Going to school usually doesn’t involve rescuing, raising and showing rehab chickens – but it does at Kaharoa School near Rotorua.
The school has even introduced rescued battery hens to their traditional ag day – an idea hatched by the school’s PTA members Celia Grant and Leigh Alaenia, who became aware of the plight of ex-battery hens through local lady Kelly Phelps and her Free as a Bird Rescue organisation.
“When Kelly visited the school and did a presentation on conditions in the battery farms, the children were quite shocked,” says Celia.
After almost every child in the 200-strong school went home begging to rescue chickens, and families stepped up to take some from the next rescue.
With full support of school principal Warwick Moyle, chicken classes were added to the 2017 school ag day.
And due to the current Mycoplasma bovis risk, the school decided to focus on lambs, kids and chickens at its 2018 ag day.
Last year Aisha Lichtwark took over as the Free as a Bird facilitator from Kelly Phelps – one of her first ‘chicken runs’ was to Kaharoa School.
“Eight weeks before ag day, around 70 shattered and featherless hens were delivered into the loving care of a school community eager to help them,” says Celia.
They were dispersed amongst families and the children began to care for them. Twenty-two hens were entered in the chicken section on ag day.
Classes included Presentation, General Knowledge, and Most Recovered, with questions geared to the age of the ‘owner’. Aisha was one of the judges.
“Each child and their hen had been photographed before, and we photographed them again on the day.
“The difference in just those few weeks is so rewarding. Many had started laying again, and they had grown back their feathers. Good food, care and being allowed to be chickens has totally transformed these chickens lives,” says Celia.
“And what is so touching, when you consider the awful life they had before, is the gentle, affection they display. They make great pets and love being cuddled and carried around.”
As part of their Enviroschool commitment, Kaharoa School has its own eight hens from 2017’s ag day. They live on the school grounds.
Year 8 children in Room Totara feed the chickens, check their water daily, and collect eggs, which sold to staff for $6 per dozen. The money raised goes back into buying chicken feed.
The experience has been a positive one for both the school community and the chickens, says Celia.