Chickens – Affection and Omelets

Rochester parents … if your preschool son or daughter came home from school on Monday afternoon and asked you if they could raise chickens at home, you can blame it on a rather handsome hen named Dorothy.

Dorothy came to Rochester Memorial School on Monday, November 6, for a little story time with the youngest of the students at RMS – and you could say that the gentle, social, and generally unaware-that-she’s-a-chicken Dorothy charmed the children right to the very heart of their giblets.

“We like to say that Dorothy is the most well-behaved chicken there is,” said Evelyn Golden, Dorothy’s beloved owner and also the Plymouth County 4-H Extension program assistant. Along with Molly Vollmer, 4-H extension director from the Plymouth County 4-H Extension, Golden brought Dorothy to RMS to introduce the students to the science of embryology before the students endeavor to incubate and hatch chicks of their own in the spring.

Golden read the children’s book A Chicken Followed Me Home by Robin Page – rather apropos, since that is exactly how Golden began keeping chickens.

The book mesmerized the kids with fun facts about the ‘familiar fowl’ and introduced the topic of embryology, explaining the life cycle of the chicken from egg fertilization, the 21 days of incubation, all the way through to adulthood.

Golden then took a handful of seeds and slowly coaxed Dorothy out of her crate where she had been waiting, nestled comfortably in the warmth of her wood shavings. But Dorothy was still content from her last feeding on one of her favorite snacks, an apple, so Golden gently picked her up and placed Dorothy on the floor (atop a plastic protective barrier, of course) in front of the youngsters. Above the ‘oohs’ and ‘aws,’ one could hear the sound of little hearts melting.

“Not all chickens can handle a crowd like this, so Dorothy is pretty special,” said Golden. “She likes children and people, but I think that’s because she doesn’t know she’s a chicken.”

But don’t tell Dorothy.

Half of the time, Golden says Dorothy might actually think she’s a human; the other half of the time, she acts as if she were part chicken/part dog. Either way, Dorothy is one chillaxed individual. So, how chillaxed is she?

“Last year during the 4-H fair, Dorothy was so relaxed that she laid an egg right in my lap. That’s how chill and relaxed she is,” said Golden.

Thus, Dorothy is the perfect poster hen for spreading the joy of raising chickens to kids.

Not only was this the first time RMS has ever welcomed a chicken for story time, but this was Dorothy’s very own first visit to a school – and during a follow-up interview, when asked if she would like to visit a school again, Dorothy said nothing would delight her more.

“We’ve never had a real chicken in here before,” said Project Grow teacher Cindy Baronas. Only one student in class raised his hand when the teacher asked if anyone had chickens at home. Half the rest said no, and the other half said “not yet.” But if Dorothy has her way, RMS parents will cave to the request of their kids to keep chickens – if not for the sheer fun of it alone as the kids perceive it, but for the farm fresh eggs. (After all, one hen can lay up to around five eggs per week. With five hens on your yard, that’s a lot of omelets.)

So, perhaps it’s not a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, but rather which one is the most treasured part of keeping chickens, the affection or the nutrition – the chicken or the egg?

If your little one expresses an interest in animals, including chickens, and would benefit from a youth development program that teaches about leadership, citizenship, and life skills, 4-H can offer a hands-on approach to learning in addition to providing opportunities to make new friends, learn from an adult leader, and gain exposure to things like animals, crafts, sewing, science, fishing, and the environment.

RMS kindergarten teacher Melissa Weigel leads a local 4-H group based out of the First Congregational Church of Rochester known as “Tails n’ Trails,” now in its third year. The group recently won 1st place in Plymouth County for its window display, now on display at RMS. For more information on local 4-H groups, contact the Plymouth County 4-H office at 781-293-3541.

By Jean Perry

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