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Starting from scratch

The farm, my outdoor classroom

In my previous life, before I became a mom and farmer, I was a teacher. So when I was asked last spring if I wanted to help with a special pre-K project, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mrs. Debi’s class from the Montessori Schoolhouse in Keene wanted to hatch some chicks from fertilized eggs in the incubator in their classroom, then give the chicks back to the farmer that supplied the eggs. Since I had rooster and hens, this was easy for me.

In the spring, they hatched 10 chicks out of a possible dozen. Those chickens are still running around the barn and will probably begin to lay eggs very soon.

Through this project, the students learned about the development of an egg and that some hatch and some don’t. They only thing that they didn’t know was what happens after the chicks leave the classroom and travel back to the farm. The children were very insistent that they live in a good home, so I made a trip to the classroom and answered all the children’s — and teachers’ — questions about where they were going to live and eat, and how I would take care of them.

I was really honored that they chose to work with me on this project. I was also really nervous at the same time because I was sure that there were going to be some questions that I wouldn’t be able to answer, and then I would look like a wanna-be-farmer. But I was quite surprised with myself. I answered their questions with ease, and I was actually teaching others based on my knowledge. I was legit!

Now let’s fast forward six months and I am once again meeting with Mrs. Debi’s class. This time, we decided to hatch the chicks in the fall so that I can keep the class up-to-date throughout the year with how the chicks are growing, what they look like when they get all their feathers and when they start to lay their first eggs.

The entire class, along with several parents and siblings, recently took a field trip here to Oxbow Farm to return the feisty little chicks, 11 in all from a possible 12 — their highest yield yet.

My roosters did this farmer proud.

I was slightly unprepared for the more than 40 extra people crammed into my barn. It also didn’t help that my broken tractor was smack-dab in the middle of it all, impeding strollers and unsteady two year olds. The roosters were crowing a mile a minute, the goats were uncharacteristically quiet and the ducks were nowhere to be found. Our dog, Finnegan, had never seen so many stick-throwers at his home before.

Together as a very large group, we placed the little chicks into their new home and watched as they investigated their surrounding. The children were very proud of the fact that they had seen them hatch and had cared for these little living creatures for the first week of their lives. I think some were even sad that they had to leave the chicks behind.

Next, the kids collected eggs if they wanted to. Some were very enthusiastic and some didn’t want to get their hands dirty. I know the ratio of good versus cracked eggs collected was completely off this day. But that’s OK, it is all part of the learning process.

We took a walk over to see the piglets because, really, who doesn’t like baby pigs or baby animals of any kind for that matter? The mamma pigs were very patient with the loud and strange sounds of the children. The parents asked questions and were amazed how the moms would push the babies out of the way in order to get the food for themselves.

The sheep were very, very nervous, and at one point I thought they were all going to jump over their fence and take off into the woods. I would have then had to try and coax them back with 25 little kids trying to help. That would not have been a fun field-trip activity. But they stayed inside the fence and were finally coaxed over closer to the group with some grain and carrots.

After a few hours, the children, with freshly sanitized hands, climbed into their cars to head back to school. Some parents asked if they could come back again. A few parents bought some eggs and sausage at the farm store. Mrs. Debi and I are planning a classroom craft next month, and I will bring pictures and updates of their little chicks.

At the end of the field trip, I exhausted yet completely fulfilled.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two kids. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com or email grahamkimberly1@mac.com.

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