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All Things Chicken

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October 2, 2019

Dr. Jessica Wells visits the studio this week and discusses all things chicken related in the world of 4-H.


Announcer: This is 4-H-4-U-2, a podcast from the Mississippi State University Extension Service promoting 4-H programs and positive youth development. Here now, your host, Dr. John Long and Cobie Rutherford.

John Long: And we are back on the air. This is 4-H-4-U-2 and I'm John Long, your host.

Cobie Rutherford: And I'm Cobie Rutherford, I got a little quick there, John.

John Long: No, it's fine. It's fine. We've had a lot of coffee. Well, not you, you don't drink coffee, do you?

Cobie Rutherford: I don't.

John Long: No. No, but we had donuts this morning, so-

Cobie Rutherford: We did.

John Long: We got our sugar rush going. We've got summer celebration here in the Extension Bost building today and it's a Friday.

Cobie Rutherford: Most importantly.

John Long: Most importantly. So, we're getting geared up for the weekend. We are so delighted to have Dr. Jessica Wells with us this morning. And how are you doing this morning?

Jessica Wells: Doing good.

John Long: We have been sitting here talking for like 30 minutes, it seems, and just trying to catch up on some stuff that's been going on. So, Jessica, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from and how you got to where you are now.

Jessica Wells: Sure. So, I am originally from south Mississippi, Ellisville area. Yeah, Free State of Jones-

John Long: Jones county.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: That's right. That's right.

Jessica Wells: I grew up there, graduate-

John Long: Have you seen that movie by the way?

Jessica Wells: You know I have not, I've seen-

John Long: You need to.

Jessica Wells: I've seen pieces of it but-

John Long: Very good movie.

Jessica Wells: I'm sure it is. No, I saw all the hype over it when it was being filmed, because, you know, being from there.

John Long: Sure. And it was filmed.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, everybody posted a picture with Matthew McConaughey because he came through town. Yeah.

John Long: Sure, of course.

Cobie Rutherford: You know, I've met a guy that was actually in that movie. He was an amputee. He was a veteran amputee and he's actually in the movie, well as a wounded person. So yeah.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. The man that married me and my husband, he was in it, too.

John Long: Oh really?

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: Well good.

Jessica Wells: He had a few little snippets, you know he had to post those and he was famous.

John Long: I'm sorry that we got sidetracked on Matthew McConaughey, but who wouldn't?

Jessica Wells: Exactly.

John Long: Right? I mean, he's a good actor. So, go ahead. I'm sorry.

Jessica Wells: I graduated from there and I did my bachelor's and master's here at Mississippi State in poultry science. Kind of just fell into that department, I don't think many people grow up saying, "I want to be a poultry scientist." It's just not something at six years old you decide, but I was lucky that I was given the opportunity. It's been great. And-

John Long: Well, what six-year-old doesn't like a chicken?

Jessica Wells: Exactly, exactly.

John Long: I mean, come on.

Jessica Wells: But I finished that master's and got hired on in the poultry department in 2009 and I've been working with 4-H/FFA Youth Project since then. Along with other Extension activities, like Backyard is particularly what I focus in. And then I teach some classes on campus, as well.

John Long: It sounds like you're really busy.

Jessica Wells: I stay busy.

John Long: Yeah, yeah. And you just recently finished your doctorate, right?

Jessica Wells: I did. I finished my PhD this past May. So, work I'm sure is not going to change but...

John Long: It may increase.

Jessica Wells: But the titles different. Same person, different title.

John Long: Give Cobie some advice, as he is going through the... Yeah, you got any questions?

Cobie Rutherford: The dissertation writing.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, I would suggest starting to figure out how to drink coffee, Cobie.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah, I need to-

John Long: A lot of it.

Cobie Rutherford: I need to do that.

John Long: Copious amounts of coffee.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: Black.

Jessica Wells: Cry every now and then, it helps.

Cobie Rutherford: Will that help, too?

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: If you don't cry, just use artificial tears. It worked, it's the same thing.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: Good deal.

John Long: Yeah, that's a big deal. And Cobie, I don't know if you know this or not, we are sitting in the room with a celebrity.

Cobie Rutherford: Oh yeah.

Jessica Wells: Oh, yeah.

John Long: She was not in any movies, I don't think, but she just got an award.

Jessica Wells: I did.

John Long: Yeah.

Jessica Wells: So, a little bit of what I do in our department is student recruitment and I'm the undergraduate coordinator, so I work with our students a lot. So I was nominated and awarded a national recruitment award through Poultry Science Association.

Cobie Rutherford: Oh, very cool.

John Long: That's awesome.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, it was a nice honor, I got to go to Canada and accept that award. So-

John Long: Do they say eh up there?

Jessica Wells: They all spoke French, actually, where we were at. It was a little nerve wracking getting off the plane-

John Long: What part of Canada?

Jessica Wells: Montreal.

John Long: Yeah, I was going to say if... Yeah.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. Beautiful place though. It was real pretty.

John Long: Yeah. Oh, I've heard it was.

Jessica Wells: They all speak English, they just talk French to you until you go, "What'd you say?" And then they'll pick up in English then.

Cobie Rutherford: That's funny. Well, I went to Canada last year for the animal science meetings. We went to Vancouver and it was perfect up there.

Jessica Wells: Yes.

Cobie Rutherford: Like, I love Canadian summers.

Jessica Wells: Oh, I know.

Cobie Rutherford: I don't think it want to be up there in the winter, though.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, I totally agree. It was like 75, even on their hot days while we were up there. So, I mean sight-seeing was beautiful, but I agree, I'm not a snow person at all.

Cobie Rutherford: But you mentioned-

John Long: Fly south.

Cobie Rutherford: That you do the recruiting. So, I guess 4-H plays a pretty important role in that.

Jessica Wells: It does. I have different things that I do in our department, but they really all kind of mesh into one. So with 4-H and FFA, it's a huge recruiting tool for us. I also do a hatch out program in elementary schools and you know, in all honesty that's somewhat of a recruiting tool, as well. Even though those kids are in kindergarten, we make that impact. You give them baby chicks, they get to see that live animal and it's something that they remember from there on out. So when I do come into a school their junior year, they already have that trigger of, "Oh, I remember this activity. This was really cool." So all of those youth development type things that we do, we can really use them as recruitment tools to kind of prove to students that poultry science degrees doesn't mean that you're going to be working in a chicken house. It's actually a wonderful industry and hugely supports our state. And the job opportunities are endless in what you can do with it.

John Long: I think that... And you kind of touched on something that I've always kind of thought... Or not thought, but know, that sometimes you feel like maybe what you're doing is not being effective as far as teaching a young person. But there you make an impact on a young child's life and obviously 4-H does this, they're providing experiences that they never forget. It doesn't matter what it is, I mean, as long as you're that.

Jessica Wells: Right. Right, I agree. You know, it's not a fast turnaround, if I do a 4-H or FFA activity with a senior, I might see that student in in a year. But with kindergarten, you can't really turn that paperwork in to upper admin and say, "See, we're doing something. Look at the numbers." It takes a long time to see that develop, but it's definitely worth it. I can remember as a child, my granddad, who I was really close with, would let us pick out eggs in the Murray McMurray magazine.

John Long: Oh really?

Jessica Wells: Yeah. And we would hatch them and I'd go through there and pick out colorful pretty eggs-

John Long: Well sure.

Jessica Wells: We'd pick out turkeys, quail, ducks, chickens, whatever. And we would hatch them out, keep them in the living room for a couple of weeks, and then he'd turn them loose and I'm sure half of them got eaten-

Cobie Rutherford: Become coyote bait. Coyotes, cats.

Jessica Wells: Right. But it was still like a really cool experience. I remember as a kid, getting flashlights out and going hiding in a closet and looking at the eggs inside and it was... So when I did come into poultry science it was like, "Oh my gosh, I think I was geared for this from day one." I didn't realize it, but... So, little things like that are really important and it seems-

John Long: It's my favorite thing that y'all do. Not the favorite, but is my favorite, it's the candling. I love that. I think it's just the coolest thing.

Jessica Wells: Oh no, the little kids in kindergarten through third grade. I mean they love, you'd tap on that egg and the little embryo starts to move and they get so excited. It's so cute. And then if they start to pip but they haven't actually broken through the shell and you can hear them peeping, they think that's just the coolest thing in the world.

John Long: That leads me to ask the question. What came first chicken or the egg?

Jessica Wells: You know, that's a very valid question, but-

John Long: Well, yeah, I know. We won't get into that.

Jessica Wells: We'll say that both came at the same time. If you had a grown chicken, there's probably an egg inside of her.

John Long: Hey, that is true.

Cobie Rutherford: That's pretty valid.

John Long: Didn't think about that.

Jessica Wells: So it's a draw.

John Long: Yeah. But we still don't know why the chicken crossed the road. That could be a lot of reasons.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: So I used to work in the beef industry with Extension and then with the Cattle Association, and one thing I always had a challenge doing was making that connection from farm animal to a food product.

Jessica Wells: Yes.

Cobie Rutherford: And one of my... I can't say favorite questions, but one question that I got from a kindergarten one time was a sweet little girl in Kentucky, she raised your hand and said, "So when you get the hamburgers from the cow does it hurt them?" And it just baffled me that there's such a big disconnect between farm animals and food.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: How old was that child?

Cobie Rutherford: She was in kindergarten.

John Long: Oh, you said kindergarten, yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: So I'm like... How do you combat that because I'm sure you get some of those questions when you go to a kindergarten class.

Jessica Wells: I do, and I will say that when it comes to those questions, kindergarten and first graders are way better at the questions. I mean, they really do logically think through those processes. And you can still kind of... If I go into a senior class and I talk about slaughtering an animal and us eating it, they're all, "Ooh, yuck." And when you talk to kindergarten or first grader, they've just got that innocence to them that's like, 'Well we've got to eat, I understand this." So it's actually a little easier to communicate with them, you wouldn't think it, but... That hatch out program that I mentioned is a lot... It's an easy way to talk to them about that. We bring live chicks, we talk about how cute they are, but the fact that we need them to survive and they serve a purpose and we go through the concept of... I usually ask them, how many of you like chicken nuggets? And they all raise their hands, everybody gets excited. And then we mentioned to them that chicken nuggets come from the chicken and that we have to slaughter this animal in order to utilize them but we have processes and methods in place that make it safe and less harmful for the animal.

Jessica Wells: And you know, honestly, I've never had kindergarten and first grade students that aren't receptive of that concept and understand that. There is a huge disconnect though, I will agree with that, Cobie. A lot of kids don't put the connection together and it's never offered to them. I think a lot of us try to tread lightly with kids, when in reality, when you're honest and truthful with them the benefit is there, it's good for them. So being able to go into those classrooms with a program like the hatch out, that's fun and educational at the same time, helps to kind of dispel those myths, but also allow them to see that process firsthand, utilize that information in a positive way.

John Long: And we don't do that education, then they are the adults that say, where do you get the milk from? They say the grocery store.

Jessica Wells: Right, exactly.

John Long: Have no idea.

Cobie Rutherford: When that little girl asked me that question, it was around Thanksgiving time and I played it off with the pilgrims and the Indians and the Thanksgiving story about how the Indians taught the pilgrims how to hunt and how did they get the turkey? Well, the Indians showed them how to kill turkeys. It was the same purpose, they shot turkeys with bows and arrows and we eat chicken today.

Jessica Wells: Right, right. And-

John Long: Don't get to talking about turkeys, you'll get me all messed up.

Jessica Wells: We'll get way off track, again.

John Long: I'm already in the spring all of a sudden. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

Jessica Wells: No, it is. It's fun. I get wild questions sometimes, some of them throw me way off guard with those kids, but a lot of them, I'm sitting there just in amazement of how they really start to piece those puzzles together. And you know, in all reality, I'm not just there teaching the students, a lot of times those parents and teachers that are in the room, too, have valid questions and a lot of questions that you wouldn't think that an adult would ask, but they're disconnected. Less than 3% of us actually have a connection with agriculture and farm. So you got to think most of these people have never even seen a baby chick and experienced that.

John Long: I think that's so true, what you say, is that connection between the need or the... Well I don't know how to say that, that disconnect, that gap needs to be closed for sure, because people... And I've had people, they didn't want to talk about it. They know that chicken nuggets come from a chicken, but they don't want to talk about it and they don't want to know and I guess that's fine. At least they know where it comes from where a lot of people don't.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, I would say that generally when you have people that are very timid of the process, if they have the opportunity to go in an actual processing plant and watch that process, they come out with a way better knowledge and it's almost like, wow, that wasn't bad at all. So that understanding, a lot of it is just not knowing and your head creates an image for you that really isn't the truth.

John Long: Exactly. And it's like riding a roller coaster, it's normally worse than... I mean, you make it so.

Jessica Wells: Right. Once you get on, it's like, wow, that was actually fun.

John Long: I want to do that again, let's go to the chicken plant again.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: No, I'm kidding. I've never been to one, I would love to go to one though.

Jessica Wells: It's definitely something to see. It's so efficient and, I mean, you're just in amazement of how well it's operated and ran. And I mean you're talking 150 birds a minute are coming out of that plant process, it's so crazy.

John Long: I went to school many years ago, but I still remember that in animal science, they were quoting those numbers and I was like, "You've got to be kidding me." And I'm sitting here and thinking, okay, how many we've gone through already. But yeah, it's crazy. But we need it, there's a demand for chicken.

Jessica Wells: Exactly.

Cobie Rutherford: And Mississippi ranks third or fourth in the nation?

Jessica Wells: Yep, I think we're fourth or fifth actually now, I think.

Cobie Rutherford: We're fourth or fifth, okay.

Jessica Wells: North Carolina has put in some plants, Sanderson Farms has started developing up there. So they are on the map now. It's number one for our state, it brings in about $3.5 billion for our state in income and whatnot. So it's huge and we do rank in the top five nationwide. In the world, the US is number one for broiler production. So people don't realize, you can say you don't want it, you don't like it, but in reality-

John Long: The demand is there.

Jessica Wells: The demand is there, and it's a way to feed the world, you know? I mean, it's efficient.

John Long: High protein.

Jessica Wells: It is. It's sustainable. A lot of people don't match a commercial industry with sustainability, but if you really think about it, it's probably the most sustainable market we have.

John Long: I had chicken last night in preparation for this interview.

Jessica Wells: And it's good.

John Long: And, oh, it was fantastic. Yeah, it was wonderful.

Jessica Wells: Goes with everything.

Cobie Rutherford: What other contests and activities do you help with?

Jessica Wells: So, with 4-H and FFA, we have poultry judging, which those students will come to state competitions, they also have district competitions and they judge market products as well as live birds. Those we basically base off of industry standards. So most people don't realize it, but when you go buy those eggs or that meat in the grocery store, there's actually a grade on them. And that grade means something. You know, if you go and see that grade A on the top of a carton, that means that that's a good, top egg. Whereas you'd have an A, B, C or no grade. We don't actually buy B eggs or C eggs, they go for other things.

Jessica Wells: But we teach those youth what those grades mean and how to judge those products on that factor, to say whether it's a good egg, a bad egg, mediocre egg, I guess. And then also the quality of that bird. So in our industry, I know a lot of people think we just hatch those eggs, put those birds in a house and see what we get in the end, we can't do that. A processing plant can't run efficiently if those birds aren't uniform, if they're not grown to the best of their ability, we lose profit. So there's characteristics we can look for in young hens and in broilers that we could either cull that out, so that genetic line doesn't move into future generations. And we teach those kids how to look for that. Pigmentation's an easy one to kind of use as example. If a hand has really yellow legs, that means she's probably not laying those yellow yolks. So she doesn't lay as many eggs.

John Long: Really?

Jessica Wells: Yeah. So she-

John Long: Wow. Did you know that, Cobie?

Cobie Rutherford: I did not.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

John Long: Just learn something every day.

Jessica Wells: I know. She actually, the food she consumes has xanthophylls in it, which is yellow pigment. And as she eats that, it turns her skin yellow. If she's laying eggs, she's utilizing that nutrient for that egg. So it will pull that color out of her body. So I could actually walk through a hen house of egg layers and I could tell you who's consuming feed and not giving me profit. And we would want to get rid of that bird because if I'm just feeding her and she's serving no purpose, you know, it's not useful for us. So they learn how to place those birds based on those characteristics. So, it's not just a fun activity, it's actually something that we do utilize in the industry. And our students in college actually take those courses and they compete and they will utilize that once they go into the industry.

John Long: It seems to me, that there has been an increase in... Maybe not, but it seems like it to me, that there's been an increase in interest in growing your own chickens, growing your own eggs at home.

Jessica Wells: There has.

John Long: Especially in our area, I know for a fact.

Jessica Wells: Right.

John Long: Why do you think that is?

Jessica Wells: You know, I think, this is just my opinion-

John Long: You're entitled to it.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, I think so.

John Long: This is free radio.

Jessica Wells: But I think as, Americans especially, but as a human population, we always want what we can't have. And you know when 90% of us lived on a farm, nobody wanted a spare chicken to play with, you know? Because we were all doing it day in and day out. And now that less than 3% of that population live on that farm, we want what we can't have. We don't actually grow our food, so you know what I think I can... I want to take that opportunity, I want to try it out because I've never done it before. So I think that's a lot of where that boom comes from. And social media, too, we see a lot on social media. It has a huge impact and a lot of that's in your face on do we really know where our food comes from? Do you know what those sources are? Whether it's true or false, we take it, we absorb it. And I think that it plays a part on people getting into that feel of wanting to grow their own and see if they can do it.

John Long: And maybe it's in fact that they want to know where they're... I mean, how their food's being handled, too. I've heard that as a reason as why.

Jessica Wells: Right. Most of the time when they do get that flock of birds, they realize real quick that it's a lot more convenient to go back into the grocery store.

John Long: I had an old poultry science professor told me the same thing. He said, "Don't worry with it."

Jessica Wells: It's a lot cheaper, too. I mean, don't get me wrong, it is a very fun hobby. And chicken of all the livestock is probably the best to prove to a child, it's something that they can maintain on their own. So it's a good one to use as a concept of you're not going to sink thousands of dollars into it, it's going to be pretty cheap. You don't have to have a lot of land for it. And they're able to take care of that, not knocking Cobie livestock over here with cattle and whatnot, but I'm not so sure I'd give my four-year-old a bucket and send them out into the pasture with bulls to feed. I would probably give a four-year-old a bucket to go feed some chickens.

John Long: Yeah, they're pretty safe.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, a little safer.

John Long: Until they get spurs on them, I guess you get roosters over there.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, don't get me wrong, they can hurt you, but I don't think it's going to be as bad as some other livestock. So, it's a good, fun project. Like I said, I don't think you're going to save money on it by doing it, but it does teach some really good qualities in youth.

John Long: Educational value's there for sure.

Jessica Wells: Right, right. But aside from that judging, we also have egg prep competition. So students come and give a 10-minute presentation. Those youth come up with some type of food product that they make and it has to have egg in it. And we get everything under the sun, deviled eggs, we get that.

John Long: My favorite.

Jessica Wells: Yes. But some of them will even make cheesecake because it has egg in it, it has to-

Cobie Rutherford: I'm sorry. He was starting to say, "Oh really?"

Jessica Wells: Yeah, you'd be amazed at what you can make with some egg. But they come and do a demonstration and they talk about that product and then they also do a taste test. So the judges will have... We'll have a panel of judges and they serve their product after their presentation and whoever has the best product, as far as flavor and presentation, ends up winning that competition. So that's one that's really fun and you don't have to necessarily get in there with live birds and whatnot, you still get that process. And then our main one, that big one, is the chain project.

John Long: Oh, I love this. I love saying chicken chain.

Jessica Wells: I saved it best for last, right?

John Long: Yes, yes.

Jessica Wells: That poultry chain is really fun, we do all ages, so Cloverbud all the way up to that Senior level 4-'er. They get chicks starting May 19th week, every year, and usually, we tell them to order around 20 because it gives you kind of a pool, but-

John Long: And they go through that through you? Is that how they do that? I mean, through the poultry science. They say, "Hey-"

Jessica Wells: Yes, yes. Their county agent would have all of the information and then, obviously, if they can't get what they need from that county office, then they can always call us and we can answer questions and whatnot. Any of those routes would work, we're probably going to direct them back to that county office, but we'll be glad to help. But those kids get those 20 chicks, or around 20... Obviously if you have six kids, I don't expect you to buy six times 20-

John Long: That's a lot of chickens.

Cobie Rutherford: That's too much.

Jessica Wells: So we don't make it mandatory, but it's just a suggestion. But there're select breeds that they can choose from, they raise those birds for about 20 weeks. So they get them to, basically, sexual maturity and then they bring them to the state fair and they pick their top three to show.

John Long: Wow.

Jessica Wells: It's really been a pleasure to do that. We started that project about eight years ago, I think, and it's been a lot of fun. It's really rewarding. We usually have a pretty large group of kids that compete. We do give out monetary awards for that, so our grand champion gets $1,000, makes it worth it, you know?

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah.

John Long: I'm sorry.

Jessica Wells: You want to compete now, John?

John Long: No, I'm going to sign my vote.

Jessica Wells: And then a reserve gets 500 and we give money to first through fifth place as well. And then there's a category in that, showmanship. So I came up with the showmanship after our first year, I had a little girl that kind of pulled my heartstrings. She was about 10 years old, came decked out, all the bells and whistles, just so excited to be there. She lived with her grandmother, her grandmother was a lot older and you could tell they didn't have a whole lot. But buddy, she was ready, she was excited. But you know, 85-year-old grandmother doesn't understand the concept of feed-in-a-bag feed and it having a nutritional value and whatnot. So she was free ranging some chickens and telling her have fun. So, obviously, she didn't place, her chickens weren't very good quality, but, I opened the cage, they looked at me, jumped in my arms, they weren't scared at all. You could tell the child had lived in that chicken pen.

Jessica Wells: So, we developed the showmanship category to where those students actually take that chicken and they show it. It has to walk across a table for them, they have to position it in different positions and kind of show that bird. So it doesn't really matter the quality of the bird, but it proves that that kid took up time and effort with that animal. So it gives them the ability to place when maybe they don't have the means to place in other categories. So-

Cobie Rutherford: That's awesome.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. And they get a monetary award, as well. We placed first and second for showmanship. So-

Cobie Rutherford: That is cool.

Jessica Wells: It is really fun to watch these little kids make a chicken walk across the table, too.

John Long: I was going to ask you-

Jessica Wells: Yes?

John Long: I'm not even going to go because my mind was thinking, okay, now how do you exactly show a chicken?

Jessica Wells: I know, it's like any other animal. If you've ever seen kids show rabbits or sheep or anything-

John Long: What do you do? Whistle and hold it in the air?

Jessica Wells: You would be amazed.

John Long: Really?

Jessica Wells: So they'll train them with treats.

John Long: Yeah, like a dog.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, just like a dog. And they'll pretty much put their fingers in front of their face and kind of snap and that chicken will walk and-

John Long: You are kidding?

Jessica Wells: Yeah, and they'll stop them-

John Long: I've got to... Have you seen this before, Cobie?

Cobie Rutherford: I've seen the afterwards of a chicken show, but I've never watched the children's show their chickens.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, it's pretty neat to watch.

John Long: That is too cool.

Jessica Wells: Now, occasionally-

John Long: Now, when does this happen because I'm going to make plans.

Jessica Wells: So we always do the second weekend of the state fair, we generally have that show on that Friday before. It's worth coming.

John Long: So, that's the Friday before 4-H day, I guess.

Cobie Rutherford: That's right.

Jessica Wells: It is.

John Long: Oh, I'll be there.

Jessica Wells: It is, yeah, come on over.

John Long: Oh, I've got to see this, this chicken walk [crosstalk 00:26:49].

Jessica Wells: Yeah. We're usually showing about five at a time from starting about 8:00, 8:30 until lunch.

John Long: Where is that located? Is it in one of the barns?

Jessica Wells: So it's usually where your dairy show is going on in the arena, we're usually right outside of that.

John Long: A smaller ring.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, yeah.

John Long: In the little, smaller ring.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah. Last year I walked through there after the show was over and I tried to buy some chickens from a 4-H'er and she priced those three chickens to me for 75 bucks.

Jessica Wells: Hey, there's a lot of work that went into [crosstalk 00:27:18].

Cobie Rutherford: That's right, that's fine.

John Long: If you won't Fifi, you're going to have to pay for it.

Jessica Wells: Exactly. So we actually did do auctions a couple of years, but we kind of ran into that. A lot of those kids get attached and they just really don't want to get rid of them.

John Long: Yeah. Now, I'm excited just to see the little arena.

Jessica Wells: It's a show that's worth coming to see.

John Long: And it's all hens, we don't have rooster?

Jessica Wells: We do all hens. So they don't get... If they want to buy rooster they can, but we don't do roosters. I kind of like to get that concept across that we don't need a rooster to get our eggs and they don't serve a purpose unless you want chicks off of them.

John Long: Right, more chicks.

Jessica Wells: It's just a headache. They get aggressive and-

John Long: They're so pretty, though.

Jessica Wells: They are pretty.

John Long: But pretty annoying.

Jessica Wells: When your four-year-old walks in and they start attacking.

John Long: Yeah. We don't want that to happen.

Cobie Rutherford: So do y'all do anything with any other types of poultry? With ducks or geese or guineas-

John Long: Turkeys.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, so as far as youth projects, we don't, some other states do have turkey shows. The Turkey industry is nonexistent in Mississippi.

John Long: Don't they have it in Arkansas.

Jessica Wells: They do.

John Long: I thought they did.

Jessica Wells: They do. So neighboring states do have some turkeys, we're too hot for turkeys here in Mississippi.

John Long: Okay.

Jessica Wells: We're too hot for everything really. But-

John Long: For us.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, exactly. But we don't really have a whole lot of turkeys. Now, if a backyard enthusiast had turkeys or ducks or geese or whatever, then we're equipped to answer those questions and help them out as best we can. But we don't have any projects that focus around those other avian species.

Cobie Rutherford: Gotcha.

John Long: You just don't think about... Domestic turkeys, I guess. Wild turkeys live out and I guess they're tougher.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. They're way different.

John Long: Wait, wait, here we go, I'm getting sidetracked again. Better bring us back around.

Jessica Wells: John, if you've ever been around commercial turkeys, you would-

John Long: You'd know the difference.

Jessica Wells: Yes, yes.

John Long: Yeah, I bet there is.

Jessica Wells: There's a big difference. They're hard to raise, too. They're not as smart as chicken.

John Long: Really?

Jessica Wells: Yeah. You kind of... With a baby chick, you hatch it out and you put feed and water out and they're good to go, give them some heat. But with a turkey, you generally... They imprint on that mother, so you have to kind of feed and give them reasons to go to the water and if you don't give them heat, they won't go and eat and drink and-

John Long: Wow.

Jessica Wells: They're way more finicky than a chicken.

John Long: Labor-intensive.

Jessica Wells: They are. They are.

Cobie Rutherford: Sure didn't know that.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah. When I grew up we had some backyard chickens and some of my fondest memories-

John Long: I thought he was about to say turkeys.

Cobie Rutherford: No, my grandparents never let me get turkeys because they said they roost in trees and they'll poop on the car and-

John Long: Well, yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: Their poop is acidic and it'd make the car rust.

Jessica Wells: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Long: That's true.

Jessica Wells: Yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: Is it?

John Long: I mean I'm asking, I don't know.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, it is. They basically excrete uric acid.

John Long: Oh my.

Jessica Wells: So, they're not like us. It is pretty nasty and-

John Long: And we've scored some more points on something I didn't know.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah.

John Long: That's crazy.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, it's uric acid.

Cobie Rutherford: So that was why I couldn't have turkeys, but we would always... Like, we would sell chickens at the local trade day and we'd get up before dawn go out there and catch the chickens while they were on the roast and then like take them to trade day and pedal them all day.

John Long: Really?

Cobie Rutherford: Yep.

John Long: My wife won't let me have turkeys at the house. She says I gobble enough, so...

Jessica Wells: I agree with her, they're a little bit of obnoxious. They're not real bright and they are a lot of maintenance.

John Long: Yeah, I bet.

Jessica Wells: They're way bigger bird, too.

John Long: Everything after it, I'm sure, too.

Jessica Wells: Yes, yes.

John Long: Just like chickens.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. I worked with them in my master's degree and I had my fair share of turkeys, the line that we worked with-

John Long: That's good eating, too. I'm saying-

Jessica Wells: It is.

John Long: The protein and...

Jessica Wells: Yes, it tastes really good.

John Long: It tastes mighty good at any time.

Jessica Wells: That would be one pro to having your own turkey, turkey's pretty expensive in the grocery store.

John Long: Oh, you're not kidding. Meat, would you come out on top, growing your-

Jessica Wells: Probably not-

John Long: Probably not.

Jessica Wells: You'd still have a lot of feed intake there, but-

Cobie Rutherford: You know, my former boss in Kentucky, they had a little farm right outside of Lexington, and his wife grew turkeys and would sell them for 75 bucks a piece.

Jessica Wells: Yes.

John Long: Holy smokes.

Cobie Rutherford: Processed at the farmer's market.

Jessica Wells: And people will pay it. Yeah, people will definitely pay it. We do a fundraiser, occasionally we have in the past with our club, and people don't bat an eye at $50, $60 for a whole turkey.

John Long: Wow.

Jessica Wells: So I mean, especially if it's a fundraiser for-

John Long: Well, yeah, sure. Sure, sure.

Jessica Wells: Somebody, but we've done that in the past with our club and I try to not mention it too often because I end up being the one that's processing all those turkeys. And you process a couple of turkeys in you realize really quick, it's not fun.

Cobie Rutherford: It's hard work.

John Long: You did it with hot water?

Jessica Wells: Do what?

John Long: Do you do it with hot water?

Jessica Wells: Yeah. We do use it... Well, we use our scalder and whatnot because we have our own processing plant. It's just that our automation is set for chickens, so we can't hang turkeys in it. So as far as like the cut-up process, everything past plucking we have to do by hand and even hanging a Turkey, their wings-

John Long: Oh yeah.

Jessica Wells: I mean if you're not careful, I could honestly see them break an arm on you if you let them get too crazy and start flocking around on you.

John Long: I guarantee they will. I've got scars to prove it.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, exactly. And you got to think your turkey that you're killing in the wild is not near the size of-

John Long: No, no.

Jessica Wells: A commercial turkey.

John Long: I know, I know, they're more ferocious.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. Those breeder turkeys can get up to 80, 90 pounds.

John Long: You are kidding?

Jessica Wells: No, they're big.

Cobie Rutherford: Wow.

John Long: Did know that? I did not know they were that large.

Cobie Rutherford: I knew that the males were so big that they couldn't naturally service the hens.

Jessica Wells: That's right.

John Long: Wow.

Jessica Wells: That's right.

John Long: I'm just... This is a Friday learning experience for me.

Jessica Wells: I know, the commercial industry actually artificially inseminates on turkeys.

John Long: Geez, that is insane. I did not know that.

Jessica Wells: Yeah. They don't have artificial insemination in turkeys and chickens, so they can actually store sperm, so you don't have to do it every day.

John Long: Is that an ootheca?

Jessica Wells: Do what?

John Long: What's that called and isn't that an ootheca? Now, what's that called when they can store that because I've heard of that.

Jessica Wells: You know, I don't know what the term is.

John Long: I'm sorry.

Jessica Wells: I should, they have sperm tubules, I know that. That's [crosstalk 00:33:18]-

John Long: Yeah, that is pretty neat. I think that [crosstalk 00:33:20]-

Cobie Rutherford: I didn't know that.

John Long: So they can be serviced once, yeah.

Jessica Wells: It's about a-

John Long: It's a repository.

Jessica Wells: A turkey can store almost about two months, approximately two months. So and then a chicken is about two weeks.

Cobie Rutherford: Wow.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, you're not in there but you know maybe once a month or something like that, it's not an everyday chore.

John Long: I'd love to see an 80-pound Turkey coming through the woods, just once.

Jessica Wells: Oh my gosh.

John Long: Thing would look like a tank.

Jessica Wells: Hunting season would be over-complete.

John Long: Here you go, this is all the turkey's you get, right here. Well Jessica, we certainly appreciate you coming in and sitting down with us. It's been a lot of fun.

Jessica Wells: I enjoyed it.

John Long: And, again, we've learned a lot. So, Cobie, you got any other questions for her? This feel so educating.

Cobie Rutherford: I do, too. It was a good Friday podcast.

Jessica Wells: Good.

John Long: Absolutely, absolutely. Then Jessica, you've talked about a lot of projects and a lot of things for 4-H'ers to be involved in. Where can they go and get more information on that.

Jessica Wells: So, all of your county offices are, obviously, going to have that information. Also, you can visit our website, and even if you call our front office or anything, if you mention youth, you're going to end up getting in touch with me. Even if you don't remember a name, you don't know the face, anything like that. Everyone in that department is going to funnel you to me, so we can answer any questions and get you in touch with the right people in order to get active in those youth programs. I mean I do it if I had... I have kids and none of them are old enough yet, but I'm sure they'll be in all of those poultry projects.

John Long: Do you have chickens at your house?

Jessica Wells: I do not. Anytime they want to see chickens, they can come up to work.

John Long: And an 80-pound turkey, apparently.

Jessica Wells: That's right and they do. They get pretty aggravated when they come up to the building and I don't have chicks. They just don't understand why there's not chicks there.

John Long: What a big letdown.

Jessica Wells: Yeah, it is.

John Long: Come on, come on.

Jessica Wells: So, why did I come up here again?

John Long: Yeah.

Jessica Wells: But we don't have chickens at home. You know, I'll work with them enough. It's kind of a biosecurity issue, too, with us having a farm and I'm on that farm constantly. I would hate to think that my chickens gave some type of sickness to chickens that we're raising to research and whatnot, that are worth tons of money.

John Long: Right, right, sure. That makes sense. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to throw a guilt trip over...

Jessica Wells: No, it's fine. My kids can get all the chickens they want at work, they can see them anytime they need to.

John Long: That's awesome. Awesome. Well Cobie, tell everybody where they can go as far as on the extension side, where they can go to get more information.

Cobie Rutherford: So you can visit or contact any of your local county offices.

John Long: And we would love if you're hearing this podcast, please subscribe and I guess like, whatever, our podcast, because we're going to keep bringing it to you every week. So just a little word, too, is if you're interested on when these podcasts drop, that's the official term drop.

Jessica Wells: I learned something today, now.

John Long: Yeah, there you go, there you go. They drop on every Wednesday, so just keep up to speed on that. And you can also go to the extension webpage and just type in 4-H-4-U-2 and you will hear us talking about a variety of subjects. So with that, we're going to close out this podcast and thanks for listening.

Announcer: Thanks for joining us for 4-H-4-U-2. For more information, please visit and be sure to subscribe to our podcast. 4-H-4-U-2 is produced by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Office of Agricultural Communications.

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