Friday, March 23, 2012

The Art and Egg-ucation of Chicken Farming

Hana chases a chicken in the chicken pen          
Photo credit: Keith Skelton,

Montecito Messenger published an article written by me (photos by Keith Skelton) about Crane School in today's weekly edition:

 Putting the “Country” Back in Crane Country Day School.

For Anne Dascomb, assistant to the head of school at Crane Country Day School, starting Crane's afterschool Discoveries Chicken Farming program for first through fifth graders was a natural. When she was a student at University of California-Santa Barbara, her roommates were veterinarian students and always had chickens around. Dascomb's animal husbandry skills combined with a generous grant from Parents from Crane (Crane's parent association) and a chicken coop donated by parent Ramsey Cronk, provided Dascomb with all she needed to launch the chicken farming class.

"I always say that I'm putting the 'country' back in Crane Country Day School," says Dascomb, dressed in a flouncy Western skirt and stylized leather cowboy boots.

A quick stroll past the Sprague Mathematics and Science complex to the far end of the parking lot leads to a small knoll above the basketball courts. There sits a bucolic patch of land that hosts the chicken coop, the chicken pen, a compost, vermicompost, the school's organic gardens, and an outdoor classroom with wooden benches and an oversized white board.

"We were so lucky to have Eric Haessler, our Lower School Drama teacher, donate a weekend of his time to construct and install the chicken run," says Dascomb, pointing to a long, extended run that is enclosed by chicken wire and opens up to the coop with hinged doors. "The pen gives the chickens room to run."

Known affectionately around campus as "The Chicken Lady", Dascomb says she loves the program because she is no longer "just an administrator behind the desk." Children visit her all day, bringing her empty egg cartons from home in hopes of being one of the "winners" of the dozen egg giveaways (a half-dozen each) at school assembly. The weekly or so winners receive egg cartons designed with a gift label that says, "From your friends in the Poultry Club at Crane Country Day School." The label portrays animated caricatures of Dascomb, Haessler, Maintenance Supervisor Joel Jamison, Learning Specialist Theresa Gorey, and two of Crane's inaugural chickens. The person who draws the winner of the eggs enthusiastically recites the catchy chicken phrase, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner" as he or she pulls the name of the egg-cellent prize.

In fact, many of the first-, second-, and third-grade girls are "totally into the Crane hens," says Dascomb. "They collect the eggs from the nests daily and bring them up to the office, and they beg to announce the winner of the eggs. It is so much fun to see an otherwise shy little first-grader stand up and, all on her own in a brave voice, shout out to the 280 assembled students, faculty and administrators, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner.'" Besides barnyard activities, Dascomb has a "flock" of curriculum ideas. The students watched the Virtual Chicken DVD, a movie produced by Auburn University's (Alabama) Department of Poultry Science that takes a "trip" through the hen-making apparatus. 

They've also whipped up tantalizing chocolate eggs and formed their hair into rooster-like styles using egg whites.

The students crafted felt "flock" jackets for the chickens, better known in the poultry industry as "hen savers." These jackets provide chickens with extra protection from aggressive, pecking peers, which are often the more dominant hens in the flock. One chicken "farmer", Rhys, glued cut-out fabric letters onto a hen saver for his cleverly named chicken "Fly."

Besides the care and feeding of the chickens, the students also learn about chicken anatomy and by the end of the class, are required to know the Chicken Farmer's Glossary of Terms from, a popular chicken blog. During the final egg-xamination, the students crowded around an outdoor picnic table next to the coop and began answering Ms. Dascomb's questions.

"What does a chicken need to lay an egg?" asks Dascomb, which is in itself a bit of a trick question.

Zane raises his hand and proudly says, "A hen doesn't need a rooster to lay an egg."

"You're right," says Dascomb and hands him a rubberized see-through egg with a yellow yolk inside.

Other questions are asked. Enthusiastic answers are given. Each member of the Chicken Farmers Club receives an egg toy and accolades from Dascomb.

"You've all graduated," Dascomb says proudly as she holds up the Chicken Farming T-shirt. "And, you're now official members of the Chicken Farming Club." She hands them each a T-shirt. On it, it states, "Crane Country Day Schoool. Eggucation at its best." And, that it is.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article about one of the best schools in our community. I love how they continue to explore and extend experiences for their students. Both of our children (now full grown adults) went to Crane and their youthful memories are filled with the love of learning that those teachers instilled. Thank you for highlighting this special place, filled with remarkable people.... and chickens.