What better symbol of fresh starts and springtime than a hatching chick. Today is day 7 of a 21-day chicken egg incubation project with the grades 1-2 classes at Salt Spring Elementary. Come February, we'll hear the peep-peep-peeps of those fluffy balls of joy, and the kids will watch them push out of their shells through the clear-topped incubators in their classrooms. Local farmers donated eggs and the SSI Poultry Club lends equipment and expertise.
I've kept chickens forever, but only started incubating and hatching after Covid hit in March 2020, as a fun home project with the kids, a way to measure time, and for the joy of cheeping chickies. Here's an article from Zoomer magazine about our experiences.
Later that summer of 2020, a young woman rode up to our yard to deliver a special box balanced on her bicycle rack. It was a gift from my Aunt Emily Rummel in North Vancouver, and she'd arranged for its delivery with her friend's daughter who was Wwoofing at Laughing Apple Farm. Aunt Emily is a retired primary school teacher. She had been cleaning out her closets and decided that I needed her chick-hatching resources, accumulated over the course of >20 years of annual school hatching! Some of my favourite items in there were her class set of "Welcome Little Chick" science readers, some really cute stickers, a few funny poems, and photos of her teaching as a young lady.
So, in Spring 2021, we started hatching at Salt Spring Elementary! We hatched in all eight classes. Parents Hiroe Rowthorne & Erin Williams & I brought ducks and birds for kids to pet and observe. Lots of children brought home chicks and ducklings. We've never had so many children participate in the poultry section of the Fall Fair!
With springtime cycling round, we've started again now for 2022. Teachers Donna Kirkpatrick & Janisse Browning collected so many great books for reading about poultry during this project!
This afternoon in Ms. B's grade 1-2 class, after a visit with Emerald the hen, we boiled eggs, decorated them with crayons while warm, and then peeled and ate them with some special black and pink sea salts. Next week, we'll candle the eggs in a dark room.
After they hatch, we usually keep the chicks in aquarium brooders for a week and then school families take them home (photos below of brooding chicks at SSE from spring 2021).
Lots of students ask if we can keep them at school. Many teachers want them, too. Here on Salt Spring Island, teacher Andy McPhee had chickens at Fernwood Elementary for a while, until a rat was spotted in the school and then hens had to go. Phoenix School had hens, but they died. Our principal Shelly at SSE says she'd be happy with a flock, she just fears students' reactions if they die or get eaten by racoons (which is common here).
At yesterday's BC Farm-to-School webinar, teacher Laura-Lyn Helton at Colquitz Middle School in Victoria, BC offered a really cool solution. She sang praises for the brilliant Bees Please Farm's Rent-the-Chicken program, which delivers a coop and four healthy hens to their school from April-June and again each Sept-Oct, allowing kids to collect eggs, care for, and handle the birds. The coops are "rat and predator proof" and there's no summer care required this way. Bees Please Farm also offers innovative "rent-a-hatch" and "rent-a-hive" educational services.
Chickens play a large role (both for eggs and meat) at the world's longest-running school garden program, which I recently visited in Copehagen. Another long-running garden program (>15 years) at Sunnyside Environmental School in Portland, Oregon, maintains a beautiful flock of heritage hens in the city, where I stopped by last summer (photos below, including hen bio's on the left).
At home, my kids love playing with their birds. We've enjoyed the YEPA program for deepening their poultry-keeping knowledge, they've won prizes at the poultry shows, and Bryn even won an APA membership with this great video about her favourite hen Diamond (who tragically died this summer protecting her chicks from a raccoon).
For more, check out Salt Spring Island Poultry Club events and our upcoming BC Provincial Poultry Show on April 30, 2022 at the SSI Fairgrounds! Kids love showing off their birds! (Three of the five winning chickens below at the June 2021 show were hatched at SSE.)
Early January is definitely a good time for hatching plans for 2022. This year, every class at SSE will get a chance to hatch chickens, quail, turkeys or ducks, and through school visits, local farmer will share their expertise and enthusiasm with students. We'll learn about poultry (& livestock) for healthy eating and as an essential complement to veggie gardening and farming. Now, to plan the garden activities...
An old Jewish proverb says: "The two greatest gifts we can give our children are roots & wings." We're doing this at SSE by teaching them how to grow veggies and raise poultry.