Fifth-graders learn to ‘thank a chicken’

Natural resources highlighted at week-long environmental science program at Millstone 

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Video

ELLERBE — In the world of goat shows, Faith Thompson has been there, done that.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Faith Thompson shares stories about winning Reserve Champion at a goat show a few years ago. She remains active in the Richmond County 4-H Livestock Club.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Faith Thompson shares stories about winning Reserve Champion at a goat show a few years ago. She remains active in the Richmond County 4-H Livestock Club.

So it was natural for the home-schooled student to help fifth-graders from Richmond County Schools on Tuesday learn more about caring for goats and other critters. Thompson, a veteran of the Richmond County 4-H Livestock Club, worked under the guidance of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office agent Tiffanee Conrad, livestock agent, in giving the students tips on how to care for them and what to expect.

It’s not all fun and games, Thompson said.

“Even though they’re a lot of fun to have, they take a lot of responsibility,” Thompson told students from Monroe Avenue and Fairview Heights elementary schools at Camp Millstone near Ellerbe.

For Marshmallow the fainting goat, that means keeping her fed and watered, keeping her away from water and ensuring her hooves are trimmed, otherwise “she can’t walk right.”

Thompson also gave an easy trick to see if your goat has worms. Check the color inside the bottom eyelid, she said — pink is healthy and good, white is worms and bad.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Faith Thompson presents Marshmallow the fainting goat to the crowd of fifth-graders on Tuesday at Millstone 4-H Center. Fainting is a defense mechanism, said Tiffanee Conrad.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Faith Thompson presents Marshmallow the fainting goat to the crowd of fifth-graders on Tuesday at Millstone 4-H Center. Fainting is a defense mechanism, said Tiffanee Conrad.

Conrad following up with a couple of laying hens. How many eggs can a hen lay per day? One, she said. And chicken feathers are most commonly found inside our pillows, “so when you lay your head down on a pillow at night, you can thank a chicken.”

Students were separated into small groups — walnut, poplar, birch, maple, pecan, oak and sycamore — and then diverted to different stations, all but one outdoors. Most seemed to enjoy being closer to nature than usual.

“How’s everybody doing today,” asked Matt Gordon, assistant county ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service, of a group of students at the start of another 30-minute session with a group. “Are you glad you’re out of class?”

The resounding answer was yes. But Jim Pippin, former Millstone 4-H Camp director and now a volunteer instructor, said that’s the secret — school’s still in session.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic blending of the natural resources” with state curriculum, Pippin said.

Pippin praised the program that allows “local people to teach local kids. This is exactly what I’ve been pushing for.”

The program is unique in North Carolina — only one other program, in Wilmington, comes close. This is the fifth year for the Richmond County program.

Jackie McAuley, of the Richmond County Soil and Water Conservation District, spoke under a pavilion with nearly a dozen students about dirt, and the difference between dirt and soil. Soil, McAuley, is alive.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jackie McAuley, of the Richmond County Soil and Water Conservation District, talks with students about soil.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jackie McAuley, of the Richmond County Soil and Water Conservation District, talks with students about soil.

“Soil … in one form or another, is from rocks,” she said. “Rubies, emeralds, or a common rock like sandstone or clay. All of those break down … through erosion. Soil is living.”

From the students’ walk from the previous station to hers, McAuley said, they likely stepped on “billions and billions of tiny little creatures that you can’t even see.”

Representatives from the Sandhills Research Station near Windblow talked about different types of grass and what the different uses are for, from what’s in their backyard (likely Bermuda) to a golf course. After a safety briefing on fire prevention in the wild — it is, after all, Fire Prevention Week — Gordon took groups over to a stand of loblolly pines to determine how old a tree is.

About chest high — eyeball level for most of the students — Gordon manually bored into the center of a tree to obtain a sample. There, he counted the rings: 48 years for one, 54 for another. As it took the tree about three years to reach his chest, Gordon said a field agent had to remember to add on those three extra years for a more accurate estimate of a tree’s age.

There was more. Gordon showed the students how one inch of a sample had nine rings, one for each year. The conclusion is a key component of forest management.

“This tree is growing so slow, it’s not productive,” Gordon said. I would recommend harvesting it, and starting over.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Matt Gordon, assistant county ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service, shows students how to take a sample from a tree in order to determine its age and productivity.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Matt Gordon, assistant county ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service, shows students how to take a sample from a tree in order to determine its age and productivity.

In another area, a Wildlife Resources Commission technician shows the skeleton of a variety of carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. In another, a WRC technician from the McKinney Lake Fish Hatcher to use the state’s only mobile aquarium to illustrate different types of native fish and they need to survive.

Inside, William Trivett, of Trivett Farms in Laurel Hill and a member of the Richmond County Beekeepers Association, told students the difference between honey bought off the farm — 100 percent honey — and from the store, which is something less than 100 percent.

Trivett said state law requires honey in stores to be only 51 percent real honey. The rest? Corn syrup. The difference in the cost is astounding, he said, and in short, bee farmers can’t compete with corn syrup.

Trivett and Laura Grier, 4-H Youth Development agent for the county extension office, told students that honey can have different flavors based on where the bees have been. If they’ve been on sweet apples, then the honey is sweeter. If they’ve been on oranges or tangerines, the honey will taste bitter, or sour. And if the bees have been on mountain laurel, the honey will be poisonous.

Trivett mixed a little bit of practical knowledge with science as well. He passed around a smoker that, when used on a hive, calms the bees down. As to how that works, well, Trivett said, that’s up for debate. Trivett said scientists believe the smoke calm the bees to the point of putting them to sleep. Trivett said he believes the smoke disrupts the pheromones through which bees communicate.

“I don’t know which is true,” Trivett said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com An N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission technician shows the different types of teeth needed by herbivores and carnivores.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
An N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission technician shows the different types of teeth needed by herbivores and carnivores.

Trivett also said beekeepers’ uniforms don’t have to be white — but they should be brightly colored. He said beekeepers avoid wearing dark colors so bees don’t confuse them with predators, such as bears, raccoons, opossums or skunks.

Grier said it’s her goal to get 4-H into the regular classrooms across the county. This week-long program, she said, is a great first step in achieving that goal.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The state's only mobile aquarium was highlighted at Millstone 4-H Cneter on Tuesday with fifth-graders from Monroe Avenue and Fairview Heights elementary schools.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The state’s only mobile aquarium was highlighted at Millstone 4-H Cneter on Tuesday with fifth-graders from Monroe Avenue and Fairview Heights elementary schools.

Filed in: Education, Farm & Ag, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors

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