It’s a girl! Alabama elementary school students adopt a calf

Published 6:01 am Sunday, October 31, 2021

Every year, John S. Jones Elementary School in Rainbow City celebrates Milk Day, a school day where students are taught about the importance of milk and its nutritional value.

This year, lunchroom Manager Apache Smothers decided to make this Milk Day the biggest one yet by adopting a baby calf from a program called Discover Dairy.

“I saw the process online and went in and filled out the application and paid the fee,” said Smothers. “About two months later, they sent me some information saying that they found a farm and we got to meet the farmers. Later, we found out the cow was born.”

“(Smothers) is our new lunchroom manager and she goes all out with everything that she does,” said school Principal Tanya Clark. “We got the kids excited about it on Milk Day, where we teach them about milk facts and do fun things.”

The Holstein calf, a female named Autumn, was born Sept. 20 at Blue Ribbon Dairy in Tallassee. She was born at 70 pounds and standing 32 inches tall. To announce Autumn’s arrival to the school, Smothers and Clark organized a gender reveal for the baby calf.

“We’ve had students decide if they want to be Team Pink or Team Blue and they’ve signed a banner in the lunchroom for each one,” Clark said. “We have pictures of the cow with us, and she’s beautiful.”

Students also were decked out in pink and blue on Oct. 20 to show support for their chosen team. The winning pink banner was used in the reveal by unrolling it from a fire truck ladder courtesy of the Rainbow City Fire Department. Lunchroom workers and other teachers got in on the fun by shooting off pink confetti cannons and releasing pink helium balloons.

John S. Jones students also have been using the time up to the gender reveal, learning vocabulary terms about cows and gender reveals themselves, alongside the nutritional value of milk and what benefits adding milk to their diets can do.

“We want them to learn about making good choices through what they eat,” said Clark. “We also get to teach them a lot more about cows and milk. And, some of them might never know what someone is talking about when they say gender reveal, so they get to learn all about that as well.”

Smothers added, “We use about 4,800 ounces of milk a day, so it takes a little cow a lot of time to get that milk. So, since we drink so much of it, I figured it would be cool to show them where it comes from.”

Through Discover Dairy, the actual adoption of the cow is free. However, Smothers said the school paid a $35 fee for students to receive journal updates about Autumn’s growth and development, which they can document on their own for the next seven months.

While most of the students’ interactions with Autumn moving forward will be completely virtual through the journal and additional videos and photos, Clark said the third-grade classes were considering writing letters to the dairy farmer, Michaela Wilson and the calf.

“They’ll send us updates and things about how she’s doing and how she is growing throughout the year,” Clark said.

“They will give us all the information online,” Smothers added. “They’ll get to see the whole process of where our milk comes from. They’ll also be able to do activities in class sent by the program along the way.”

Though the main educational goal for the program is to learn more about nutrition, both Smothers and Clark expressed hope this would allow students to learn more about animal care and maybe inspire them to look into potential career fields as well.

“I think there’s only 49 dairy farms in the state of Alabama,” said Smothers, “Dairy farms are very slim in the state, we don’t have very many at all. So, we’re just trying to get that information out there about how important our milk cows are.”

“It’s also about providing them with life skills and experiences by doing gender reveals and learning about cows,” Clark added. “With there being a shortage of dairy farms in Alabama, you never know, someone might go, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ We just want to plant seeds in them that may lead them toward that career path.”

Schools and families can sign up to receive email alerts for when registration for Discover Dairy 2022 becomes available at