Egg-cellent for education

You know the saying. From little things, big agricultural programs grow.

That is the hope of Deniliquin Christian School, and it’s agricultural program coordinator, science, maths, and technology teacher Ryan Heffer.The school’s agricultural plot was only established in 2020, next to the school’s playground and footy oval in the heart of suburbia with the school surrounded by residential areas.The primary focus is on chickens, and some greenhouse vegetable production, but that’s enough to engage children of varying ages across a variety of subject areas. And Mr Heffer hopes to slowly build on the educational opportunities, hoping to one day introduce some of his own bee hives to the school community.A local farmer helped the school start the program, donating some Ancona Bantams and fertilised Brown Leghorn eggs to the school. They now have a flock of 10 chickens.“The four brown ones we hatched at the end of last year,” Mr Heffer points out.“I had asked the farmer if he had any eggs that I could chuck under a broody chook.“We did have some roosters, but we sent those back to the farm because they were making too much noise to be in town.“The reason we started the ag plot is because we wanted to teach stage five (Year 9 and 10) agriculture.“The agriculture syllabus talks about plant and animal production, so part of that was getting some chooks to start off with.“They’ve been donated to the school quite generously, which has been great.“We received them at the point of lay, so within a few weeks we had a few eggs showing up in nest boxes.’“For the stage five students the benefit was that we could actually see their anatomy.“We candled eggs to see the chicken embryo growing as we were hatching them.“We also had stage five woodwork happening. In Applied Tech classes we constructed the chicken coop and eggshell blue coloured shelters.“We got those three or four kids, and pooled our resources, and they actually built something.”At the moment the school’s youngest students are the caretakers of the chickens. A few days a week the infants — Kindergarten to Year 3 — toddle down to the chooks’ huge enclosure to undertake their duties.“As soon as the kids come in with their little scrap bucket, the chickens follow the kids all the way down to the gate — they know what it means,” Mr Heffer said.While showing off the chooks, Mr Heffer demonstrates to the children how to hold the flighty animals to the youngsters with him.“See how I snuggle it against my arm like a football?,” he says to Year 3 students Ruth Everingham, Brock Smith and Jed Miller.Brock grabs one of the plump brown hens tightly, but carefully.“The black and white ones are pretty, but they are not very friendly. The brown ones are nice and friendly,” Brock says, just as once of the chickens caught him with a wing to the face and ran away, squawking. All three children burst out in raucous laughter.The school has also recently erected a small greenhouse and all produce from the ag plot, including the eggs, are used in cooking classes. Because of the size of the school, the intensive agricultural program for stage five will only run once every two years. But students will continue to be involved in caring for the ag plot in the intervening years.“Coming out of winter, we are going to start doing a few things in the greenhouse,”  Mr Heffer said.“I’m yet to put in some garden beds, but we will wait until semester two.“The plan for the chickens is that they are high enough quality that we can enter them into Deni Show.“That’s the plan starting next year.”Introducing bees will be Mr Heffer’s next goal.“Much of agriculture focuses on the big animals. Bees are never at the forefront, yet they account for one third of the fruit and veggies that we eat.“It’s something I think kids should be aware of, and I believe kids should have an appreciation for smaller animals.“I have recently starting beekeeping myself and I have bee hives at home.“I’d love to bring one or two hives in, but of course I need to make sure that I’ve got all the safety sorted out. We need to be mindful that there might be allergies for different students.“It (beekeeping) is something you don’t normally get to do.“You see bees in flowers and trees, but to actually get into a hive and see how it works is completely different.“To go through and try and spot the Queen on the frame, and see the different types of bees and stages they go through. And at the end of it, you get honey.”Mr Heffer said having the agricultural program has been calming for the students, and given them a real sense of ownership. He said it’s also an instrumental tool in helping students potentially find a future interest and career in agriculture.“It’s particularly great for the infants; the joy of ‘we’ve got these things to feed the chickens’.“A couple of the kids will hold bread in their hand and wait for the chicken to come up and peck it from their hand.“So it calms them, and relaxes them, and gives them something to look forward to.“It’s little bit of an extra routine.“A lot of our students come from agricultural backgrounds — they’re already on the track of helping at harvest time and sowing, and we have got a couple that help out at a dairy towards Finley.“I’m trying to supplement that and give them something so if they want to pursue this as a career, they might be able to start to build some foundational knowledge.”