Feeding young minds

Lamb jump-starts Hawlemont farm ed

Christa Turner, right, and the rest of her fourth-grade classmates at the Hawlemont School in Charlemont are bottle-feeding and raising an orphaned lamb that they have named Shaggy.  (Recorder/Paul Franz)

Christa Turner, right, and the rest of her fourth-grade classmates at the Hawlemont School in Charlemont are bottle-feeding and raising an orphaned lamb that they have named Shaggy. (Recorder/Paul Franz) Purchase photo reprints »

CHARLEMONT — “Shaggy” was born Jan. 24, in the barn of Erwin Reynolds Sr. — on a night so cold that its mother abandoned both her newborn lambs. When Reynolds found Shaggy and his sister the next morning, they were “half frozen,” according to Hawlemont Regional School Principal Travis Yagodzinski.

Reynolds took them into his house, warmed them up, then tried to get the mother to nurse the other lamb. But she wouldn’t, and that lamb died. Knowing the little surviving ram would have to be bottle-fed, Reynolds called Hawlemont to see if the school was ready to take on livestock as it develops its agricultural-based curriculum.

Seeing Shaggy with his new classmates, a week-and-a-half later, he’s far from “abandoned;” he’s the star of Kimberly Orzechowski’s fourth-grade classroom. You could almost call him “teacher’s pet,” — because, for now, he goes home with Orzechowski each night, to be with her pet dogs and to get his middle-of-the-night bottle feedings.

Hawlemont’s proposed agriculture-based curriculum is still being developed for a future school year, but the children are learning a lot already, thanks to Shaggy.

In math class, the children have been calculating the weekly costs for Shaggy’s hay and “hygiene products” (he usually wears a dog-diaper in the classroom).

“Last week, the bill for the milk replacer was $100 — so they are learning how much these animals are costing the farmers,” commented Orzechowski. She said the PTO has agreed to help out with Shaggy’s expenses.

The students are keeping “sheep journals,” in which they will record and graph Shaggy’s weekly height and weight. Shaggy sleeps in a hay-filled pen in one part of the classroom. And students sometimes take him out for walks, with a harness and leash.

“The kids have been so great with him,” said Yagodzinski. “One day, when he was baahhhing, the kids wrapped him in a blanket and read to him. He loved it — and when you have a reluctant reader, it’s a great motivator for the student.”

In fact, Shaggy is motivating lots of Hawlemont children. Orzechowski said more kids are coming to school earlier, and that she has many more children in her classroom before the school bell rings.

Reynolds has come into the classroom to teach the children about the lamb and about lambs in general.

The school held a naming contest for Shaggy and, during the next all-school meeting, Orzechowski’s fourth-graders will share what they’ve learned about Shaggy with the rest of the schoolchildren.

“We’ve been learning the different parts of the lamb,” said student Robert Locke. “He’s called a Southdown sheep. People don’t use the fleece for wool, they’re used more for breeding and meat,” he said.

“The lamb costs a lot of money,” said classmate Jakob Bower, pointing out cost of the milk replacement meals.

“We learned that we should feed him at least every three hours,” said Anthony Pimpare, whose family keeps sheep, goats and chickens.

Hawlemont is hoping to develop a school-based farm program, to give children a “hands-on” educational experience, by using agriculture as a teaching tool for children. Aspects of the plan include building a small barn, chicken coop and greenhouse onto school grounds.

“They want to have that agricultural program there, and this was an excellent learning opportunity for the kids,” said Reynolds, when reached by telephone. “What we’re proud of is the agricultural program is not just going to teach them curriculum, it’s also going to teach them responsibility.”

Shaggy will be in the classroom during school days for about another month — depending upon how fast he grows. As a full-grown ram, weighing between 180 to 230 pounds, he would not be well-suited to staying inside the school or on school grounds. So he will be given away.

“We’re looking for a farm that would like to take him,” said Orzechowski. “We haven’t decided where to take him, but the children will be part of that process.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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