The group of 21 kindergarten students R.V. Haderlein Elementary School followed Ruth Zimmerman toward her family’s barn Wednesday morning like chicks following a mother duck.

The group of 21 kindergarten students R.V. Haderlein Elementary School followed Ruth Zimmerman toward her family’s barn Wednesday morning like chicks following a mother duck.

In their hands were the small “baby” pumpkins they had picked earlier, and they forgot all about the corn maze from which they had just returned when they saw the three cows — Emma, Oreo and McDonald’s — that were staring at them from the other side of the steel fence.

“Do you know why we call her McDonald’s?” Zimmerman asked.

“’Cause there’s meat!” yelled a short, blonde-haired boy.

“That’s right,” Zimmerman said. She continued her brief lecture on beef, explaining that cows don’t speak English.

“Let’s speak Cow,” she told the children, prompting and enthusiastic chorus of “Mooooooo!”

Another youngster was already tired of the cows, who were being rude and just standing there.

“It’s chicken time!” he screamed.

On the other side of the Zimmerman’s Hickory Creek Farm, another group of Haderlein kindergarteners picked out pumpkins and toured the vast corn maze.

Going to the farm is a yearly tradition for many young students in the Pittsburg Area. For the kids from Girard, the trip to Hickory Creek is a yearly entitlement, said teacher Joni Benson.

“We study pumpkins as a theme unit,” she said. “We come here every year.”

At one time the Zimmermans were full-time farmers, Ruth said. But competition from large, corporate outfits forced them to get creative to stay afloat and on the family farm. They still raise farmstock, gather their own eggs when possible, and maintain a vegetable garden. But they decided to turn to the burgeoning area of agro-tourism, and open up their property to schools, churches and other organizations that want to get a taste of what traditional American farming was like.

So each year hundreds of visitors from the likes of McCune, Girard, Frontenac and Pittsburg schools, as well as church groups and even international students from Pittsburg State University visit the farm. The take hay rides, watch duck races, learn about the history of barns and play “farm golf,” a par-four course where players hit red rubber balls with tree branches into a five-gallon paint bucket buried in the ground (it’s very popular, Ruth said).

The farm opens to the public in August and stays open through Novemeber to accommodate the large demand, Zimmerman said.

And there are plenty of activities for the kids as well.

They can milk a pretend cow if they like, or swim in a bin of dried corn. they also can bounce on rubber horses or dig in a sandbox.

“They really like those games,” said 42-year Haderlein teacher Rose Mary Bliss. “But I’d say their favorite is the hay ride.”

Hickory Creek Farms isn’t the only game in town, though. Closer to Pittsburg is the farm owned by Laura and Rich Wood. The Woods raise cattle for a living, said Rich, but open up their land to make extra money. Rich estimated the farm, which is open from Oct. 1 through Oct. 31, had seen more than 3,600 kids this year and had sent home at least 40 tons of pumpkins.

At the farm last Friday, students from George Nettels Elementary got to pick pumpkins, bury themselves in corn, jump around inside inflatables and go on hay rides through the Wood’s “haunted” woods, which was festooned with spider webs, hanging bats and partially buried skeletons.

“There’s Elvis!” cried a brunette girl.

Unlike Haderlein students, the Nettels kids get to visit the farm as a reward for reaching their reading goals for the first nine weeks, said teacher and organizer Diane Jackson. The “corn crib,” Jackson said, is a kid favorite.

“Last year we came back and there were jackets and pant pockets just stuffed with corn,” Jackson said.