By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Milkweed seed, cattails, gnarled pieces of wood, dragonflies, stones and hedge apples.

Little escaped notice of the Hays fourth-grade students taking the nature walk at Kids Ag Day.

This is the 13th year the Ellis County Farm Bureau Association has hosted the event at the Harold Kraus farm.

It brings kids to the farm to learn about agriculture -- crops such as corn, wheat, sunflowers and soybeans, cattle, soil and farm equipment, said Mike Eckroat, Ellis County Farm Bureau president.

"We have a little bit of everything," he said.

"They do a really nice job," Annette Barber, fourth-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School, said of Farm Bureau.

This is the third year she's brought students to the ag day.

The outing "helps meet the standards in science and social studies," said Tammy Lichter, fourth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School.

The nature walk, led by James Leiker, was a favorite for Kalee Dreher and many of the 300 other students attending.

It was the fourth year Leiker, Hays USD 489 Board of Education president, has led the nature walk.

"They know me as the guy who used to work at Sternberg," he said of his prior job as the museum's education director.

Ag day is a way for students to interact with nature, and the walk is based on what they're learning in the classroom, he said.

Each student carried a Ziploc bag so they could pick up items of interest as they walked first down the drive, then along the pond dam.

Smooth rocks went into Grace Demel's bag. Others looked for leaves, stalks and grass around the pond to fill their bags.

Their excitement built as they showed off their finds to one another and pointed out items to the teachers who accompanied them.

Jarrett Pfannenstiel, Hays High School FFA member, talked about leaves and showed the students how to "fold" a broadleaf to make a whistle.

Soon, students were crowding around Pfannenstiel making noise with their own whistles.

Other programs included water jeopardy and a rain simulator where Jennifer McGonegal taught students about water run-off and soil erosion.

It gave McGonegal, an agriculture education teacher at Fort Hays State University, a chance to interact with students and hone her teaching skills.

McGonegal and Emily Miller, a Hays High FFA member, showed the difference in water retention in small plots of stubble, dirt and grass.

"Water can't get through soil that's compacted," McGonegal said of soil with no cover.

Students also learn about safety in agriculture, including using pesticides and chemicals safely.

"We have to preserve what we have to pass it on," Eckroat said of farms.