PEABODY — Last week, Derek Klingenberg, with the help of his cousin Ivan, a computer coder in California, connected eight schoolchildren with real, live cows waiting to be fed at his farm in Peabody. The students could get up close and personal, even though the children are 60 miles away in Sterling and as far as Nebraska, California and Germany.
The 8- through 12-year-olds saw the cows through their computer screens, and fed them by controlling a robot.
“I just do whatever’s fun. I want people to be interactive on my farm,” Klingenberg said. “I would rather everybody come out here on the farm, but that’s not going to work.”
Ever since he was a kid, Klingenberg played in the fields with his family’s cows. At an early age, he realized the cows liked music — especially his trombone. Then he went off to Kansas State University and marched with the band, along with majoring in agricultural economics. When he returned with his degree, he had no one to play for. So he was back out in the pastures on the family farm, which he is now a part owner of, playing pop tunes to hundreds of cows. Eventually, he put the videos on YouTube.
“I don’t have anybody to play to here, so I just play to the cows,” Klingenberg said. “They’re a good audience. They just stare at you.”
Klingenberg keeps having new ideas for videos — mostly they involve farming. His videos brought him to England and Germany, and onto the Discovery Channel. Every once in a while, he drives feed around in a truck, placing the feed into various shapes — like a heart. The cows then come and eat the feed, and from above, through the use of a drone, Klingenberg films the cows eating. They look like a fluttering heart.
“I call it cow art,” Klingenberg said.
Now, he wants to teach kids about the farm through his new game invention.
“Educating will be easy once you get their attention,” Klingenberg said. “It’s fun having them accidentally learn about farming.”
Jenny Burgess’ 12-year-old son lives on a grain farm in Sterling. He was a part of the virtual farm game. Burgess said while one kid said forward, the other said backward. They soon realized, although they were thousands of miles from each other, they had to work as a team.
“All of our kids were yelling at the screen,” Burgess said. “It was hilarious.”
Although Klingenberg has three daughters, ages 5, 9 and 11, none of them were involved in the game. He said they are not interested in computers yet; also, they know the cows pretty well. Kingenberger hopes to get his chickens involved soon. Then, he said, his daughters might join in the fun.
Marcuss Holtkotter, of Hohenholte, Germany, watched his two sons, aged 10 and 12, feed Derek’s cows. Holtkotter raises pigs, wheat, barley and corn.
“They loved to control the robot from Germany,” Holtkotter said. “It was a lot of fun. It was really cool that my boys fed the cattle in Kansas from Germany.”
A few days ago, Klingenberg tried a nighttime venture, which included lasers. Although it was successful, his robot ended up in a ditch and became covered in mud. Sometime before Christmas, Klingenberg will have another virtual show.
“This time baby calves are involved,” Klingenberg said. “I need a creative outlet. It will be fun.”
To check out Farmer Derek’s YouTube videos, go to https://tinyurl.com/shbcqss/. The virtual reality videos are on TwitchTV/farmerderek/.