|Visit Alabama’s MOOseum|
|Visit Alabama’s MOOseum|
To Learn About Cattle
and Their History
by Alvin Benn
It’ll never rival Walt Disney World, but Alabama’s MOOseum has its own loyal fans who learn at the same time they’re having fun.
Located near the state Capitol and just across the street from the state Department of Archives and History, the facility is a special treat for schoolchildren as well as kids of all ages.
Unlike staid, dusty museums where visitors are told to keep their distance from exhibits, the MOOseum—built by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association—was created as a hands-on learning experience.
Cattle in Alabama represent a $2-billion-a-year industry. For many in the state, however, it means little to them except when they stop to buy a hamburger or watch cows graze as they drive by pastures.
Debbie Vandiver, the MOOseum’s consumer information director, describes it as a "unique, interactive educational museum based on a 4th grade reading level" where visitors of all ages can learn more about cattle and their history.
According to Vandiver, the thousands who visit the MOOseum each year have a chance to "explore the past, discover the present and imagine the future of the agriculture and beef cattle industry in Alabama."
Children in the 4th grade don’t have long attention spans and that’s why they are kept laughing while they learn as they tour the MOOseum, which has a bit of everything for them.
Visitors are greeted shortly after they arrive by "Adam Bainbridge," an animated cattleman with facial features that have them watching in awe.
A camera behind a wall where "Adam" is located beams the animation into the hollow part of "his" head—producing a performance similar to those at major amusement parks in the country.
Using the voice of Montgomery’s popular country music disc jockey Don Day, "Adam" explains to the children what they can expect to see and do inside the MOOseum.
He also rattles off information about the cattle industry. In a way, it’s a commercial for the sponsoring cattlemen’s group, but the children don’t seem to mind because they are transfixed on his moving mouth and eyes.
Students have an opportunity to trace the steps of Spanish, French and English explorers as well as settlers who brought cattle to Alabama in the early 19th century. The Spanish brought the first batch to the West Indies in 1494—two years after Columbus discovered America.
Cattlemen in present-day Alabama are much more than cowpokes who ride the range to check on their herds. Children learn that they must also be businessmen familiar with advertising techniques as well as cattlemen.
Today’s cattle industry in Alabama and around the country mirrors industries from stocks to stores. They all have computers, satellites and other electronic gadgets. Cattlemen have something else, too—genetic research.
A group of Montgomery special needs students who visited the MOOseum not long ago tried to touch and experience everything they could in the brief time they had.
Their teacher, Colleen Rutland, wore a smile as big as theirs as she watched them move from one exhibit to another. She knew that what they learned in a few minutes would remain with them for a long time.
"This is a wonderful place for our students to visit," she said. "There is just so much for them to see and learn. I know they appreciate their visit."
That’s music to the ears of Vandiver and Lewis Wilson, who spends part of his time at the MOOseum taking students on tours.
Among details that grab the attention of children is the wide use of beef products in everyday America. Boys and girls learn that Jell-O, one of their favorite sweet treats, is made from gelatin that comes from beef tallow. It also is used to fluff up ice cream and marshmallows.
Some cake mixes and pasta are made with plasma protein from cows and pet foods are made tastier if they have beef bones and meat scraps in them.
Then, there are leather products—everything from shoes to boots and belts. Even furniture often is made from cowhide that is used for baseballs and gloves that catch them.
There is no admission charge to visit the $2 million facility and that’s good news for school administrators worried about the cost of field trips. Students from schools across the state are among the estimated 10,000 visitors each year.
Now into its second decade, the MOOseum—which opened in 1995—has a firm hoof-hold on the public’s awareness and staff members are kept busy arranging tours and answering questions for children and adult groups.
The bottom line remains cattle, of course, with Vandiver and Wilson always ready to answer questions about the third most important agricultural entity in Alabama.
Figures from the Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service showed a decrease in the number of cattle and calves on state farms. The total was 1.3 million head, down 40,000 from the previous year.
It’s the lowest figure since 1950 and beef producers say another 500,000 head can be supported in the state. Alabama ranked 9th nationally in the number of farms with beef cows during 2003.
Despite criticism by some animal rights groups, the demand for beef remains high. Beef consumption has risen 25 percent since 1999, resulting in strong feeder calf prices for producers.
Popular beef products, which can be prepared in microwave ovens within a few minutes, have met with approval from the American public from coast to coast.
There are 29 cuts of lean beef with a total fat content that falls between skinless chicken breast and thighs when comparing cooked 3-ounce servings.
The inventory value of all cattle in Alabama increased $36 million last year, reflecting higher cattle prices. The value per head was a record $630—a 10 percent increase over 2004.
Statewide, Cullman continues to be Alabama’s top cattle county with 68,000 head. DeKalb County is second with 64,000 head, followed by Montgomery County with 50,000, Marshall County with 43,000 and Lowndes with 37,000. Bibb County is the smallest with 3,700 head.
Nationally, Texas is the leading cattle producer with more than 13 million head. Alabama is at the halfway mark, just below Wyoming and ahead of Ohio.
Alabama doesn’t take a backseat to any state when it comes to purebred producers. All of the major breeds are represented including Angus, Charolais and Simmental.
One of the newest additions to the MOOseum is "Dusty," a Texas Longhorn who is on loan, thanks to the generosity of Ned Ellis, owner of Circle E Farms in Fort Deposit.
"Dusty" doesn’t move or do much more than stare at visitors, but he’s become one of the most popular attractions at the facility. Ellis loved him and didn’t want to part with him, so he had him stuffed after his demise.
"Dusty’s" horns measure six feet from tip to tip and children love to have their picture taken with him.
Now that winter is waning, the Cattlemen’s Association is preparing for the 49th annual Southeastern Livestock Exposition and Rodeo at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery.
The popular event begins on Saturday, March 4 with the Adams Memorial Horse Show. The remainder of the week is devoted to events ranging from Ultrasound steer evaluations to the Sheep/Goat Scholars Bowl.
The rodeo features top riders and ropers from throughout the country. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on March 9, 10 and 11th. Two other performances will be held on March 11 at noon and 4 p.m.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.