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Caroline and John Spangler doing math Holly Spangler
BEEFING UP: Our kids studied pedigrees and bulls and who was out of who, all to prepare for the sales talk at junior nationals, where they take their heifer and her pedigree and try to sell her to a couple of adults.

Summer enrichment, farm-style

What do summer learning programs look like in rural America? You may be surprised. Or maybe not.

We tooled down the road as I flipped papers and asked questions, young Nathan logging his driver’s ed hours as I quizzed: “If an 1,100-pound steer has a dressing percentage of 62%, what is the carcass weight?”

Math. Kids worked it out in their heads and grabbed scratch paper.

“682 pounds!”

“Yes! About what percentage of U.S.-produced beef is consumed domestically?”

“Uh, half?”

“Nope, try 95%. If bulls carry XY sex chromosomes, and females carry XX sex chromosomes, what will be the sex of a resulting calf produced by sperm cells carrying the Y chromosome?”

“You’ll get a bull.” Science, man.

We spent the first half of our summer working through questions like these, usually while on the road to somewhere else or sitting around the kitchen counter. Talking through answers. Explaining what we knew. Googling what we didn’t. Teaching and learning and memorizing, all to prepare for this summer’s Simmental junior national, where kids had to participate in contests such as a 35-question cattle producers’ quiz, a genetics quiz, livestock judging and more, just to show their heifers.

I hear of summer enrichment programs to help keep kids engaged and learning. The internet has a million of them — schools and camps and more, with the “goal of providing fun, relevant and mindful learning activities for our students.” Occasionally, I’ve wondered if we should do more of that. But then I remember that between building fence, raising animals, Facetiming with friends for livestock judging practice and writing (hopefully winning) 4-H award essays, ain’t nobody on the farm got time for “enrichment” programs. 

So, back to quizzing.

“You are using your heterozygous black herd sire on a group of 38 females. Six of these females are homozygous black, 20 are heterozygous black, and 12 are homozygous red. Assuming 100% conception and calf survival rates, how many black calves should you expect to have?”

If you answered 27, consider yourself enriched!

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