- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Since Joshua Academy sixth-grader Nyahna Decker became the team leader for the school’s chicken run, her future aspirations now include pursuing a career as a veterinarian.

Known as the “chicken lady” by her peers, Decker, 12, explained the Columbian Rock chickens have been living at the K-6 tuition-free charter school since they were eggs. She said after 21 days the eggs hatched, and the chicks were placed under heat lamps. Once they were old enough, school founder and pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church Rev. Larry Rascoe built a chicken coop and chicken run, and they moved into their permanent home outside.

“It’s inspired me to be a vet,” Decker told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1gnMWuE ). “And I kind of like being out here with them even though I know one day they’re going to peck me.”

This is the first year the school has raised chickens. There are 12 total, but executive director and Principal Pamela Decker said it ties in well with the Agri-Learning club that has been at the school since it was founded about three years ago. Decker said young people need to understand that agriculture touches everyone. She thinks the school’s agriculture aspect is unique because it’s an integral part of learning that can apply math and science, as well as be hands-on for the 252 students.

Through it, children learn about small animal husbandry, which is animal welfare and management like with the chickens. And they have also helped to build around 35 hydroponic units for indoor raised-bed gardening where they grow food such as potatoes, kale, collards and cabbage. The school then hosts farmers markets to raise funds to replenish the supplies for the next year.

Each morning, Nyahna Decker requests help from two or three of her peers to feed and water the chickens. She has enjoyed watching them grow, and said once they got old enough, it was obvious the males, or roosters, are dominant. She said Burnt Marshmallow, the rooster, is her favorite.

“It’s a nasty process, they poop in the feeder,” Nyahna Decker said. “If they see food or they think you are food, they will follow you back and forth along the chicken run.”

Sixth-grader Mar’Treyvean Fox said although the chickens can be loud while kids are walking past them to get to other school buildings, he still enjoys seeing them. Fox, 12, said the chickens initially had names when they were little, but now it’s difficult to know who is who.

Fifth grader DeMarko Vaughn, 10, said he usually refers to the male chickens as King and the females as Queen Latifah.

Fox said one lesson he has learned is that chickens are unpredictable.

“They will bite you,” he said. “And it will hurt.”

Currently, the after school ag-club, which consists of students in grades 4-6, mostly cares for the chickens, Pamela Decker said. The school’s custodian or Rascoe cleans the coop, and on the weekends or when school is canceled, a school official ensures the chickens get what they need. No eggs have been laid yet, but she has high hopes to see some soon.

“I think that’s one of the things that they’ve (students) learned,” she said. “It’s something you have to always do, even in the ice and the snow, somebody always has to come over to make sure the chickens are fed and watered.”

If, for some reason, the chickens become unmanageable, Decker said they will be taken to the Joshua Agri-Learning Center at Boulder Hills Farms near Spurgeon along with the other roosters that were recently relocated there. There were multiple roosters in the batch and since they started fighting to establish territory, only the largest and most dominant one - Burnt Marshmallow - was kept at the school.

Rascoe also raises goats, and some of them recently started having their babies, Decker said. She hopes to get a Lamancha goat in the future that would live at the school and then a goal for students would be to show it at the Vanderburgh County 4-H Fair.

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