Chicken chat: Young EL students learn about farm animals

At Purple Shamrock Farm LLC in rural Seymour, owner Stephanie Strothmann has 60 chickens, two potbelly pigs, ducks, dogs, cats and honeybees.

When she gets her meat chickens in May, she said she will have more than 100 chickens at her farm.

She was the perfect person for Mindy Lasater to ask to bring a couple of her chickens to Seymour-Redding Elementary School for her English learners kindergartners to see as they learned about farm animals.

Following the Frog Street curriculum, Lasater said there’s a unit on different types of animals. Last week, it was farm animals.

“Every week, we have a different book that we go through,” she said. “This program is really good because they learn vocabulary with the pictures.”

Instead of just seeing pictures, Lasater thought it would be good for the kids to see the animals up close, so she reached out asking who could bring farm animals to the school. Strothmann was tagged in the Facebook post.

“This may be all kids see in person,” Lasater said. “They know what they can feel and see, and it’s more meaningful than just a picture.”

Recently, the students read a book about the county fair, so Lasater brought in cotton candy for them to eat and used an air popper to make popcorn.

“We did things that they can taste or see. That’s more enrichment for them,” she said.

During Thursday’s visit, Strothmann brought two of her hens, Comet and Goldie.

First taking Comet out of her cage and holding her, Strothmann told the kids both hens are the same age but are different sizes because they are different breeds. Comet is a bantam chicken, while Goldie is a cinnamon queen.

“Bantam means that she’s a smaller chicken,” Strothmann said.

Comet has feathers on her feet, lays smaller eggs because she’s a smaller chicken and can fly, unlike Goldie.

Since she’s bigger, Goldie lays larger eggs, and they are green because of her breed, Strothmann said. Different breeds lay different colored eggs. A person can tell what color they will be by looking at the color of the hen’s ears. If they are red, the eggs will be brown or pink. If they are green, the eggs will be green.

“She’ll lay probably 250 to 300 eggs a year. That’s a lot of eggs,” Strothmann said of Goldie. “Chickens don’t lay eggs every day. A lot of times, they’ll lay every other day, and sometimes, they don’t lay at all.”

Goldie is 3 years old and has probably laid about 1,000 eggs in her lifetime, she said.

“She is a laying chicken. She is an egg chicken,” Strothmann said. “The ones that you would maybe find in a grocery store or something like that, they don’t necessarily look like her. They are more white and a little heavier, and they have not as many feathers. They don’t live as long. They are shorter-lived, and they grow faster than these chickens. These chickens grow slower.”

After chicks hatch, it takes about six months until they start laying eggs, she said.

“They start laying really slow, and then they lay more,” Strothmann said. “Then after awhile, they are laying every other day. … When they are laying an egg, they get super excited in the hen house, and you hear all of this noise, all of this clucking because they are so excited. Then they want to sit on that egg for a little while.”

Strothmann said she doesn’t hatch eggs out of her laying chickens, but if she let them sit for a while, they would make a baby chicken. It takes 21 days for a chick to hatch.

Typically, she said chickens live to be 8 to 10 years old. The oldest chicken on her farm, Gertie, is 8.

One interesting fact Strothmann shared is the chicken is the oldest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex.

She said chickens are not hard to take care of.

“You just put some food out and some water and give them a place to sleep and a place to lay eggs. That’s pretty much it. They are pretty easy,” she said.

As far as her other farm animals, Strothmann said she just got the potbelly pigs two months ago.

“They are still in training right now, and hopefully someday, they can come and visit you guys,” she told the students. “They are still learning how to be good piggies.”

She also said she has three duck eggs in an incubator, and it will take about 28 days for those to hatch.

One final point she made to the students is when they visit a farm or a petting zoo, always wash their hands afterwards.

“The chances of you catching something are slim to none, but I even do that, and I’m around them all the time,” she said. “It’s not that they are germy. It’s just a good idea.”