Barnyard in Atherton? Yes, hiding in plain sight at Sacred Heart Schools

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on May 17, 2012

student milking goat at Sacred Heart Schools

Collecting eggs. Milking goats. Feeding chickens, rabbits and ducks. It all happens after every school day on the campus of Sacred Heart Schools.

girls with ducks at Sacred Heart Schools“For lower and middle school students, it’s an enrichment program,” explained Dr. Stewart Slafter, who wears the multiple hats of farm manager and geography/history/agriculture teacher. (He also tends the barnyard on weekends and other periods when there is no school.)

When we visited, the kids (of the human, not goat, kind) were particularly enthusiastic about the new ducks, who arrived at the barnyard last month. “They aren’t like the rabbits who just run away,” said one student. “The ducks are much more attentive.”

One fifth grader said he’s been taking part in the after school barnyard activities since last October. “It’s really fun to interact with the animals — much more fun than going home and doing homework,” he said with a smile.

The barnyard’s chickens yield about two dozen eggs a day, about half in the laying boxes provided and the other half scattered around the adjoining goat yard, which currently has 7 young kids (of the goat kind). The three adult females are housed separately and milked daily. The chickens share their yard with a rooster, a hen and Tom turkey; a dozen baby turkeys are currently housed separately until they get large enough to join the other fowl.

goats go for milking at Sacred Heart Schools

It was the donation of two female goats to the school three years ago that launched the barnyard. A Billy Goat was added, and the Sacred Heart goatherd resulted. “We don’t have a Billy Goat currently and don’t need one,” said Stewart.

Collecting eggs at Sacred Heart SchoolsA highlight of our visit was the milking of the challenging Madeleine — because of her personality and the fact she has horns — and the more sanguine Connie, who’s the producing champ with a daily gallon and a half of milk. Exclaimed one young milker: “You aren’t really a part of the barnyard crew until you’ve been head butt by Madeleine.”

The goat’s milk is turned into cheese, either at the school’s catering kitchen or by Stewart at home. The barnyard follows sustainable agriculture practices, so the kids learn the life-cycle of farm animals.

Our visit ended with a classic barnyard scene, Madeleine snatching the hat off of Stewart’s head. “A cloth hat is good,” said Stewart, “a straw hat not so. Don’t know why I can’t remember that!”

Photos by Scott R. Kline

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