Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nature Study~ Chicks!

Our first hens at 8 wks
Nature Study- Chicks & Chickens~  We are blessed to have two small "flocks" of our own lovely chicks to use for this nature study.  I'll mention several books we're using as we learn about and raise our chickens but having a YOUNG chick for the students to touch and observe is ideal, as with any nature study topic via the Charlotte Mason method.  If you have the opportunity, try to visit a farm, local farm animal sale/swap, friend's flock, or something similar.  Ask around, you might be surprised at who has some fine feathered producers in thier backyard!  Backyard Chickens are becoming more of the "norm" as many of us move towards a more sustainable, chemical-free, home-grown lifestyle!
I'm also posting some photos (albeit grainy because I only used my camera phone) and videos we managed to snag while doing our Nature Study.  Feel free to use them to discuss with your kids!  You can also visit my new blog, The Egg Basket where I will soon have many more posts, photos, videos, and ideas for chickens and their owners!

If you are new to nature study, whether a homeschooler or school mom who wants to spend some time this summer studying and appreciating nature with your children, check out the Outdoor Hour Challenge's from Barb here.
Katie knows all smart chicks do nature study!
First things first... Mom's Prep! 

 I read, "The Handbook of Nature Study" by Anna Botsford Comstock pgs. 47-50.  If you don't have a copy of this book you can find it here online for free.  As you can see from my photo with Katie (above) mine is nice and worn with TONS of highlighting, garden soil, dew, and bookmarks.  This is one of those books I have never regretted purchasing.  I use it over and over and over.  We use it with each nature study and sometimes just because we find something outdoors or someone (dear hubby or kiddos) brings something home we need to know more about! :)
Our 2nd flock at 4-5 wks
 Now- out with the kiddos to study, observe, and sketch together!
Our 1st "flock" at 8 wks
We gathered up our first "flock" of chicks and let them out to free range.   This group of four lovely ladies is about 16 weeks old.  We were graciously given these four gals by a dear, homeschooling friend who's children had incubated and hatched thier eggs.  It was a win-win and now HER girls don't have to totally give up thier wonderful babies because local families took them in and now they can visit them :).

Curious hens peeking at C's sketch!
The girls at 16 wks
I had planned on doing a chicken nature study as soon as we recieved them but much of what Ms. Comstock wrote about in the Chicken Ways lesson is for younger chicks.  However, they made great comparisons to the younger chicks we just picked up last weekend from the amazing Farm Mama

* Sidenote* If you're ever looking for more chicks or chickens, I whole heartedly recommend this breeder, she is "Like No Udder!" Ha ha, sorry, that's her slogan but it's so cute.  She honestly is amazing, great with my kids at teaching them about each and every chicken, good husbandry, made herself available on a holiday to help us with sick chickens, and she specializes in rare, exotic, and heritage breeds.  I mention this during a nature study because she IS the reason we added our first pairs I'm going to mention and talked to the children about conservation and their pairs that are endangered.

Since we are not housing the two flocks together yet, the kids went inside to grab the brooder (Rubbermaid tub style) and bring the 4-5 week old chicks outdoors to enjoy some of the amazing weather and make it easier to interact with both sets of chicks and sketch them all at the same time.

Of course, the kids had to make over each of thier chicks for a few moments before we got down to sketching. :)  They each have 3 chicks now and each child has different breeds than the others so they have been quite focused on learning more about their specific breeds.  One of their new favorite websites is My Pet Chicken.  If you're doing a Chicken Nature Study as well, it's a great site with tons of information and photographs.  My 3 kids LOVE to browse this one. 

There's a great page on this site all about Chicken breeds and we printed off pages for each of my children with basic information about their particular breed.   Since the HNS is mostly about very young chicks and I wanted the kids to observe and learn about all of thier chickens, I thought this basic information would help us with our nature study.  Even if you do not have chickens and don't plan on it, it's a great way to give them some basic information about the various breeds.

As the kids began sketching thier chicks, I began going through the questions for observation in
Lesson 8 of the HNS. 
1.We talked about the egg tooth and what it was for.  We had reviewed this when we hatched some eggs years ago.  Obviously, our 16 week old hens no longer have their egg tooth.  I wasn't certain about the 4 & 5 week old chicks so we picked each of them up to look for it. :)  Great observations! Unfortunately, no egg tooths on these babies either.  We did a review discussion as a reminder of what the egg tooth is for.

2. We looked at and felt the difference of the down on our baby chicks compared to the feathers our 4 month olds have acquired.  All of the 4-5 week olds have feathers as well as the down so there was great comparison there.  We talked about the difference in the babies also, how A's La Fleche chicks have most all of their feathers alrady while C's Cochin Frizzle and Silkie have hardly any.  In the middle were B's Salmon Favorolles who had a nice amount of new feathers and baby chick down.  It was also easy to see how A's La Fleche are able to fly so well and the others are not.   After looking at the older girls' feathers it was even more evident. 
3. I loved the discussion on distinguishing the difference between ground birds and perching birds (pg. 47-48 HNS)!  We pulled up from our experience and knowledge from past nature studies and bird watching (especially robins) to compare the two.  I honestly had not thought of the differences myself before so it was a fun "discovery" for us.

4. Since we do not have laying hens yet we didn't have the opportunity to observe the chicks with their mothers, however, by merely paying close attention to the chicks own habits, we were able to deduce that baby chickens feed themself from the beginning, different from the robin chicks.  We've also consistently observed Abbey (our flock "leader), B's Buff Orpington play the brave chick when we present them with new produce to try.  She rushes over and pecks at the new treat before any of the others will dare.  It's normally followed by A's Rhode Island Red, Katniss, my Barred Plymouth Rock, Flossie, and lastly by C's sweet Barnevelder, who seems to always miss out on much of the treat sadly.  She's a quiet, docile girl and the others are fully aware of this and tend to take advantage. 
5. The children were aware of grit because we had to discuss its importance and they went with me to the feed store to purchase it.  They also told me during our nature study time yesterday they had observed the different chickens eating rocks and gravel since they've been old enough to live outside and free range a bit.  We had not discussed the term gizzard :) and they found it to be a funny name.  I don't know why but it is a bit funny sounding!
Selana, C's Silkie
6. We talked about how the chicks have a "funny way" of drinking their water.  Once we discussed the reason behind it, it seemed to all make sense.  I took a short video of Abbey taking a drink in case you don't have chickens to observe.  I hope I caught it enough to view.  Once I read the information from the HNS after they all gave me an, "I have no idea why they drink like that." answer, they all did the, "OH!! THAT'S why they do that!" at the same time.  Isn't homeschooling amazing?  They could all describe to me HOW they chickens and chicks took in their water but not why.  Thanks to this nature study and their wonderful observations in the field, they now understand WHY they drink this way and it's not something they will likely forget!  I guess dipping low and filling your bottom beak like a cup and then throwing your head back so the water is forced down your throat is a memorable thing!  Now they understand the lack of muscles is the reason for their funny behavior and it makes perfect sense!
C's Cochin Frizzle, Sarah
7. Interestingly enough, none of my kids had noticed the 4 older hens sleeping with their heads tucked between their own wings yet.  They had giggled and mentioned time and time again how Stella, C's Barnevelder, especially tried to crawl UNDER the other hens when they were roosting in the coop and how odd it was.  We talked about point #7 and as we did, A said to me, "Look mom! Katie is doing it now!" speaking of Katie, A's La Fleche hen, sleeping in the brooder with her tiny beak placed under her little wing.  Suddenly, Stella trying to get under the other hens also made sense to us.  Similar to sleeping under a mother hen's wing (which being incubated she hadn't ever done) she was trying to tuck in under her flock mates in the evening.  It wasn't surprising to us since she's the sweetheart of the group.
A's La Fleche hen & roo and C's silkie peeking
8. My kids told me this morning that when they checked the brooder and found the chicks sleeping that Sarah, C's Cochin Frizzle, was also sleeping with her beak tucked in her own wing and little Juliet, B's Salmon Favorolle, was sleeping with her head under KYLE's ,A's La Fleche Rooster, wing!  I love when my children continue learning, observing, discussing, and exploring days/weeks/months/years after we enjoy a nature study together!  It encourages me and reminds me that the ideas/process of Charlotte Mason's teachings work!

9. -13. These lesson questions were all concerning the hen's noises and conversations.  This was another fun discussion.  My children became very animated and involved in telling me all about the indiviual hen's personalities and "voices."

Abby, B's Buff Orpington
They were so excited to tell me which chickens made which noises for what reasons!  This was clearly an area they felt some expertise in before the study.  We went through the different reasons fore their noises and they agreed with them and felt they'd experienced most of them.  Other than the hens wonderous cackle when she lays an egg because our girls aren't old enough to lay yet.  We are all excitedly waiting for that time and loving that our hens will clue us in when it's happened!

Although each hen has similar noises as Ms. Comstock states, they all seem to have their own "voices" as well.  Abbey and Katniss can be louder (especially for hens!) but we're not surprised as they are the agressors of the bunch. 

Those of you who are familiar with chickens might not be surprised by Katniss since she is a Rhode Island Red, however, Abbey is a Buff Orpington!  Many of our friends who have chickens and other "chicken people" at the local farm animal swap/sale are surprised by this since Orpingtons are known to be docile. 

I think our Abbey is just a bit spunky like her human mama, my B!  :) We often tease each other that the hens behave like their owners.  While Abbey can be vocal and somtimes pushy with the other hens she seems to be completely enamoured with my daughter, B.  B can go out and pick her up and just walk around talking and going about her outside business with Abbey under her arm.  It cracks us up to watch the "bullyish" Abbey be such a docile pet chicken when she's with B.  We just laugh and tell B she's a natural chicken mama and Abbey recognizes she is hers even though we all take part in their care!
Katniss, A's Rhode Island Red
Katniss, A's Rhode Island Red, has a good voice on her, much like Abbey.  Although Katniss is not quite the bully Abbey is, she seems to always be rushing in the mix right behind Abbey.  Since my A & B are twins, it's similar to their own behavior.  B is the more outspoken and A supports her.
Flossie, my barred plymouth rock
 Flossie, my Barred Plymouth Rock, seems to be the mama of the group, clucking away at the other hens as if directing, consoling or scolding them about this or that. :)  She's like me.

Stella, C's Barnevelder is a complete sweetie, her sounds are so soft and sweet it makes us all want to scoop her up and shower her with so much love! 
Stella, C's Barnevelder
14.-15. concerns roosters.  Our little roos are only 4 & 5 weeks old so we don't have firsthand experience with them as adults yet.  I did go over the information in the HNS and we discussed it along with the other information we have gleaned from other "chicken people" and books over the past 8 weeks of owning chickens.  It all meshed together.

Romeo, B's Salmon Favorolle Roo
16.  The last question in this lesson is about the chickens' natural enemies.  Any responsible chicken owner needs to be familiar with thier local enemies to protect their flock and make decisions on how to protect them appropriately.  My children were fairly familiar with most of the listed enemies from simply being a part of a chicken raising family and helping design and construct our coop and pen.  It's amazing the information they absorb on these types of family projects.  As anyone using Nature Study, especially a la Charlotte Mason knows, organic education is often more easily absorbed and remembered than the strictly classroom textbook style.  I was proud to hear my kids tell me all about their chickens' enemies and what we've done to protect them from them BEFORE I mentioned anything Ms. Comstock had written.

Here are two of the books about starting with chickens I mentioned in the beginning, don't laugh, they may be simple but if you're just starting out , I found them to be solid albeit basic information specifically related to chickens. 

If you are also interested in sustainability and backyard homesteading, here's another book I recommend and found quite useful with good information.
Finally, here are the nature study sketches and notebook pages my kids created from our nature study time. I hope you enjoy them and have an opportunity to soon discover the wonderful world of chickens with your family!

To learn more about our chicken adventures and information on sustainable living and homemaking in general, please visit my other blog at My Imperfectly Perfect Life!

C's Nature Study Page about his chicks, Stella, Sarah, and Selana:

B's Nature Sketch & Journal about Abbey, Romeo, & Juliet

Alyssa's sketches and information about Katniss, Kyle, and Katie.

 We loved our chicken Nature Study and continue to love it as we live it each day!  I must admit chicken ownership/farming has been amazing and joyous.  There's something about doing it together as a family and having that responsibility with my children while teaching them about God's great creation and sustainability.  I can't wait until we recieve our first eggs! 

Leave us comments!  Do you have chickens?  What breeds?  What are some treats they like?  Did you do a nature study? 

Tiff, the kids, the pups, the cats, Digger (the turtle), & the chicks! <3
Juliet, B's Salmon Favorolle Hen


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

What a great example of nature study using the Handbook of Nature Study and your very own chickens. I really enjoyed seeing how you used the book suggestions to guide your learning more how they drink water.

Fantastic entry! Thanks for submitting to the OHC Blog Carnival.

Eva Varga said...

I'm so jealous! I wish we could have chickens! :)

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