No hen party here
SPIRIT LAKE-Chickens cackled and clucked in the background while 21 youth from four counties participated in the Poultry Picker workshop, hosted by the poultry committee of the Dickinson County 4-H program on Feb. 14 in Spirit Lake.
4-H members came from Dickinson, Emmet, Palo Alto and Osceola counties.
Jessica Sander, county youth coordinator, said the workshop is meant to get 4-H’ers started in a project that doesn’t take a lot of money or room to start.
“It gives kids a way to get started in their project year, and they get to purchase their birds for the project year,” she said. “We talk about bio-security, keeping themselves healthy (as chicken handlers), meeting the needs of the birds and care of baby chicks.”
Sander said the poultry project area has been holding its own over the last few years, with 25 4-H’ers enrolled in it this year.
The peak year of enrollment was the 2010/2011 year, when 30 4-H members enrolled in that project area.
Each 4-H’er can bring up to 12 class entries-which can add up to a lot of bird cages.
“The year before last year we had to run around trying to find enough cages for the fair, so the kids showing rabbits and poultry made some new cages for last year with supplies that the fair board approved. There were a few supplies left from that, so they’re going to make a few more for this year,” said Sander.
Last year, they assembled 14 stacks of eight cages each, which was twice as many as they had in years past.
Last year, the rabbit and poultry project areas grew so much that they had to be housed in their own building.
In previous years they shared space with pigs and goats in the swine barn.
Kristi Peck, chairperson of the Dickinson County rabbit and poultry committee, said this project area is good for families because there is an end to it.
“There’s a beginning and an end date,” she said. “If you’re not out doing professional showing of birds at shows, then you can take this project and make it a chicken dinner when you’re done.”
She said it’s also good for children and youth who may be interested in a livestock exhibit, but live in town and don’t have space or city ordinances that allow for large livestock.
She said some city ordinances will allow a few poultry birds to be housed in garages, and some cities charge a fee.
“It’s also an inexpensive project to have,” said Peck. “You can get five or 10 birds and spend maybe $15 or $20,” she said, adding that chicks can be purchased at local participating farm supply and hardware stores.
Some breeds of poultry birds they see at the Dickinson County Fair include HyLine birds, Bantam, Serama, Cochin, Java and differing colors of Leghorn birds.
They have even seen water fowl and wild fowl there, including peacocks and pea hens.
The committee voted to bring back a broiler project area, where 4-H’ers raise a broiler, process it and bring the bird carcass to the fair to be judged.
Members need to know what it cost to feed and care for the bird.
“Broilers have a high mortality rate,” said Peck. “By the time of our fair (late July) it’s really hot, and those birds don’t take the heat very well.
“They get so big, and often have heart attacks and die. Their life cycle is about six to eight weeks.”
A broiler class is a good way for youths to learn about that kind of bird, she said.
A processing workshop will be held at a later date for members enrolled in the broiler project.
Rian Byers, 14, member of the Superior Lakers 4-H Club, said he has shown poultry for four years at the Dickinson County Fair.
“I like that there’s always new stuff to learn,” he said. “I like that they’re easy to take care of and not a lot of work.”
Byers said he plans to show poultry throughout the remainder of his 4-H career.
“I’d like to go to the State Fair with them some year,” he said.
Sander said poultry is a great learner project for young and older members.
“It teaches them responsibility and caring for something other than themselves,” she said. “It’s leadership and communications, too, because they have to talk to a judge about their chickens.”
Peck said, “It’s fun watching the kids get their baby bird from Poultry Picker and bring that animal back and finally have them at the fair.
“It’s fun from year to year seeing them grow in knowledge with their poultry projects. Sometimes they’ll bring babies from other chickens they’ve had here in years past, and seeing a few of them learn to incubate an egg is something that I think is phenomenal-that takes a lot of patience.
“The kids in that project area all get along so well and work well together.”
Sander said the project area remains strong because of the dedicated committee members standing behind it.
“They set up the workshops for them and they really help the kids learn about their poultry projects,” she said. “For example, for our broiler project class, the committee supplies the birds so the kids can get them at no cost and the kids learn about record keeping and raising a chicken for six to eight weeks before it’s processed.”
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