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Unbridled fun

Taya Koljonen, Alex Welte, Easton Kyte and Daevin Schultz said ‘hello’ to Merle the miniature donkey during a field trip to the Lubitz family farm last Friday. The students learned that Merle and the other donkeys on the farm have a special job: to protect the cows and calves from wolves and other predators while in the pasture. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS1 / 3
Taya Koljonen gave Bud-dy, a Shetland pony, a scratch on the nose when they met during Friday’s kindergarten field trip to the Lubitz family farm. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS2 / 3
Emily Crabb’s kindergar-ten class watched the fluffy, yellow week-old chicks as Janice and Jack explained how they will soon grow new, white, adult feathers. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS3 / 3

It’s been 20 years since Janice and Jack Lubitz first agreed to show a class of children around their rural Perham dairy farm.

“One of the junior kindergarten teachers asked if a small class could come out to see animals,” Janice said in an interview last week. “That’s how it all started.”

That first year, about 15 kids visited the farm. This year, during Field Trip Day last Friday, almost 100 children from five kindergarten classes and a daycare got to meet the Lubitz’s menagerie of farm critters, along with their teachers, aides and parent volunteers.

“We just love to see their reaction,” Janice said. “Most kids may never see a farm animal unless it’s in a field while driving down the road. This is our way of letting them touch and see the animals close up.”

When the field trips first began, she said, there were usually a few kids who had previously visited or lived on a farm, but not many.

 Then, there was a lull where none of the children had seen a farm at all.

The first few years, Jack and Janice pretty much handled the tour on their own. But as the number of participants began to grow, they realized they could use some help and extra animals.

That’s when daughter Jessica (now Dupuis), niece Andrea Ruther, and godchild Kelly Jo Lubitz started helping wrangle critters and children alike.

Extra animals were borrowed from neighbors and family members in order to give the students a more varied experience, Janice said. They all know to keep an eye open for animals that can be safely introduced and handled by children.

Everything from baby turtles and a llama to colts, ducklings, chinchillas and pygmy goats have been around one year or another. Of course, the “normal” barnyard animals such as dairy cows, chicks, cats, sheep and donkeys are always on hand.

In addition to meeting the animals on Friday, the children also learned that some animals on the farm have special jobs.

Merle, Shadow, Yukon and Independence are some of the miniature donkeys living on the Lubitz farm this year. Janice told the students that these donkeys are very protective of their friends, the cows and calves. When they are all turned out into the pasture, the donkeys will protect the cattle from threats such as wolves, wild dogs and even people they do not recognize.

After petting the donkeys, students got to go into the barn to see where the cows are milked.

“The best part of our trip to the farm was when the farmers squirted milk from the cow,” one of Faith Wokasch’s kindergarteners said after returning to the classroom.

Students also saw the bulk tank – a big refrigerated tank that holds and cools the milk until it is taken to Bongard’s Creamery in Perham to be made into cheese or butter.

Students got to enjoy an ice cream treat before going back to their classrooms, and they got to take some stickers, pencils, cheese sticks and other goodies with them.

“We teachers feel very thankful for the Lubitz family for allowing us to continue bringing our kindergarten kids out there year after year for such a great farm experience,” said Wokasch.

“We do it rain or shine,” Janice said. “We’ve had a broken arm and a bus went in the ditch, but other than that, it’s been good.”

This year, it was raining, so several of the animals were brought inside the house or garage to be introduced to the children. Plastic bags and rubber bands were on hand in case shoes needed to be covered.

“We couldn’t do it without the help from Bongard’s Creamery, Perham Creamery, Dairy Queen, Subway, Central Minnesota Credit Union and the Midwest Dairy Association,” Janice said of the support from local businesses. “If it wouldn’t be for them, the kids wouldn’t have all the stuff to take home and enjoy.”

The Lubitzes have no plans to stop hosting the trips any time soon.

“We love to do it for the kids,” Janice said.