Mobile Beef Lab Takes Hands-On Learning to a New Level

June 18, 2015

Lincoln, Neb. — Youth across Nebraska are telling their friends about the time they put their arm into a living cow. This is just one of the fun and educational activities available in the Nebraska Extension Husker Mobile Beef Lab.

The Husker Mobile Beef Lab is a mobile experience aimed at teaching youth about microbiology, ruminant nutrition, food production, forage resources management, anatomy and physiology, and more. The mobile lab also provides the opportunity to discuss animal husbandry and welfare in the beef industry and clear up any confusion. The highlight for many is learning about the science of the rumen animal digestive system and the four compartments of the cow’s stomach. Youth are able to take what they’ve learned and actually feel it by putting their arm into a fistulated steer.

The fistula goes into the rumen of the steer which is the largest compartment of their stomach. Traditionally, it is used to monitor feed and diets, ultimately making livestock rations more efficient. A common question educators receive is if the fistula inserted in the steers hurt them. The answer is no. The steer does not know it’s in there and he lives a completely normal life. There are no nerve endings in their stomach so the steer is not able to feel when someone sticks their hand into their rumen.

Nebraska Extension first introduced the traveling exhibit in eastern Nebraska in September 2011 and since then has traveled to over 70 locations with over 15,000 youth and adult participants. A second mobile lab is available in western Nebraska.

“The focus of the mobile lab is exposing youth to livestock and educating them about the complicated digestive system of ruminant animals,” says Nebraska Extension Assistant Racheal Slattery. “We also cover natural resources and plant science when discussing nutrition and dietary requirements of ruminants.”

The mobile labs travel to schools, fairs, festivals and other community events. Recently one of the labs made a stop at Yuckology Camp at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. This camp takes an exploratory, “yuck” approach to the body’s digestive system and participants learn how good and bad bacteria keep us strong or weaken our bodies. While many may think the term yuck perfectly describes how they feel while sticking their hand into a steer, Nebraska Extension Educator Lindsay Chichester says there is no need to worry. 

“Our teaching team is by your side the entire time, our steer is very mellow and does this a lot,” she said. “There is nothing in there that can hurt you.”

For more information on the Mobile Beef Lab visit huskerbeeflab.unl.edu.