4-H Chick Days looks to educate Nebraska youth about growing poultry industry

Many youth with poultry projects sell eggs from their family’s flock to friends and neighbors, but don’t realize the poultry business can be a lot larger in scope.
Photo by Teresa Clark

Nebraska youth will have the opportunity to take the skills they have learned through 4-H and find out how they can apply that knowledge toward acquiring a job in the poultry industry.

The University of Nebraska Extension is hosting a new Chick Days event to create youth awareness about the growing career opportunities available in the Nebraska poultry industry.

“What I would like to see is more awareness about what is going on in poultry, and that youth can do more with it than just having fun with their poultry interests. Many times, they get baby chicks in the spring from the farm supply store, but they don’t pursue it past the baby chick stage. We want them to learn what happens to the chick once it is past the baby chick stage, whether it is for egg production or meat production,” said Sheila Purdum, who is a University of Nebraska animal science professor.

Purdum said currently, less than a dozen students are pursuing poultry science careers at the University of Nebraska. With the speed the industry is growing, she hopes this contest will be an educational opportunity that could help change that. “It is definitely an area we need to expand to at least 30 students, just because there is so much demand from companies coming into the state for employees,” she said.

One area Purdum said is underserved is preparing students to work in hatcheries in management and quality control, hatching chicks, giving them vaccinations and overseeing their transport to poultry farms. “It has grown a lot in the last five years, and is really taking off in this state,” she said.

Poultry programs are currently being offered at the University of Nebraska, and more recently at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. NCTA is offering a two-year program through an agreement with Mississippi State University, where students spend one year at Mississippi State working in the poultry science and research barn at the college.

“Last year, I judged half a dozen county fairs with as many as 15-30 kids in the various counties taking poultry projects, but I don’t think they think about it as a career opportunity for education and attending college. We are hoping this event can expand their knowledge and give them more awareness about what type of careers are out there,” Purdum said.

The contest will feature a poultry quiz bowl where teams of three answer trivia, including scientific questions about poultry. The champion senior team will win a $2,000 scholarship to the University of Nebraska, and qualify for the national contest.

Other events are the egg decorating contest, where any medium can be used to decorate an egg; a poultry photography contest, where youth submit their favorite 8-x-11-inch picture related to poultry; a poultry speaking contest; and an omelet cookery contest. The champion senior in each of these events will win a $50 prize.

Purdum said the omelet cookery contest is an opportunity for youth to showcase the egg as a component of a healthy diet. A skillet, stove, and the eggs will be provided, and the youth will need to bring the rest of the materials they need, including a spatula, possibly an omelet pan, and all the ingredients for their omelet.


Sixteen-year-old Emmi Dearmont is looking forward to competing in multiple events, including photography, egg decorating and on a poultry quiz bowl team. “I have grown up around chickens and have always enjoyed taking photos of them. When I was younger, I would play with the baby chicks. Both of my sisters attend UNL and are studying poultry and have jobs working with poultry,” she said.

To prepare for the contest, Dearmont has spent additional time outside taking pictures of her family’s chicken flock, in addition to studying the resources provided by Nebraska extension to prepare for the quiz bowl.

Seventeen-year-old Sidney Froistad doesn’t have chickens herself, but has learned a lot about poultry from Dearmont. “This is actually my first time working on a poultry project, but I have always found them interesting. I have been working with a lot of other 4-H members who have more experience than I do. It has made learning about poultry fun, and I especially like going to practice,” she said.

Competitors in the speech contest can pick a topic of their choice, Purdum said. She expects topics could range from history of a breed or a breed they would like to raise, to how long it takes to grow a broiler chicken or brooding baby chicks after you pick them up from the store. Youth will be evaluated for time and on their presentation.

Jill Sasse, a 4-H leader, was excited to see a Chick Days Event. Two of her members, Justice Currie, 10, and DeLanye Currie, 12, will be competing in the speech and photography contests. “Justice has spent many hours looking for different topics to speak about. She has decided on a topic that she has experience in — How to prepare your chicken for show. She is very excited for this speech, knowing she can put her own experience in it,” Sasse said.

DeLanye will be giving a more scientific speech about treating sick chickens. Sasse said the child has spent a lot of time researching different treatments for different diseases. “DeLanye enjoys research and learning about different treatment options people have tried. She likes teaching the younger children how to care for their chickens and how to show them,” Sasse said.

Jodi Holmes, who is a retail account representative with Cargill, will speak to youth and their families about raising poultry from hatching until the end of their life. “I will be taking people through the steps of getting prepared to bring chicks home, how to take care of them through the different stages of life, housing requirements, feeding requirements and seasonal expectations,” she said.

Purdum said she hopes to see 20-30 youth compete in this year’s inaugural event which has been cancelled due to the coronavirus but will be rescheduled. “We want to make Chick Days a family event, so next year we are planning to have more activities and seminars for the whole family, not just the children participating in the contests,” she said.

“What is unique about this event is it is trying to serve a sector that has a lot of small flock interests,” she said. “Chickens in the backyard produce eggs and meat for the family. Our goal is to take it beyond that and teach families about the poultry industry and careers it can offer,” she said. ❖

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at


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