Keeping Chickens in Schools | How it works
Ellie Lock runs the garden at Fielding Primary School in London. It may sound unusual to have chickens in schools but the star attraction at Fielding is a flock of egg-laying, physics-teaching hens, so we asked her how other schools could follow suit and set up flocks of their own.
1. HOW BIG IS YOUR FLOCK OF SCHOOL CHICKENS?
Ellie: We had 4 chickens to begin with, but we’ve now grown to 7. The girls are quite easy to keep, but I probably wouldn’t recommend keeping more than ten or so chickens in school. Don’t keep the boys - cockerels fight and they’ll wake up the neighbours and, of course, keeping cockerels and hens together means you might soon end up overrun by chickens!
2. ARE YOUR CHICKENS EVER HARD TO TAKE CARE OF?
Ellie: They never stop pooing, it’s just constant, so you have to enjoy cleaning them out. Luckily though, I’ve got a workforce of hundreds of children to do that for me! They’ll also dig up everything in your garden given half a chance.
3. AFTER GETTING YOUR HEN FLOCK STARTED, WHERE DID YOU GO FOR SUPPORT OR TRAINING?
Ellie: I contacted Sara from Hen Corner, who came in and did a session on chickens with the children, teaching them how to pick them up and look after them. That was a great start, but mostly I’ve just read books and information online - there’s loads out there, so you can pick it up quite easily.
4. WAS IT HARD TO GET THE KIDS INVOLVED WITH THE SCHOOL CHICKENS?
Ellie: Lots of them are really nervous about the chickens to begin with, but it’s really good for building their confidence. Some might be a bit more reluctant, but once their friends start having fun and they can see it’s safe that tends to encourage them. It’s also great for those who struggle in the classroom - they can come out into the garden and thrive with the practical side of things, which is often a much-needed confidence boost!
Some children will always be frightened of them, but they can still take part - we just try and keep a fence between them and the birds so they feel more comfortable.
5. ARE YOUR CHICKENS USEFUL WHEN IT COMES TO TEACHING SCHOOLCHILDREN?
Ellie: Absolutely. I use them to tie into lessons - for example, we learned about the strength of arches by standing on eggs, or about levers by balancing the chickens on our arms. They’re great for soft skills too, and a fantastic way of getting kids involved with nature, climate change and where our food comes from, which I think is especially important for those living in cities who might otherwise not get the opportunity to engage with nature.
It’s also really valuable for children to learn practical skills - they clean them out, collect the eggs and feed them. There aren’t many opportunities for children of that age to feel responsible for something as big as the life of an animal. The jobs are actually always the children's favourite bit of the lesson - they want to take care of the chickens, it makes them feel grown up and in charge.
6. WHAT'S THE MOST RECENT THING THE CHILDREN HAVE BEEN DOING WITH THE CHICKENS?
Ellie: Right now, we’re learning to speak to the chickens. The children go off and make chicken sounds, and the chickens make sounds back! They are actually communicating with them, which the kids get a huge kick out of.
7. AND WHAT IS THE FEEDBACK FROM PARENTS ON RAISING CHICKENS IN SCHOOL?
Ellie: They really love it! They’re always here volunteering in the holidays, and they love that the kids are outdoors with animals doing practical things, getting some fresh air and learning about the environment.
8. SO THEY'RE VERY POPULAR... BUT JUST HOW MUCH WORK ARE THEY TO LOOK AFTER?
Ellie: Looking after and teaching in the garden is my job, but the chickens are the easy bit. They just need to be fed and cleaned out every day, with a big clean once every half term or so. So they’re relatively low-maintenance!
There’s never a shortage of volunteers to look after the chickens during the holidays either. The children come in with their parents and they get to take responsibility and be in charge of the garden for the day. It’s quite easy really, and it’s also a lovely way for parents to get involved with their kids’ lives at school.
Interested in keeping your own chickens at home? Learn how from someone who's been doing it for years!
9. ARE THE CHICKEN FLOCKS EXPENSIVE FOR THE SCHOOL TO UPKEEP?
Ellie: Our ongoing costs are really low. All you need is chicken feed and some straw… for the 7 chickens we have, that probably comes in at less than £15 a month. Plus, we’re selling the eggs back to the parents, so we’re making a bit of those running costs back!
Getting set up costs a bit more, as you’ll need a coop and a run to protect them from foxes, and of course to buy the chickens. It’s probably several hundred pounds in all to start a small flock of your own.
10. HAVE YOU EVER HAD ANY ACCIDENTS?
Ellie: Not really! If the children aren’t handling the chickens right, they might flap their wings and give them a scratch - we’ve had a few of those, but it’s always very superficial. Touch wood, in two years the chickens haven’t got ill either - I’ve got an unopened box of mite powder at the ready just in case!
11. WHATS THE ONE THING YOU WISH YOU'D KNOWN BEFORE GOING INTO KEEPING CHICKENS AT SCHOOL?
Ellie: They never stop pooing. Ever. Day and night. So be ready. Get a compost heap - you need somewhere to put that huge mound of poo!
Do you think raising chickens in schools is a good idea? Let us know in the comments below!