Livestock Program Perfect for Rural and Town Kids
The 4-H Chick Chain program is 3 years old and has become one of the most popular livestock programs in the state. Almost 100 4-Hers participated this year in the program among six counties: Cherokee, Clarke, DeKalb, Blount, Etowah and Washington.
Chick Chain teaches members (ages 9 to 19) the recommended management practices for growing and raising chickens. In the spring, members received 25 day-old, pullet chicks. Their goal is to care for them the following 21 weeks then return for a show, sale and auction in the fall.
"As Chick Chain grows year after year, kids are gaining positive experiences by participating in this affordable livestock program," said Danny Miller, Cherokee County Extension coordinator. "This program reaches all demographics of the county and strikes a nerve in the heart of youth who benefit from a manageable animal science project."
This was the first year for Clarke, Washington, Blount and Etowah to hold it in their counties.
Etowah County’s program had about 20 students to participate.
"We were very pleased with the level of commitment our 4-Hers gave to this program," Amy Burgess, Extension coordinator for Etowah County, said.
Blount County also implemented Chick Chain into their 4-H program this year. There were 22 kids from Blount County and two from Marshall County who participated.
"This was a good opportunity to introduce youngsters to animal agriculture," Dan Porch, Extension coordinator in Blount County, said. "We had a great turn out at the Blount County Fair for our show and auction. This gave us a lot of exposure in the county, resulting in further support for the program."
Andrew Latta is a Chick Chain participant from Blount County who created his own blog on Facebook to promote his project.
Clarke and Washington counties’ top agriculture commodity is timber. Only a small handful of residents in southwest Alabama raise commercial chickens, compared to the rest of the state. Even so, there was a great turnout of kids who completed the Chick Chain project. Almost 40 kids in the two-county program participated in the first year.
"We were really thrilled with how the program went for us," Kevan Tucker, Extension coordinator for Clarke County, said. "We had a perfect blend of rural and town kids."
Tucker said the Clarke-Washington Fair Board was glad to have a livestock program back on its list of events and very supportive of the auction and show held among the week’s events.
Traditional livestock programs can cost a considerable amount and often require a farm set-up and space for the animals to live and grow. Chick Chain is also a livestock program, but it can be accomplished in a rural or town residence. This is the draw of Chick Chain: it is manageable to have most anywhere, it attracts all types of 4-Hers, is fairly inexpensive and the program only lasts a few months.
In the spring, students signed up for Chick Chain with a $50 registration fee. This fee guarantees their pullets that arrived in May. It also helped each county Extension office know exactly how many birds to order.
Two mandatory meetings are held for students and their parents. These meetings gave participants a comprehensive understanding of what the program would involve. Information was given on what type of chicken coops they could use and the ratio of feed to give their pullets as they began to grow. Students also learned how to show a bird for judging.
Over the summer months, students managed their small operation by feeding, watering, cleaning and watching for animals that could threaten their flock. Students kept records of what they were doing to keep their operations running smoothly.
Each county’s Chick Chain show and auction was held in the fall. Each participant could enter up to three pens of their best chickens (a pen is five chickens of the same breed) for the auction and sale.
Chickens were judged on their egg-laying ability, appearance, and bone and muscle structure. Judges chose a grand champion pen, and then out of that pen they selected a grand champion chicken.
For the showmanship category, students were asked to remove a bird from the cage and judges made notes on how they handled them. Judges interviewed each student on how much feed they used, their living environment and why these particular birds were selected to compete.
The auction began just after the show with the grand champion pen being sold first, and then the grand champion bird from that pen.
The idea for Chick Chain began when Burgess and Miller were seeking a program to provide 4-H members the opportunity to learn about poultry in a hands-on environment. Since then the program has proved its success and will be available to all 4-H programs in Alabama in 2013.
"This year, the Chick Chain program will be going statewide," Burgess said. "Training for the program will be held to teach leaders in other counties about the program so they can implement it in their 4-H plans for the year."
Chick Chain has proven to be an excellent program to teach 4-H members responsibility and give them exposure to livestock management.
Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.