Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Counting My Chickens Before They Hatch

Right now I have 11 dozen eggs in 11 different incubators in 11 different classrooms and I am excited to be a poultry producer. Each year I teach chick embryology to second graders in Pottawatomie County, and it is truly one of the things i enjoy most about my job. Oh sure it has its highs and lows. One year we hatched nearly all of the eggs and the next we only hatched 1 or 2 out of 120.

OK, I can hear the questions already. Why would a known beef producer be so eager to teach young children about chickens and even like it? Well folks, even though we compete for space in the meat counter and compete for your dollars at the check-out counter, it is all animal agriculture.

One of my passions in life is to talk to kids about agriculture. I love being part of the great system of farms and ranches that feed our great nation and I want everyone (especially kids) to know all about it. I love sharing the basics of our business, the science of what we do and how that all relates to the food we all eat.

I start this project by talking to the kids about the embryo's development. I show them and tell them about how the chicks develop each day. Then after two weeks I take a candler into the classroom and we candle the eggs. As I said earlier, sometimes this can be a really disappointing part of the unit. When this happens we talk about how this relates to both agriculture and real life.

During this unit I talk to the kids about the purpose of the chickens they are hatching and ultimately what will happen to them. I tell the teachers ahead of the unit that I will be taking the chicks home to my farm. The kids know that the hens will be kept for egg production and the roosters will be harvested for meat.

Most of the time this leads to an interesting discussion with the kids. However, I truly believe it is important for the kids to understand production agriculture and know where their food comes from. I hope as my years in Extension go on that I can at least make a difference one classroom at a time. I hope that each of those kids leave knowing where their food comes from, how it is raised and why we raise certain animals.

Then maybe they will relay the information to their parents, neighbors and friends. This kind of education used to be part of every child's upbringing through interaction with parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles on the farm. Now as generations are grow up far removed from the farm, it is our duty as farmers, ranchers and those involved in agriculture to make sure this basic knowledge of agriculture is in place. That, friends, is why I am counting my chickens even before they hatch.

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