Chicks give Illinois students a lesson on agriculture

Kelsey Watznauer
The Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph via AP
Poultry News

NORMAL, Ill. — Stumbling, squeaking, fluffy chicks popped out of their eggs in classrooms across McLean County, Ill., some making their arrival a little later than others.

“We were getting a little worried,” said Cameo Williams, a third-grade teacher at Grove Elementary in Normal. “When we hit the 21-day mark, everybody’s like, where’s the chicks? Then ours went to the 24-day mark, so we were crossing our fingers.”

Two little balls of fluff hatched from the dozen eggs provided to Williams’ class as part of the Chick It Out program by the University of Illinois Extension and McLean County Ag in the Classroom.

The sounds of the persistent “cheep cheep” of newly hatched chicks was rivaled only by the fawning 8- and 9-year-olds taking turns holding the fluffy birds in the back of Williams’ classroom.

Chloe Rodriguez, 9, said she liked learning about the parts of the eggs and how the chicks grow before they hatch.

“I really liked how we got to hold them and I liked seeing them hatch out of the egg,” she said.

Katie Buckley, 4-H youth development educator at the Illinois Extension, said the most important part of Chick it Out is giving students the opportunity “to see the circle of life, to use the generic phrase.”

“It’s just so incredibly gratifying for them to see the process,” she said of the program that has been in McLean County classrooms for decades.

More than 100 educators participated in the program this year, bringing eggs to 33 schools, eight day cares and 24 home schools.

Buckley said she didn’t have a hatch rate yet for the 120 dozen eggs, but so far she’s heard positive feedback from teachers and “I felt this year we had a really great hatch rate.”

While the eggs are in the incubator, students spend the three weeks learning about embryology using curriculum provided by the university, and they use a candler to see inside the eggs.

Williams said the students had fun making predictions about when the eggs would hatch, but holding the chicks is always the best part.

“The eggs, they like looking inside and candling, but they want to actually see it come to life,” she said.

Addison Tracey, 9, said she had never seen a chick hatch before.

“When the chicks hatched, they really stumbled a lot and they couldn’t really walk or do anything and sometimes they ran into the edge of the incubator,” she said.

When students could hold them, 8-year-old Harrison Overberg said, “They were furry, you could stroke them with your thumb and they were super-duper scared.”

Even after the babies were more used to being handled, Overberg said they would try to jump away.

“They kind of just wanted to escape and they didn’t really want you to hold them,” Tracey added. “So they really just wanted to run around, and they weren’t really calm. They were kind of wild and just didn’t want to be held.”

Since the schools closed before the Chick It Out program last spring, fourth-grade classrooms were able to hatch eggs this year at Grove, too.

“The kids were super bummed about it because it’s a highlight of third grade,” Williams said. The teachers wanted to make sure the fourth-graders who missed out had the opportunity to experience it because “it’s definitely one of our highlight moments, and it’s a way to bring agriculture into the classroom, too. It gives the kids firsthand experience.”

Buckley said for many students, this is their only glimpse into the agriculture world.

“Even though I would consider McLean County pretty rural, though we have urban areas, this is it for them to see this process,” she said.

A few days after the eggs hatch, most of the chicks went to Above Normal Eggs, a local farm where students can schedule a visit to see them as they grow up, Williams said.

The rest went to other local farms that raise chickens so the birds remain in the area, Buckley said.