High schoolers getting into the poultry biz
By MATTHEW REZAB
With the help of an animal science teacher, a plucky group of Greene County High School students is planning to enter the chicken business.
The students plan to remodel the old greenhouse — a new one was built this year — to house 30 broilers and 30 laying hens starting this fall.
The business plan calls to sell the chickens and eggs to the Ram Restaurant, which has already been partially negotiated (other than exact prices), and the school board approved the plan after a presentation by instructor Katie Akers, sophomore Robert Lenchanko and freshman Kyann Brown last month.
The group says the idea evolved naturally. The class was learning about different types of livestock when the inspiration hit.
“We were talking, we were kind of off task,” Lenchanko said jokingly. “We were questioning what was going to happen to the old greenhouse. Someone asked, ‘Why don’t we have an animal science lab in there?’ and we all kind of agreed to it.”
Lenchanko and junior Victoria Jones, both Animal Science II students, said they chose chickens because of their size and the ease with which they can be handled. They chose specific breeds for that purpose.
“We chose a Rhode Island red, a buff orpington and barred rock for our egg layers,” Lenchanko said. “For our meat bird section we’ll have jumbo cornish.”
Akers says the project appeals to her because it involves combining all kinds of skills, from math to biology to business.
“The Ram Restaurant students will be involved because they’ll be dealing with fabricating the whole birds we provide and there’s also a marketing component,” she said. “They’re providing a local, natural product and that’s a marketing opportunity.”
She added that woodworking students will help with the remodelling, and the natural resources and conservation class has the opportunity to incubate pheasant hatchlings.
The students each had their own tasks preparing the presentation for the school board.
Lenchanko made sure the remodel plans are up to code to certify the building for ag resale.
Jones was in charge of finding a processing facility for the broilers — a state certified processer in Bloomfield.
Brown and sophomore Samantha Menjivar surveyed other students to gauge interest in the project.
“We thought it was a good idea,” Akers said. “But you never know what everyone else is going to think. Thankfully there were a lot of students who said they’d be interested in a hands-on learning project like this.”
The remodeled greenhouse will feature two 177-square-foot rooms — one for broilers and one for laying hens — and a biosecure entrance.
“We don’t want to bring any contaminates into the building and we don’t want to take any out,” Akers said.
The students said they are fortunate that a suitable ventilation system is already in place.
The class has figured that it will cost $240 to get the broilers up and running and another $220 for the laying hens. Monthly feed and maintenance costs are estimated to be around $100. Those funds would be drawn from the Greene County FFA and paid back as profits come in.
The students have done the math on the business side as well.
For example, they’ve figured that a healthy hen will produce around 28 eggs each month, but it will only take 15 eggs for the class to break even financially on that hen after feeding and caring for her. A hen will generally produce for two to three years, after which she will be processed and replaced.
Lenchanko said the broilers should be mature enough to be processed by the end of each trimester — about 10 weeks.
Akers has around 30 students in her animal science classes each year and they will be responsible for caring for the birds throughout the trimester.
“I think we have enough people who will be willing to come in over breaks and take care of the animals,” Akers said. “I live on an acreage and have the facilities to care for them over the summer.”
Superintendent Tim Christensen says he’s in favor of the project because hands-on, real-world learning is crucial for today’s students.
“Cross-curricular opportunities, like combining agriculture, science and math, are essential in the 21st century,” he said.
Christensen also had high praise for Akers, who donates time as FFA adviser at Greene County along with teaching.
“We have excellent teachers across the district,” he said. “Ms. Akers is extremely passionate about providing opportunities for her students. A big part of this project is FFA related. Student involvement in FFA is a choice. Providing choice to students is another important direction that schools need to go.”
The last step in making the lab a reality is gaining zoning approval from the city council.
The would-be poultry building is situated directly in between the aqua-science lab that holds more than 200 fish and the new greenhouse.
The poultry would be confined to the building at all times, Akers said.
“I’m hoping there won’t be any issues with it,” Akers said. “I mean, there are already 200 fish right next door and that’s livestock.”
The city council agenda for Feb. 14 does not currently list the class on the schedule.