By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Do you know how to tell what color egg a chicken will lay?
Students at Valley of Enchantment Elementary School are learning that fact and others about the chickens that are raised on the school’s campus.
Students from Stephanie Plemons’ fifth-grade class started caring for the chicken coop area this year. They also purchased new chickens.
The three boys – Josh Anstine, Levi Darling and Cody Leonard – and three girls – Ireland Grow, Ferris Jackson and Brianna Stoffers – rotate daily to feed and water the chickens, clean the coop and collect and gift the eggs.
“I have them spend time loving on the chickens to help the hens become passive with children,” Mrs. Plemons said.
That is important as the girls have been putting on a program they call the chicken showdown for all the VOE classes.
In that program, classes like Mrs. Mazakas’ fourth-grade first learn about chicken anatomy. Holding Lily, one of the chickens, Ireland pointed first to the comb on top of Lily’s head and then the wattle, under her chin.
“Show me your comb, your wattle,” Ireland directed. “And now show me both.”
She explained the chickens use both to help keep them cool as chickens don’t sweat or pant as a dog does.
As Ireland held out Lily’s wing, showing her primary flight feathers, the girls asked what the younger students thought the chicken used them for. Chickens can’t fly, the girls explained, but they use their feathers to glide – to get up to higher places and back down “so they don’t hit the ground and get hurt. It’s like a parachute,” they said.
Ireland has the students repeat the chicken’s scientific name – Gallus gallus domesticus – after her. “That’s a fancier name scientists use when they do research on chickens,” she said.
After the fourth-graders sprinkled some chicken feed on the ground, Ireland released Lily and let her have a snack.
The school currently has six chickens: Lily, Salem, Samantha, Sophia, Merlot and Miss Warhol.
Holding up an egg that Lily had laid, Ferris asked the students if they thought it would be hard or easy to crack it. Abrianna and her teacher, Ms. Mazakas, took turns holding the egg in their hands and squeezing as hard as they could. Nothing happened. The force, Ferris explained, goes into the center of the egg so it won’t crack.
If you go to a spa, Ferris said, and get a face mask, there’s egg in there. That fact elicited some gasps from the students. And what about the conditioner you put on your hair? There’s egg in that, too, Ferris said.
Brianna then asked if anyone had broken a wishbone and made a wish. Many hands went up. The chicken’s wishbone, Brianna said, is in the same place as our collarbones. “Point to your collarbone,” Brianna instructed.
When she asked what the students thought chickens were related to, at least one student called out, “Dinosaurs.” “That’s right,” Brianna said. “And they have wishbones, too. Imagine breaking a T. rex wishbone for Thanksgiving!”
The three girls then brought out Miss Warhol and had her roost on Ferris’ arm. Why do they roost? The answer was to sleep and to hide from predators.
Brianna wrapped up the program by talking about the chickens’ diet. “They will try to eat anything,” she said, “but they can’t eat potatoes (too much potassium), metal, plastic or potato chips.” She told the students that a chicken had once tried to eat her glasses and her braces.
Ireland, Ferris and Brianna then led the students in a couple of activities. They did the chicken dance and then opened large plastic eggs that contained photos like a sheep and a lamb. They had to find the photo that matched theirs. They were also given a chicken word search puzzle to complete on their own.
The program ended with an egg toss.
The chickens are part of VOE’s eSTEM – Environmental Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – education. The students also raise trout and tortoises and plant gardens.
And what about the color of that egg? The girls said it is determined by the color of the chicken’s earlobe, located on the side of the hen’s head.
When Ferris showed the students Merlot, she pointed to the hen’s bright blue earlobe and said that, yes, she lays blue or greenish-blue eggs.