UCDavis Picnic day- where the sun shines- A blog by Suzanne Milner

21st April 2018- blog, photos and video by Suzanne Milner


The flyer for the first Picnic Day 1909

Picnic day is the annual open house for the University of California, Davis and is the biggest student led event in America. First held in 1909, a year after the university was established, picnic day started with the university inviting the community to view their new barn and meet Molly the cow. For publicity, Molly walked from Davis (then known as Davisville) to Berkley; a journey that took 97 hours. More than 2,200 people attended the event which involved an hour and a half of scheduled events before visitors were invited to picnic at the Dairy Barn.

Steadily growing for more than a century, Picnic Day has become the star event of the calendar, showcasing the rich diversity and achievements of UCD and the surrounding community. Celebrating the 104th year of the event this year, there were 200 events and an expected 75,000+ visitors. This is a seriously big annual event- the schedule of events alone was 24 pages long! With animal events; exhibitions; live performances; a student organized fair and a children’s discovery fair, picnic day has everything one could hope for. Indeed there was so much on offer I just didn’t have time to visit everything I hoped to.

There were 44 animal events, 23 children’s fair activities and exhibits, 27 live performances, 122 exhibits from across the university, in addition to numerous fundraising tables and food booths. Too many to cover in detail you’ll agree, here I will mention some of my personal highlights. In line with the very first Picnic Day, many of the attractions revolved around animal husbandry. After all, as Thomas Femula, co-director and Animal Science Professor Emeritus, said in the opening ceremony “How can you consider yourself an Aggie if you can’t flip a sheep, birth a cow or clean the hoof of a horse?”. My first animal highlight was Chick Hatching and Handling where guests could hold the young birds and watch in an incubators as eggs were hatching. My next highlight was Guess the Weight of the Pig– an attraction that at face value seems absurd to mention but it was a lot more than the name suggests. Yes, it was a contest to guess the weight of a pig but visitors were also taught about how pork is produced in the meat industry. Next on my animal attractions highlights comes the UC Davis Animal Science Meat Lab display where visitors were invited to learn about the world of meat processing and purchase products made by the lab.

In addition to animal husbandry and learning where our food comes from, another of my favorites was the biology of animals. There were stall such as the Painted Horse Live Anatomy where visitors could witness the union between anatomy and artistry through chalk drawings. Next on the biology list was the Science of Horse Breeding which demonstrated techniques of stallion collection and artificial insemination. Another source of biological learning in an interactive environment came from a Public Conversation on Gene Editing in Food Animals where participants invited questions from the audience on the topic. This event was even filmed for a Netflix documentary so if you missed it, keep an eye out on the streaming service.

Davis- The American City that fell in love with the bicycle. The city’s symbol is a Penny Farthing

A heartwarming animal attraction came from a display called Rescued Pigeons and Doves Make Great Pets. This display offered an alternative view on what makes a good pet because, be honest, how many animals would you name before a pigeon when listing good pets? They are surprisingly affectionate animals and when properly protected from predators, they’re fairly easy to care for. Plus, most people have pets because they want to love and care for an animal, and if that’s the case, what is better than rescue a pigeon or dove? Or so I believed until I saw the Orphan Kitten Project. UC Davis veterinary students help save hundreds of orphaned kittens each year so if a more traditional cuddly pet is more to your liking then why not help by adopting a cute kitty. Of course not all pets are purely for love and affection- Canine Companions for Independence was another attraction fun by a non-profit organization. Their stall explains the work the organization carry out to train assistance dogs for adults and children with a variety of disabilities.

So that had animal husbandry, biology and adoption covered but some of the events at picnic day are purely about entertainment. The Doxie Derby was my first attraction and probably the most popular here where visitors enjoyed watching the speedy little legs of wiener dogs race around the pavilion. I arrived late to this and it was so popular that the queue still stretched outside and along the whole length of the pavilion an hour after the event started. Another attraction was the Annual Frisbee Dog Contest hosted by Canine Medicine Club and also the Disc Dogs of the Golden Gate Halftime Show. Here participants demonstrated the talents of their companions with members of the general public joining in.

The Plant and Environment building hosting a variety of giveaways and activities

Of course UC Davis don’t solely work with animals- the plant and environment department were giving out tomato and strawberry plants and free popcorn all day! The popcorn was offered freshly cooked or you could also shell a cob yourself for kernels to cook at home. There was also Seed Planting with Sprout Up teaching children what seeds need to successfully germinate, where they were given seeds to plant and take home. There were also exhibits such as Photo Opportunities with Veggies, The Weed Doctor discussing gardening tips, and Plant in a Bottle showing the parts of a plant we don’t usually get to enjoy. Combining plant science with engineering there was also Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) In Plant Sciences revealing how drones are used in the plant department. Another big attraction came from the NASA Jet Propulsion stall, inviting children to build stomp rockets and play with a gravity table. This stall also offered the chance to view the sun through a solar filtered telescope and learn how space and NASA affect our everyday lives without us even noticing. Another line of attractions involved the sports. Here the Alumni Water Polo Games pulled it out of the bag with a showdown between current and alumni club members. There was also Softball vs UC Riverside and Men’s Tennis vs UC Riverside, both giving out posters and promotional items. Finally Baseball vs UC Santa Barbara where the Aggies took on UC Santa Barbara and took the win!

There were also plenty of crafts stalls to encourage your creativity. Children were encouraged to join in on the Reusable Canvas Paint, Watercolor Spray Paint, Bird Maracas, Owl Binoculars, Animal Ears, Friendship bracelets, Tie-Dye Butterflies, Water Bin, Dinosaur Excavation, Floating Turtles, and Racing Boats. So from getting mucky playing with paints, to digging for dinosaurs in the dirt, or quietly braiding friendship bracelets or making animal facemasks, the children were fully entertained.

Then came the entertainment for the adults. Live performances across five venues from 11am until 5pm encapsulated almost every genre of music I could imagine. A Capella, Ballroom, Jazz, Blues, Funk, Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, Acoustic guitar, Pop, Indie, Traditional Japanese Music and International Funk- Picnic Day had you covered for your audio and performing arts entertainment. If that wasn’t enough, this year saw the first ever freestyle break dance battle Funk in da Sun hosted by UC Davis’s Breakin’ Club. Perhaps one of the biggest hotspots of the Picnic Day was Band-uh’s!’s Battle of the Bands– 8 hours and 9 bands battling for the title.

California Aggie Marching Band kicks off Picnic Day with the national anthem, Shiny Happy People and Mr Blue Sky

The best attraction for me was the parade which was opened with the band playing the national anthem. The board of directors welcomed guests to enjoy this year’s picnic day which had the theme of “where the sun shines”. The theme was chosen to highlight the warmth and inclusiveness the university brings to the community, and as fate would have it, it was a gloriously sunny day. The band played songs that included Shiny Happy People by REM and the Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky to entertain the crowds and kick off the parade. With 85 groups participating, the parade started outside the Vehmeyer building and ran a 1.5mile course across campus and downtown Davis. A thoroughly entertaining attraction with goodies being handed out by many.

If you missed this year’s picnic day, you know where to be next year!


#GoAgs! #PicnicDay #UCDavis