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Students learn about life on the farm

From left, Arlington farmer John Connolly
From left, Arlington farmer John Connolly's 4-month-old lamb is subjected to enthusiastic petting from Soundview School students Calvin, James, Sadie, Jordan and Shaiya on March 4.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Two years after Arlington farmer John Connolly served as the inspiration for the writing of third-grade students from the Soundview School of Lynnwood, Connolly hosted another group from Soundview, this time made up of kindergarten, junior kindergarten and preschool students, as they learned about life in the country.

Connolly's "On the Lamb Farm," just east of Arlington, managed to be lively in spite of the dreary weather on Tuesday, March 4, as kids from the city and suburbs adjusted to the terrain and smells of a rural homestead, whose operations Connolly was only too happy to explain.

"The sheep aren't able to help themselves, so that's why I have three Maremma Sheepdogs, to help herd them and chase off coyotes," Connolly said, before eliciting expressions of awe from the children, and even a few of the adults, when he introduced them to the enormous snowy white dogs. "They weigh at least 100 pounds each, and they're hard to breed."

Of Connolly's herd of 50 lambs, three were being bottle-fed at a friend's farm.

"I really like guiding the dogs through herding exercises, but my wife is much better at this than me," Connolly said. "In the 11 years that we've been farming on this site, this is only the second time I've been able to host a group of students out here."

Before Connolly took the school group into the barn to watch the sheep being fed, he took them on a brief tour through the pens for his ducks and chickens.

"We've got 41 ducks, most of them Runner Cross, which you can tell by the necks," Connolly said, as the fenced-off ducks scattered at the approach of the children. "I got most of these just this past Sunday, so you can tell they eat these fields down fast," he added, indicating their now largely grass-free enclosure.

Connolly's dozen chickens likewise filed into their coop not long after the kids had loudly tromped through the mud to observe them.

"These chickens are old, so they don't lay as many eggs," Connolly said, perhaps accounting for why the chickens were slower to flee from the noisy students than the ducks had been. "We should be getting some new chicks, and some more room for them, soon. We have to be careful, though, because if it's too open, the hawks will take them."

Another sight that drew equal admiration from all ages of visitors that day was Connolly's trio of peacocks — technically, two peacocks and one peahen — whose coloration, or lack thereof, defied everyone's expectations.

"They're often called albino peacocks, but they're not really albino," Connolly said. "Their feathers are just white enough that, when they spread their tail feathers, it looks like a wedding dress."

Although plenty of the visiting kids were happy enough to get their boots covered in muck, many of them still pinched their noses when Connolly escorted them into the barn to mingle with the sheep. After being greeted with an overwhelming chorus of bleating from the sheep, Connolly hefted hay bales into their feeding racks, and even brought out a little lamb who elicited laughter and smiles from the children.

"This one is just four weeks old," Connolly told the attentive kids. "They're born, and then they're on their feet in about 15 minutes."

Regardless of their classes' grade levels, all the teachers in attendance agreed that their students took some valuable lessons from their visit to Connolly's farm.

"We started this school year by studying the differences between urban and rural areas, and by the end of the year, we'll have covered the life cycles of animals," said Kirsten Johns, a kindergarten teacher at Soundview. "This gives them a great grounding for both subjects."

"My group is focusing on jobs and occupations," said Nani Christensen, a junior kindergarten teacher at Soundview. "We're getting firsthand experience in that by seeing what a big job it is to raise and feed these animals. The kids may have held their noses in the barn, but they loved it when John let them feed his cows at the trough."

"A lot of them are city kids, all right," laughed Kari Jo Rohr, a preschool teacher at Soundview. "But we want them to take in the sights and sounds and smells, of the hay and the cows and the sheep. We've been telling them how farms are like houses for animals, but the whole sensory experience makes it all come to life for them. It's just phenomenal."

"I leave it to the teachers what they want these kids to get out of this experience," said Connolly, whose son Eli was among the third-grade Soundview students who visited his farm two years ago. "I just want them to know that there are still people out there who live like this."

For more information on the "On the Lamb Farm," log onto its website at www.onthelambfarm.com.

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