Monday, May 23, 2011

Mooey opens doors to connect with kids of all ages

The preschoolers lasted about 20 minutes for the presentation.
Last week Mooey amazed me with her ability to connect to students at Cheshire Barn Preschool and Ayer High School. There's something about an animal, especially a hurt animal, that brings out compassion.

Both the preschool and high school students "got" the link between the pecking order of chickens and how humans exclude and mistreat each other. Some of the preschoolers were afraid of Mooey, which surprised me.
The kids enjoyed singing Down by the Bay, Where the Watermelons Grow with custom lyrics such as: Did you ever see a boy grab somebody's toy? Did you ever see a girl get hit and do nothing to stop it? Did you ever see a chicken take a lickin?

I created some more lyrics: Did you ever:
See a bear who didn't play fair?
See a whale mock someone who reads Braille?
Have a friend you didn't defend?
See a queen say something mean?
Mooey gets a little excited at Ayer High School.

The high school students didn't sing Down by the Bay, but they did engage in an animated discussion about raising chickens and why Mooey got bullied.

Their answers aligned with the typical reasons kids get bullied. Perhaps Mooey:
1. Wasn't assertive.
2. Looked different from the other chickens.
3. Something was wrong with her.
4. She acted annoyingly.
5. Was weaker/smaller than the other chickens.

It got them thinking and talking about the reasons for bullying and how to use their intellect instead of their instinct. The funniest moment in the program was when I put up the slide from my high school yearbook that shows how I look different from everyone else and someone said, "Which one are you?" Everyone laughed because the answer is obvious. The ninth-graders paid attention and participated. They were very interested in my stories about getting bullied in middle and high school. On the evaluation they wrote that it was a different angle than the usual lectures on bullying, bully awareness and bully prevention.

I'm looking forward to my next visit to a school or camp. June will be a long month for schools in Maine,  Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire because of the many snow days this winter that we'll have to pay the price for. Right now the program is being piloted, so there's no charge.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Composting is easy and organic

When I visit schools, I'm amazed at how many children don't know what compost is.

This photo is compost from our bucket. Coffee grounds in the middle are surrounded by tea bags, pineapple, cantaloupe, onion banana and grapefruit peel, a lettuce leaf and egg shells.

At the top left is dog hair. At the top right is a bite of leftover whole-grain pancake. I forgot to include one my chickens' all time favorite compost ingredient: Dandelion weeds. They LOVE weeds and grass. It motivates me to pull dandelions for them.

You can start your own compost pile. It's easy. Just start putting in vegetable and fruit leftovers along with yard waste.Avoid meat products, although I break that rule because my chickens adore leftovers and few wild predators are attracted to my compost because of our location.

Give composting a try. You don't need any fancy equipment. For small yards it's nice to have barrels to contain the compost.

My chickens enjoy ravaging the compost pile. And they do it in the pecking order -- the highest ranking bird gets at it first, followed by rank. See this video for a demonstration.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Chicks are cute, but are they worth the extra work?

Little kids and baby chicks go together like bacon & eggs.
My friend Denali is raising two dozen chicks who are growing rapidly. She must monitor their temperature, water, environment and food several times a day and keep them separate from her flock of older hens.

If full-grown hens do not raise the chicks, they may go so far as to cannibalize young chicks. They can't help it -- it's instinctive.

It's fun to visit her her chicks and see their growth, but I'm happy to buy pullets, adolescent chickens about 6 months old who are ready to lay or crow depending on their gender.

Pullets can be had for about $10, roughly the cost of feeding them for the first six months. I've already raised four children. Maybe in a few years I'll be ready to take on the responsibility and work of raising newly hatched chicks.

Chicken friends are essential to backyard chicken keepers because you help each other with knowledge,  chicken care and by adopting each others' excess birds. I've inherited several birds that way -- once they're mature enough to join my flock's pecking order.