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Chicks in the Classroom

One of the phrases used over and over in the 4-H realm, “learning by doing”, became a reality for some Garland County students over the past several weeks.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. –  One of the phrases used over and over in the 4-H realm, “learning by doing”, became a reality for some Garland County students over the past several weeks.  About a dozen members of the newly formed Hot Springs 4-H Schools Club chose embryology and poultry as their project. Upon receiving project books to help them learn about their project, students began to ask if there was any way to purchase fertile eggs to try to hatch.  Many of the members had never been around chickens before, so most were quite clueless about hatching and raising chickens.  Not knowing where to begin to find fertile eggs, we called one of the Garland County Fairgrounds poultry superintendents for possible contacts.  He was very instrumental in providing the group with 36 “possibly fertile” eggs.   

     Incubation of eggs in the classroom setting is usually quite hard, especially when the incubation begins with day one.  Eggs take 21 days to hatch.  Usually Styrofoam incubators designed for hatching eggs are used.  This type of incubator sometimes presents a problem with keeping the humidity at the correct level.  The temperature and humidity inside an incubator are very critical for a good percentage of hatching live chicks.  Because of the two-day weekends, many times eggs are lost due to the loss of humidity as the incubator is unmonitored on those days. 

     Lots of other factors play an important part of a successful classroom hatch.  One factor is to make sure opening the incubator is limited.  Kids are excited about the prospect of baby chicks and naturally will want to open the lid to check on them, especially as the hatch time nears.  Small windows on the lid of the incubator make seeing the eggs difficult, but raising the lid for anything other than adding water should be extremely limited. 

     Another factor for a successful hatch rate is to be sure the room outside the incubator remains at a constant temperature.  Temperature changes in the surrounding room can affect the temperature of the inside of the incubator.  Temperatures of less than 70 degrees can make it difficult to keep the inside of the incubator warm enough for the embryos to develop. 

     Also of importance is to not handle the eggs with bare hands.  Even if hands are washed, oils from a person’s hands will remain on the outer shell of the egg, causing the porous shell to not absorb the humidity properly.  Although it is best not to handle the eggs, when it is necessary gloves should be worn.

     The 4-H’ers monitoring the incubation process at the Hot Springs Schools 4-H Club worked together to make sure all the variables that could harm their project were addressed.  First of all, they placed the incubator in a place where students would not bother the incubator.  Signs were posted alerting the rest of the students that “incubation was in progress and please do not disturb the chicks”.  A schedule was developed by the students themselves for monitoring the humidity constantly.  Protocol was developed and posted near the incubator as to what was to be done if the humidity or temperature wavered beyond certain boundaries.  “Google” was used to log the temperature and humidity so that all the project members could access the document telling what was happening at all times.  Each member of the team had a specific job.  Weekend monitoring was important as someone was responsible for checking on the process even on Saturdays and Sundays. 

     After a thrilling (but somewhat stressful) three weeks of incubation, 32 of the 36 eggs hatched in the classroom—a percentage rate that was remarkable for a classroom incubation process!  As the project was ongoing, the kids learned about responsibility and teamwork.  Hard work and dedication to this project really paid off for them.  Look for these chickens to be shown at the fair this fall! 

By Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
236 Woodbine Hot Springs AR 71901
(501) 623-6841

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