- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
For Solano County 4-H'er Jarred Burkett, it's also FFFF (Fine Feathered Friends Forever).
Jarred, 10, a member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club in Vallejo raises free-range chickens at his American Canyon home — not for showing at fairs or selling at junior livestock auctions, but as pets. The self-described “Chicken Dude” is as proud, protective and possessive of his poultry as the owner of the best-of-show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
He and Frostbite, his chocolate red cochin bantam, born April 1, 2016, are good buddies, just like the iconic TV stars Lassie and Timmy. In this case, it's not about “a boy and a dog” but “a boy and his chicken.”
At the recent Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held at the Tremont Elementary School, Dixon, Jarred eagerly talked about Frostbite in his presentation that won a blue seal (“very good”) award. The origin of the name? “She was the whitest chick and she always pecked.”
“He loves his chickens,” says his mother, Mary Ann Burkett, a co-community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club and the Vallejo-Benicia representative to the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council. “He climbs The Hill behind our house, where the chickens are. I'd say he spends about two hours a day, total, with them. He hangs out with them, collects the eggs (about 8 to 10 a day) and cleans the pens.”
Mom Mary Ann, dad Rick and their three children, Jessica, 16, Jordan, 12, and Jarred, live in a residential area that allows backyard chickens. The benefits, the family agrees, include not only positive learning experiences, but companionship, fresh eggs, and a bug-free environment.
There are no bugs at the Burkett property, thanks to their flock of 11 chickens.
“The 4-H Poultry Project provides youth a fun and hands-on learning experience that develops life skills; as well the opportunity to learn about caring for and raising chickens responsibly and humanely,” said Solano County 4-H Representative Valerie Williams. “Although it should not be their only source of food, chickens will snack on weeds, vegetable trimmings, as well as eat insects in your garden, making them great recyclers!”
The Burketts, who home-school their youngsters, have also found a way to encourage both reading and physical education. That involves climbing The Hill and tending to the flock. Jarred pulls up a chair and reads to his chickens.
When he or his sisters feel a little sad, a hike up the hill to be with the chickens is all it takes. “Therapy,” says mom.
Frostbite clings to Jarred, and Jarred to her, especially after the bantam's near-death experience in January with a hawk. Jordan helped rescue her. Now one of their dogs alerts the flock to pending danger and the chickens run for cover.
As a 4-H'er, Jarred shows Frostbite at 4-H events; at the Solano County Fair's Youth Ag Day; and at other special events, but not for competition at county fairs. She's a pet. For Jarred, that means he won't leave his pet there alone, especially in a cage. Besides, her wings are clipped (a disqualification).
Another chicken enthusiast is Jarred's sister, Jordan, who owns Frostbite's mother, Twilight. Known as “The Chicken Whisperer,” Jordan communicated with her chicken during her gold-award talk on “Fowl Language, How Chickens Communicate” at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Twilight “talked” and Jordan “deciphered.”
“Buh dup” is a general greeting that means “Hello, how are you? What's up?” Jordan says, while “Doh, doh, doh” is a call heard when the flock is roosting at night, and with broody hens saying “It's okay” to her chicks. “Bwah, bwah, bwah, bwah” is a loud deliberate noise, saying “I'm going to lay an egg.” Then when she does, it's “Bah-Gaw-Gawk, Bah-Gaw-Gawk, Bah-Gaw-Gawk,” a sound starting low and reaching a crescendo.
Poultry does have its rewards. Last year Jarred's record book was named the county winner in poultry. The third-year 4-H'er also takes three other projects: remote control projects, recordkeeping and paper quilling. When he's not involved with his chickens or studying, he's hanging out with his friends and family or playing video games, hiking and bicycling.
Jarred also takes Frostbite, cradled in his arms, when the Burketts shop at the Tractor Supply Co., American Canyon. Now their new mode of transportation is a "pet buggy," a gift from a friend. In fact, Jarred and Jordan wheeled their chickens around the playground in the mesh-covered buggy at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. The buggy, resembling a baby buggy (yes, passersby do a double take), not only keeps them safe, they said, but soothes them.
Mary Ann Burkett is sold on 4-H. “If it weren't for his love of chickens, Jarred would probably never do Presentation Day,” she said, adding “4-H brings youth out of their shells, or out of their comfort zone. Kids tend to be more outgoing when they enroll in 4-H.”
Seven of Solano County's 11 4-H clubs offer poultry projects: Elmira 4-H Club, Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, and Vaca Valley 4-H Club, all of Vacaville; Roving Clovers 4-H Club and Tremont 4- Club, both of Dixon; Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo-Benicia; and the Rio Vista 4-H Club.
Tremont offers their poultry projects countywide, so youth in any Solano County 4-H may enroll, Williams said. Tremont offers poultry projects to two age groups: primary members, 5 to 8 years old, and all other members, 9 to 19 years old.
The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program, follows the motto, “Making the Best Better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19. In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information, contact 4-H Youth Development program representative Valerie Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.