators who see the needs of youth and families in their communities are involved in planning the workshop offerings.”
Workshop instructors are also a collaborative team with a mixture of 4-H teens, college Vet or animal science students, animal science faculty and Extension educators. It is their job to take the suggestions of the planning committee and create 20-minute workshops or hands-on experiences on species-centered topics like genetics, feed, health issues, manure management, and food issues including community relations. The list is endless.
What’s special about Animal Crackers?
One of the most unique things about this educational program is that it targets youth in their early years of working with animals. Older youth can participate and 25% of the participants are adults – parents/chaperones, but the program is geared toward younger youth.
This is a 4-H Ag Science event that embraces the goals of the 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) effort which involve improving science literacy and aptitude of America’s youth. Fostering a passion in science early-on will influence future career decisions. Agriculture career exploration is an integral part of Animal Crackers.
In 2010, Animal Crackers workshops focused on the skills that are necessary to produce healthy food products which are very important topics in today's world.
And surprise – participating in Animal Crackers still costs about the same in 2010 ($5) as it did in 1991 ($3). Where else can you get a deal like that?
Honoring the man with the vision Janet Pfromm and Dr. Tro Bui
After leading swine and poultry Extension efforts for 34 years, Dr. Bui retired in 2009 and was honored at last year’s Animal Crackers event.
For more information visit the Animal Crackers website or contact your local 4-H educator.