When students enter Jessica Von Ahsen’s middle school classroom, they make a beeline to a crate in the back of the room before finding their seat for class. That’s because the crate, a converted dog kennel, is home to Chirp, a chick that recently hatched from the class’s eggs.
The eggs are a part of the Iowa County Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom project, and it’s teaching the middle school students at Clear Creek Amana Middle School more about agriculture, Von Ahsen said.
"None of them live on farms. Most have never been on a farm. And so for them to be a part of the agriculture process, they love it," Von Ahsen, an Iowa County Farm Bureau member, said.
Students have been intrigued by the eggs since the class received their 22 heavy breed pullet eggs from Hoover’s Hatchery in Rudd on April 7.
They cared for the eggs by creating a wet pack around the eggs to keep moisture around the eggs in the incubator. During class last week, Von Ahsen demonstrated a process called candling, which helped the class determine a chick’s life cycle and whether or not the egg would grow a chick inside.
On this day, an egg was mostly liquid inside, the chick had stopped developing. Von Ahsen cracked the egg open into a shallow dish to show her students the chick’s development. They looked at a chart to determine the chick had stopped developing somewhere between days eight and 11.
The project at the Clear Creek Amanda Middle School is one of seven projects in six schools in Iowa County, said Dawn Driscoll, Iowa County Ag in the Classroom coordinator. In its fourth year, the project has grown from one classroom to now seven, Driscoll, also an Iowa County Farm Bureau member, said. It’s teachers like Von Ahsen that make projects like this work, she said.
"Jess has gone above and beyond what we expect. This has been such an amazing experience," Driscoll said. "She has done an amazing job of bringing the farm into the classroom."
Students worked together to prepare Chirp’s living space by lining the crate with newspaper, providing food and water, hanging a heat lamp to keep the chick warm, and choosing a space in the classroom free from drafts.
Logan Voparil, a student, visited Chirp several times soon after Chirp was born, he said.
"I picked him up and I dipped his beak into water," he said. "That’s how he learned how to drink."
Dayvon Galbreath, a student in Von Ahsen’s class, called the water "Chickerade," after learning that an electrolyte was added to the water, similar to Pedialyte and Gatorade.
Student Teft Francisco said he named the chick Chirp because of the sound it makes. Francisco visits the classroom often to check on Chirp, occasionally finding a book to read to the class chick.
Learning about farming
The Ag in the Classroom project has helped the students learn more about agriculture, Von Ahsen said. They’re asking more questions about her farm, about how products get to the grocery store and the fair. One student even asked her about avian flu and if the eggs were safe.
The class will share their egg project with other students and families during a special student presentation night at the school.
Andy Kueter-Chadwick, a student, got so interested in the egg project that he started to build an incubator of his own.
"This is a computer fan, and I have it hooked up to a box wall plugin," he said, pointing at the hand-drawn schematics. He said he’s not sure if he’ll be allowed to have chickens at his house, but it’s a fun project.
Von Ahsen connects the egg project to the farm and the responsibilities and care that go with livestock farming.
"When he (Chirp) was in there, he had one eye that wasn’t open, so we took a warm towel and wetted it and he opened his eye," Voparil explained.
"You have to take care of them (animals) like you do yourself. It needs to live just like us," Galbreath said.