I joined the 4-H Club in fifth grade. My 4-H Agents were dynamite. I loved the club and the 4-H uniform with the crinoline skirt. I won a corn muffin contest at the end of the year and decided I wanted to be a 4-H Agent. My projects were clothing, gardening, woodworking, electric, foods and nutrition. I started work as a 4-H agent on July 1, 1970.
On July 2nd the male agent who was my partner informed me that we would be vaccinating chickens all month long. We had 2,000 chickens, 1,000 a piece – 50 per family. He would help me with ‘mine’ and I would help him with his. I did not know anything about the poultry project. I didn’t know how to vaccinate a chicken so I hoped he would do the vaccination and this would be my training. He was counting on doing those vaccinations because he was also counting on me helping the families catch the chickens! I was the youngest and he was a 20+ veteran Extension agent.
I learned several things that week. First I was scared of live chickens. Second I didn’t know how to catch a live chicken. Third if I did manage to catch a chicken I didn’t know what to do with it. My partner helped with that. I was to spread one wing out so he could slowly dip this small two-pronged fork into an equally small vial of liquid. Then he would stick the chicken in the wing ever so carefully as if worried about hurting the chicken.
If or when we caught a chicken and he vaccinated it we had to also keep the vaccinated chickens separate from the unvaccinated ones. His idea was to arrive at each house unannounced so the chickens would be on the yard. Then catch each one, vaccinate it and put it in the pen. I quickly learned chasing and catching chickens was not one of my talents.
I made at least two decisions: One, the family who raised the chickens would have to do the chasing and catching. Two, my partner’s plan was backwards. The family needed to know we were coming and have the chickens ready to vaccinate. My plan only garnered the incredulous look of a veteran Extension agent training one three days on the job.
I also learned chickens did not like to be chased or caught and probably didn’t like being vaccinated. They were elusive, fast, would peck and it hurt. I was right to be afraid of live chickens. There was one good thing: we didn’t do roosters.
We could finish about two families a day. About the third day we arrived at a household where the children’s father could catch the chickens with a clothes hanger. He had straightened it out and bent the end like a hook. He would calmly walk among the chickens and hook a leg and lift the chicken – no chasing involved. The next day I was ready with my clothes hanger. Walking calmly among live chickens on a hot July day was a challenge but manageable.
The next year I considered just giving 100 chickens to two families. Instead I sent my families a post card ‘awarding’ them their chickens telling them when and where to pick them up. In June I sent post card telling them when I would be vaccinating with instructions to have the chickens ready. This method worked and took a week or less. No more chasing chickens for me. My 4-Hers and I practiced the 4-H motto: To learn by doing.