4-H members continue local show

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
While restaurants across America scramble to be sure their eggs are not infected, Rachel Upton, an animal health technician with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, tests the chickens before they're sold by students in the 4-H Chick Chain program. All her tests of the birds in the Chick Chain last week proved negative for disease.

When half a billion infected eggs were being recalled last month, members of the 4-H in Marshall County were preparing for their annual chicken show and sale at the agriculture center on Robin Hood Road.

Thirty-eight young farmers bought baby chicks last spring and signed up for this year's Chick Chain to raise chickens and harvest eggs. On Thursday night, 18 of those 38 4-H members took their birds to a show and sale.

Before the birds were displayed for judging, Rachel Upton, an animal health technician with the state Agriculture Department, tested the chickens for salmonella. With a couple of instruments, Upton obtained blood samples from the birds and mixed it with pullorum antigen. Salmonella is present if blood clots in a drop of antigen, she explained. Upton also tests for bird flu by collecting saliva on a cotton swab stuck in the bird's mouth.

All the birds tested negative for the maladies, Trent Jones, the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Agent assigned to the 4-H Club, said.

The Centers for Disease Control reported eggs recalled from two Iowa farms were linked to 1,300 cases of salmonella poisoning, causing nausea, diarrhea and dehydration. The recall started Aug. 13. A second recall was announced less than two weeks ago.

Advocates of free-range chickens say their eggs are superior to those from farms with millions of laying hens.

"We've never had any (finding of disease) at least not when I've been here," Jones said, recalling the four chick chains that he's coordinated.

Wright County Egg, a sprawling plant based in Galt, Iowa, with seven million chickens, produced 380 million of the 550 million recalled eggs and said it found salmonella in 13 brands, thus starting its voluntary recall, according to cbs.com.

In anticipation of this year's Chick Chain, 4-H Youth Development Agents went to the clubs in January or February and youngsters signed up for the Chick Chain project, University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Agent Rick Skillington said in March.

Young chicken farmers raise the birds, care for them, harvest eggs and learn economics, general management skills and time management, Skillington said. It's an inexpensive project compared to dairy cows, beef cattle, horses, sheep or goats.

In contrast, the set of chicken houses near Petersburg is the biggest in the county, Skillington said. However, those birds are raised only for meat, and Skillington advocates eggs from local chicken farmers.

"Country eggs look better," he said. "Store-bought eggs are usually from chickens that are raised in cages and they're raised strictly for egg production. Ours are of a dual purpose. If you want to harvest the meat you can."

It's a point well taken by Hope Taylor, 12, daughter of Kim and Eddie Taylor of South Berlin Road, and a seventh grader at Cornersville Middle School.

"My granddaddy owns chickens and I always liked the way they looked, " Hope said to explain why she likes raising chickens.

Last year she was recognized as having the best birds in the breed she entered, and this year she won again, according to Jones.

Also winning with different breeds were Andrew Jordan, 18, son of Ken and Melanie Jordan of Franklin Highway and Tyler Moorehead, 11, son of Hugh and Salina Moorehead of Cornersville Highway.

"This is his first year raising chicks and getting eggs," Salina Moorehead said. "He's been in the 4-H since the fourth grade. He's in the sixth grade now at Oak Grove Elementary School.

"My husband works for the Dairy and Research Center," she said of the University of Tennessee farm here with its historic Jersey herd, "so my children have grown up around cattle, donkeys, chickens...

"He has an uncle with a mule, cattle, pheasants, turkeys, guinea hens and goats," Salina Moorehead said.

Meanwhile, Kalum Jones, 10, son of Ken and Tiffany Jones of Chapel Hill, learned responsibility for raising birds.

"But he had help," Ken Jones said. "a little bit, and payment for all the stuff."

The return might be seen as bountiful. While the 40 birds may have cost some $70, Kalum Jones provided eggs for his family because of his 4-H project.

Charles Rufus Dunn, 11, son of Shonia and Charles Dunn of Creekview Road, raised a bird that's a cross between a Rhode Island Red rooster and a Leghorn hen. The boy had 75 birds. It's his second year in the 4-H Club.

Nearly 100 people attended the Chick Chain show and sale. Prices ranged from $9 to $15 per bird, according to the Extension Agent assigned to the 4-H Club.

"All that money goes right to the kid," Jones said. "Usually at $4 a bird they start to make a profit, given the feel and labor and all put into the birds."