Nugget and Hippo crow as the students approach. L, Bob and Harry come running when they see the boys. They’ve learned that visitors mean treats and attention. One boy holds an apple near the fence, and they poke their heads through to take bites.
L grabs the remainder of the apple in her beak and runs away, taking it for herself.
Last year, my students harvested chicken and duck eggs from our school’s farm and brought them back to the classroom to incubate. Every few days we would candle the eggs to monitor their development. Most of our chicken eggs hatched. But the duck eggs were different.
Seven days after all the chickens had hatched, we still didn’t see any movement. We noticed two that were rotten and opened them up to confirm our suspicions. Eggs Nos. 3 and 4 stayed in for 36 days total. (We later learned that Muscovy eggs need 35 days, not the 28 of a typical duck.)
One Monday afternoon, an eager student was staring at the incubator and noticed a tiny peeping sound. Upon further inspection, we found that a tiny hole was hidden near the bottom, where a bleeding body part wiggled. He couldn’t get out, so the duckling just kept pushing against the shell, so hard that he hurt himself.
We called our farm manager, and he came to help the duckling hatch. That marks twice that my students’ have saved the life of this duck. Once they decided to incubate an egg the mother duck rejected. Then they decided to rescue the little duck, against the advice we researched about such an egg. We had lost others, including a chick that fully formed but never found its way out of the shell.
So how does a young class move on from that loss? The best piece of advice we were given was: “Love the crap out of that duck!” And so we do.
By June, we had seven chickens and one Muscovy living in our classroom. Over the summer, I took care of them. I built a small makeshift coop out of scrap wood and moved them out to it when they were 2 months old. At mealtimes, I brought my food outside so I could supervise the chicks to roam the lawn freely. By August, one of our Australorps began crowing.
Our duckling loved to take baths and imprinted on humans. Over time, he bonded with the other chicks, too.
Back in Session
When summer camp was giving way to school, one of the older students cleaned out a coop for us and filled it with bedding. The farm manager had converted a camping trailer into a coop and parked it next to the classroom for us.
As school started, my students were thrilled to come back to see the chicks they had raised nearly grown up. Their parents donated supplies such as heaters, a fence and a solar energizer. We set up the coop right outside our classroom so that we could watch them.
L, Bob and Harry turned out to be hens. Nugget, Featherbeak, Sirius Hippogryph and Blackbird were roosters.
Unfortunately, we had a hard lesson ahead of us. Flocks aren’t meant to have more roosters than hens. There was fighting and aggression. Students were scared to enter the coop, and the hens were losing feathers on their backs from the constant rooster attention. We talked about our options and tried to find farms to adopt them, but eventually we had to send two of our roosters to be processed. The same day I was carrying our roosters to the farm, I found our first egg.
Now, the circle of life continues. Some of our chicken and duck eggs have been incubated and hatched to join the farm. Others, the class sells to raise funds for more supplies. We were so excited when our school nurse signed us up for a subscription to Chickens magazine. Our coop still resides outside our classroom, where the flock receives regular care, spoiling and snuggling from the boys every day. Students keep an eye out, ready to chase off bobcats or return escapees to the chicken run.
Our curriculum has been centered around bettering ourselves as farmers. We are studying plants and decomposition so we can put the manure to work, fertilizing our gardens and restoring the lawn that has been torn up for dust baths. We raise mealworms to feed them, endlessly read and write on the topic, and manage our own budget.
I am so grateful for our happy flock: two roosters, Squirtle and Ducklett; three loveable hens; and one incredibly lucky duck. And of course, the boys who raise them!
Andrea Rice is an upper elementary teacher at Hampshire Country School in Rindge, New Hampshire, usually working with students between fourth and seventh grade. Rice is also training with the New Hampshire Leadership Series where she learns how to advocate for individuals with disabilities.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Chickens magazine. Have a great story about your flock? Email the story of your birds in ~750 words to email@example.com (subject line: Chicken Chat). Be sure to include high-resolution images of yourself, your chickens and/or your coop. The author of each issue’s published essay receives a prize from one of our ad partners. (See print magazine for rules. Sponsor: EG Media Investments LLC)