Shelley - On a foggy, April morning on the Kelly-Eldredge Farm in the outskirts of Shelley, you can feel the excitement in the air. You also hear a lot of chatter and a lot of mooing. Conditions are just about perfect for what will happen today.
“This is a beautiful day to have a good day, other than the mud,” said Karen Eldredge, co-owner of the farm.
Eldredge and her brother Craig Kelly help run the farm for their father Gerald. The families live next to each other on the stretch of road where the farm butts up to the foothills east of Shelley. The operation is called Gerald Kelly O and O Livestock. They raise cattle to go to slaughter. This herd will become our food.
“We think we live in rural Idaho,” Eldredge said, “my neighbors around us, they don’t know, they don’t know what we do. They have no idea… how their meat gets to the table.”
On this fresh morning, the calves will receive vaccine boosters and the family’s brand. However, it’s not the family doing the work. It will be 80 students from Shelley High School. They’ve taken agriculture-related classes or are in the FFA to have the chance to have this experience.
“A lot of them just like to get out of school, but they like the hands-on,” said Cody Howells, one of the instructors.
The FFA technically stands for Future Farmers of America, but the organization is much more than that. It teaches students leadership skills and helps them experience “personal growth and career success through agricultural education,” according to the FFA website. Eldredge agrees.
“They learn to speak, they learn to talk. It’s not cows and plows like it used to be,” she said.
This hands-on experience, however, is about the farm life or the “cows and plows.” The teachers divide the students into responsibilities – vaccines, brands, corralling calves, holding calves down - and give them instructions.
These students are not the first group to do this. In fact, this is the 45th year the family farm has hosted students from Shelley High School.
An agriculture teacher named Zebby Miller started the tradition when he asked Gerald Kelly if he could have his students help in the spring. It was a hit and the kids have kept coming, year after year.
As the students begin, you can see the inexperience, but their trepidation turns into confidence as they pull, prod, sometimes carry, the calves into the pen to give them their vaccinations and brands. The students seem to be enjoying themselves and realize what a great opportunity this is for them.
“I think it’s cool,” said Carlie Remington who was helping with vaccines. Her grandfather also owns a farm and she thinks she may start helping him with his herd.
“It’s pretty fun, it’s an adrenaline rush!” said Madalyn Martin who was helping brand the calves.
The group of 80 students is quite the mix of boys and girls, country and city kids. This is the culmination of a steady change over the years from mostly boys to this more equal of a mix.
“It’s pretty fun, you just got to watch out or you might get kicked,” said Caden Walker, one of the students corralling the calves.
Sometimes students will ask Eldredge if the process hurts the calves – you do hear them moo a little louder and squirm as the students hold them down. She tells them the vaccinations are “not hurting them, it’s helping them.” The calves also get right back up and are soon reunited with their mothers as if nothing happened.
This experience will likely stick with these students.
“Some will never do it again, it’s good for them to experience it,” Howells said. He remembers going to the farm when he was a student.
Once the students finish for the day, the family treats them to a hamburger lunch. A lunch they definitely earned.