By Lisa Hadden
Chickens! Another interesting lesson that I love to bring to the classroom. Chickens are raised primarily for meat and eggs. Those raised for meat are called broilers and those for eggs are termed layers.
Large farms have biosecurity measures in place. For example, special clothing is worn into the buildings to prevent contamination. There are also many regulations that are followed to care for the eggs before they find their way to your table. More common locally, small and hobby farms tend to raise free-range chickens with a coop to pen up at night away from predators and have enough chickens to lay eggs for their family and friends.
A hen (female chicken) is actually born with many tiny yolks in her body. Once mature, one at a time these yolks begin to grow and become an egg. It averages about 26 hours for an egg to form and be laid. A mother hen who is sitting on her eggs to hatch them must do so for 21 days. She turns them several times during the day to keep the temperature consistent. When the chick is ready to hatch it will peck open the air sac found inside the broad bottom of the egg. This gives the chick oxygen and a boost to be able to peck its way out. The baby is wet and weak upon completion of hatching, but within a few hours it has dried off and is off and running.
Fun fact: eggs that you purchase at the store have not been fertilized so you never have to worry that you will find a chick when you crack one open. You must have a rooster for fertilization.
Different breeds of chickens lay different colored eggs. No matter the color, these eggs all have the same nutritional value. You can tell what color egg the hen will lay by looking at her ear lobe. Those with white ear lobes will lay a white egg, while those with red ear lobes lay a brown egg. Chickens also have no teeth so they have “grit” included in their diet. Grit is a mixture of small pebbles or crushed stone. This passes into their gizzard where it aids in the digestion of their food since they are unable to chew it.
Springtime is a time of new growth – one thinks of baby animals, flowers blossoming and trees budding. Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau has had two incubator kits for several years that they have loaned to local classrooms. We have noticed an increased interest in this activity, so I applied for a grant through the American Farm Bureau, the White-Reinhardt Grant. This grant is in cooperation with American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee. We were fortunate to receive a $1,000 grant to create four more incubator kits. The kits contain an incubator, books to read in the classroom, lessons to use and all the necessary items to care for the chicks once they have hatched. We have local farmers that supply us with fertilized eggs. This spring we had numerous classrooms take advantage of the new kits. We also had a local daycare hatch some chicks. At one point, all six incubators were being used. Chicks were hatching all over the place!
If you are interested in borrowing one of our incubator kits, please call Lisa or Lindsay at the Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau Office at 217-245-6833 or email Lhadden1968@gmail.com.