Last week, Emma Brown ’19 discovered that the only surefire way to make Franz Ferdinand go to sleep was for her to hum Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Franz Ferdinand is Brown’s assigned chick for Biology-420: Animal Behavior.
Students in the class had their chicks for around two weeks, according to Emily Qian ’19. Over these two weeks, students were able keep their chicks overnight for a weekend and an additional night. The chicks left on Thursday, when they migrated to their permanent homes.
Since every student took care of a chick, there are around 30 chicks between the two sections of Animal Behavior that need to be relocated. The majority will go to a farm owned by Stephanie Cormier, Student Program Coordinator, located in nearby Newbury, Mass.
Cormier wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “We have a barn on eight acres. They’ll live apart from our current flock in a smaller space under a heat lamp until they have their feathers and are a bit bigger and can handle adult chicken feed. It’s pretty cool watching the younger generation learn from the older chickens — the best places to sun or dust bathe, where to scratch for the most bugs, how to get up to the highest roosts.”
The course is a revived version of one that was originally started over 20 years ago by Tom Cone, former Instructor in Biology, but ended as there was a lack of space for the chicks. Andrea Bailey, Instructor in Biology, was able to restart the program, now in its second year, because of Cormier’s farm.
According to Bailey, the chicks are meant to provide context for the material learned in the course. Bailey explained that the students apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to the real-world training of their chicks.
“It is an elective course in the Biology Department in which students sort of learn the basics of animal behavior… We talk about a lot of different topics like territoriality, learning the foraging behavior, so we kind of run the gamut of some of the major topics. So [for] the chick part of it, we have the chicks for about two weeks, and we use them for a couple different things,” said Bailey.
For Brown, the chick wasn’t just an educational tool; the responsibility of taking care of a chick impacted her in other ways. Brown explained that she formed an emotional attachment to her chick and that its dependence on her forced her to pay attention to the chick’s needs.
“Taking care of the chick [meant] having the responsibility of making sure it was in the proper environment in terms of being warm enough, but also, in a classroom setting… I was asked to examine the science behind actually training the chick. So [that meant] trying to get it to go in a circle or examining the science of imprinting him on me to make sure that he followed me,” said Brown. “I really enjoyed it. I think it’s a really valuable class.”
Cormier described what can happen when schools can’t find homes for the chicks they use.
“Many birds end up in shelters or dumped in the woods because people want to hatch them for school or personal reasons, but realize afterwards that they aren’t equipped or zoned to take care of farm birds. The worst is when people buy baby animals because they are ‘just so cute’ but want to get rid of them when they grow up, become too much work, school’s out for the summer, they just lose interest, etc. Having volunteered and worked in animal shelters, I have seen a steady stream of homeless chickens, especially roosters, but also classroom rabbits, [and more],” Cormier wrote.
Brown agreed that taking care of farm animals requires a lot of time and patience.
“Not only did I gain an attachment to this chick, but I learned a lot about how I function in terms of patience, what really is my schedule as I move about my day, and how do I be careful of taking care of me and taking care of this little creature. [For example], maybe I don’t get up every 15 minutes or so to make sure that I have gotten enough water. Maybe I don’t go to the bathroom because I’m sitting there really intent on an essay. But [had to think about] self-care and care for someone else too,” said Brown.
Because Cormier has experience taking care of farm animals, she has the resources to care for the chicks after the Animal Behavior students are done using them in class.
Cormier wrote, “My husband and I have an extensive network of local family, friends, and awesome neighbors that eagerly volunteer to look after our farm if we’re both away. We often return the favor by looking after their farms/pets when they are away… and the hens pay them in fresh eggs.”
In addition to going to Cormier’s farm, some chicks went home with students, with their parent’s permission, or with faculty members.