As first-grader Ashton Smith digs in the dirt at Eufaula Primary School (EPS), he’s searching for wiggly worms, the perfect afternoon snack for his school’s latest residents — chickens.
The Barbour County school built a chicken coop on its campus this fall to teach students about raising poultry, thanks to a $1,000 grant from the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture.
“We’re teaching students the whole life cycle of a chicken,” said physical education assistant Michelle Puckett, who applied for the grant. “We know students will have good memories of something agricultural as adults. It connects kids to where their food comes from.”
Over 600 students have learned about the school’s full-grown chickens, a medley of black and white Wyandotte birds and Rhode Island Reds. Students also hatched chicks, such as pastel-shelled Easter Eggers. Smith and his classmates watched as one chick used its egg tooth to punch through the shell, an unforgettable experience for the 6 year olds.
“The chick popped out, and they were so excited,” Puckett said. “Now they know the difference between eggs you buy in a store and eggs that hatch. They know you need a rooster to hatch eggs.”
When the birds first roosted on campus, Puckett held a spa day, where students were acclimated to chicks as they pampered the poultry. Now, the fledgling farmers, from kindergartners to second-graders, are learning each step of the poultry raising process.
“How many days does it take to hatch chicks?” Puckett asked Smith and fellow first-grader Brantley Anderson.
“21,” Smith swiftly said.
“Yeah, 21!” Anderson echoed.
Students take turns feeding and watering the birds. Puckett said they’re excited to gather eggs each morning and have taste-tested eggs.
“I’d never tried eggs before,” Smith said. “We tried the whites, just the yolk, and scrambled eggs. I liked them.”
Community members and parents flocked to expand the chicken coop, too, and teachers vy to take home farm-fresh eggs.
For the students, EPS’s poultry project goal is threefold — teach the importance of chickens as a food source, show how chickens help the environment, and demonstrate how farmers provide for consumers.
Through the Barbour County Farmers Federation, the school received one of nine grants nationally available from the White-Reinhardt Fund for Education, which funds agricultural literacy projects or expands existing efforts. The Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation (AFAF) contributed $250.
“It’s encouraging that county leaders are taking advantage of resources available as members of the American Farm Bureau Federation,” said AFAF Vice President Paul Pinyan. “Eufaula Primary School’s outdoor learning area directly impacts students in Barbour County. It’s our hope that other Alabama communities apply for and benefit from such grants.”