Students at the Vancouver Waldorf School’s elementary campus off St. Christophers Road were aflutter with excitement as five adult chickens arrived on their new grounds last Thursday (June 3).
A ceremony was held in the morning outside the school as the chickens arrived in crates and were gently guided to the impressively massive coop that Grade 3 students have worked on building over the school year, part of a gardening and construction project in line with their school’s curriculum.
“We just opened them up at the entrance to the coop. The birds were a little hesitant at first to come right on out,” said gardening teacher Chris Henley, who has been overseeing the school project. “We told the kids they had had a strange and stressful morning, compared to what they’re used to.”
After some gentle coaxing from the previous owner of the chicks, the heritage hens eventually entered their new home and quickly adjusted.
While the rabble of young students were excited at finally seeing the end result of their year-long project, they were perhaps uncharacteristically quiet as well as the hens adjusted to their new surroundings.
It appears the students, too, were adjusting to such unusual and exquisite new pets, explained Henley.
“It was just a magical morning,” he said. “They’re new pets – just observing what they do and what they like and what they don’t like is the first step that we’ve been working on with the kids.”
Either way, the five hens – named Coal, Rosa, Laverne, Goldilocks and Henley – are now right at home.
They’ve already started laying eggs, which students and staff have been harvesting, and the class continues to work on the coop to ensure the chickens are all set up before the school year ends soon.
“On top of that, we’re looking at trying to enrich the soil so that there are bugs that the chickens can eat,” noted Henley.
The District of North Vancouver introduced its backyard chicken program in 2017. While the bylaw was aimed at chicken keeping on private properties, the school convinced the district to let them have a crack at it.
After a year of work, the district inspector visited the school last Wednesday to give them final permission before the "animal therapy" chickens were officially welcomed onsite the next day.
The coop project involved students, teachers, and volunteers getting their hands dirty levelling and building a retaining wall in the small slice of land where the coop was to be erected at the back of the school.
Students also helped dig holes to put up fence posts, stitched together the wire enclosure, and have had a hand at every point of building the coop itself, rain or shine.
“It’s a good skill to learn,” Grade 3 student Briar told the News recently.
An electric fence was even installed, as per the district’s bylaw, which will be used to protect the chicks from raccoons, birds of prey and even possibly bears and cougars.
The coop passed final inspection, and now the school is the first in the municipality to have taken advantage of the backyard chicken program.
“When we finished that and sat in the classroom and started eating lunch, one of the students said we’d been working on it for so long that it doesn’t seem real that it’s finished now. It was quite something,” said Henley.
Members of the Waldorf school community will take turns feeding and tending to the chickens during the summer months. The incoming Grade 3 class is excited to take over the chicken tending project next year, said Henley.
While COVID restrictions mean that the school’s usual upcoming end-of-year ceremony won’t take place, they do have something special planned involving the bounty from the permanent residents of their new henhouse, he added.
“We’re going to have a brunch with our buddy class, using the eggs that we’ve been harvesting from the chickens,” he said.