By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
The EBCI Cooperative Extension Office was full of smiles and the chirps of baby chickens ready to go to their new homes. It was distribution night for the Cherokee 4-H Youth Poultry Project as Sally Dixon and Benjamin Collette gave 10-12 chicks to each of the families in attendance at the event on the evening of Thursday, July 15.
Dixon, EBCI Cooperative Extension 4-H agent, said the program is geared towards children ages 5-18 and their families. A total of 15 families received their chicks last month – a number she said they will probably match or even exceed in this month’s distribution.
“The main goals of this project are to make sure that our kids have an awareness of agriculture and have a hands-on experience so they can be invested in agriculture,” said Dixon.
“4-H is rooted in agriculture,” she said. “When we look at everything we do in this office and where a lot of our programming aligns a lot of that revolves around food sovereignty – with the garden kits every spring. This is just another aspect of getting youth involved in this whole piece of food sovereignty and making an investment in the future of food systems.”
Every family involved in the program receives their chicks, which were all hatched in the EBCI Cooperative Extension Office, as well as a feeder, a drinker, a 50-lb. bag of feed, and 8 cubic feet of bedding.
Amelia Arkansas works at the EBCI Food Distribution Office and is a participant with her family in the Youth Poultry Project. “Food sovereignty is something that I pay attention to because I see the numbers every day. By me doing this, and my family, if we see someone in need then we can also help and reach out to others as well.”
Her daughter, Blair Owle, age 5, said she was “excited” to get her chicks that night. Arkansas added, “She’s been excited all month.”
A room in the Extension Office has been temporarily converted to “The Chicken Room” and contains incubators, feeders, drinkers, etc. “We hatched all of them in the office. We’ve got a pretty nice incubator that can hold at least 270 eggs,” Dixon noted.
It’s been a team effort between Dixon and Collette. “It takes more than one person to come in and keep up with it,” she said. “Someone has to come in and make sure that the chicks are alive and fed on the weekends. When they’re incubating, we check it everyday to make sure the humidity is at the right level. There’s a certain period before they hatch where it has to stay above a certain level so you have to come and check to make sure they’re going to do well and hatch.”
Collette said they hope to instill a sense of understanding about food production to the kids as well. “When I first had chickens, you get a new respect for the meat that you get from a grocery store…hopefully, they’ll garner a new respect and have less food waste.”
Dixon said responsibility will be another life lesson the kids will learn with their chickens. “They (chickens) go through a lot of water. They go through a lot of food. It’s a responsibility. It’s like having a dog but it’s different because you get food out of it. There’s a different aspect to raising livestock to having a pet.”
The families will attend monthly meetings with the Youth Poultry Project, and Dixon said a separate poultry show will be a part of this year’s livestock exhibits at the Cherokee Indian Fair in October.
In November, there will be demonstrations for processing the birds as well as egg cooking. “We know a lot of families will be interested in processing out their roosters or past-production hens.”