The chicken was out cold when Brooke Chrisley tied her first surgeon's knot. Her fellow students occasionally gently pinched the bird's toe to make sure it was still anesthetized.
Chrisley, an East Jackson High School junior, was one of 30 high school students who attended Avian Adventures, a three-day bird science camp hosted every June by the poultry science department at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The high schoolers came from as far away as Point Pleasant, W.Va., and as close as Athens. They learned about chicken anatomy, general microbiology, hatching, suturing and bird-watching techniques. They also got to experience northeast Georgia by kayaking the Broad River.
Starting with nine students in 2004, the program has outgrown its lab space. "It's the biggest crowd we've had," said CAES poultry science department head Mike Lacy. "We actually had to put people on a waiting list."
Shalandria Jackson, a senior from Decatur, took a break from practicing stitches on a purple sheet of latex. Her favorite part of the program was the microbiology, she said, seeing "the different types of bacteria from everyday things, especially the type and amount of bacteria that came off of my shoe."
Before Avian Adventures, she hadn't thought of poultry science as a career option. "Now it's really interesting," Jackson said. "Now I'm considering it."
That's the program's point, Lacy said, to recruit students into poultry science and other agricultural fields. It also gives students the chance to practice science before they start college. "We usually get two or three students per year from the effort," Lacy said, "and it seems interest in poultry science increases in every class."
These students not only add to UGA's numbers, they also help Georgia's poultry industry fill its job needs. Georgia grows more chickens than any other state. In 2008, Georgia's broilers and eggs had a combined off-the-farm value of $5.48 billion, the state's top agricultural industry.
Avian Adventures is funded through the Harold Ford Foundation, which is part of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. The foundation finances recruitment programs at five other U.S. universities, because the poultry industry needs people.
Chrisley knew she wanted to be a poultry scientist when she was 5. She works with chickens almost every summer, and she's fascinated by the research that can be accomplished through the birds.
Other students who attended said medical school or veterinary medicine is their ultimate college goal. And now they've had surgery experience.
"It's so good to see young people who are interested and really care. They sort of shoot the stereotype of kids who aren't engaged and don't care about their future and the future of the world," Lacy said. "All of these kids you can just tell are going to be successful in whatever they do, whether they end up in agriculture or not."
Billy Skaggs is agriculture agent and county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday's Business page and at gainesvilletimes.com.