Bumblefoot and ‘Tiny Peep Sounds’: How Remote School Gave This Fifth-Grader Time for an Education in Chickens and Ducks

Zora Borcila-Miller (Courtesy of Matt Miller)

Right now I have a splinter on my finger from building a duck fence, cuts on my hands and arms from duck and chicken claws and bruises on my hands from duck bites.

Taking care of birds is hard work, but I like it. I have been going to school online since the coronavirus pandemic started but some of the most interesting things I’ve learned are from working chickens and ducks in my neighbor’s backyard.

Six months ago, I did not know anything about ducks except that the ducks at Michigan State University would race for the pieces of bread I threw for them. Then my dad and I moved to our new house in Lansing.

Amanda, the owner of the ducks, lives across the street. I met her when my grandparents were over at our home and their Irish setter was very intrigued by the loud quacking. Amanda and Preston, our neighbors, were outside at a fire. We introduced ourselves, but I was more interested in my grandparents’ dog.

But one of the next times we saw her, Amanda invited me to come into the back and hang with ducks.

At first, whenever Amanda handed me a chicken or duck, I would drop them as soon as they started to wiggle. The first thing I ever learned was how to hold a chicken. You hold them under your arm like a football. The first chicken I held was named Pringles. She’s one of the escape artists.

Soon, I started coming over to see the ducks and chickens after school. I learned to collect eggs, change and turn bedding, spread out hay on the yard and chase ducks back up the block when they escaped. After I got more experienced, Amanda said I could come even when she wasn’t out.

When the weather turned cold, I learned to put oil and wax on the chickens’ and ducks’ feet to prevent frostbite and mites. It’s a tricky task. They wiggle a lot. I’m learning to identify bumblefoot, a kind of infection. I have learned that pekin ducks are the big white ones and that barred rock chickens are black and white.

I’ve learned that ducks like to snuggle.

I go to school in East Lansing, and I have been learning online for more than a year. This year we have been learning about slavery and fractions and decimals and water systems. When I’m at school, I’m usually on the couch with my computer. I have never talked to my teacher in person, only on Zoom.

And it’s OK.

But, in school, we never got to meet a duckling born the day before. A duckling named Haystack hatched about a week ago. This little one has already escaped and been pursued by Amanda’s cats. She’s fluffy and yellow and makes tiny peep sounds.

Sometimes the pandemic has been lonely. One time, I got so bored I made a twin out my own clothes, a pillow and some broomsticks. I’m mostly looking forward to the fall, when I’ll be back in school again in person, but I’ll miss all the time I’ve had with the ducks and chickens.

And I don’t plan to stop hanging out with them or helping Amanda.

Learning about ducks and chickens has been hands on and interactive. It’s fun. And it makes me want to keep learning and keep snuggling these cuties.

Zora Borcila-Miller is a fifth-grader at Pinecrest Elementary School in East Lansing, Michigan.

“Pandemic Notebook” is an ongoing collection of first-person, student-written articles about what it is like to live through the coronavirus pandemic. Have an idea? Please contact Executive Editor Andrew Brownstein at Andrew@The74million.org.

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