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East Limestone student McKenzie Crabtree in one of the chicken houses at the Capshaw farm where she works.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
East Limestone student McKenzie Crabtree in one of the chicken houses at the Capshaw farm where she works.

East Limestone student poised to go from chicken house to streets of Spain

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

CAPSHAW — Her boots covered in dirt and an unmentionable substance, East Limestone High School junior McKenzie Crabtree walks past squawking chickens in a dimly lit chicken house where the stench of ammonia assaults her nose.

She checks the bins and tubes that deliver their feed and looks for leaks in the water pipes that stretch the length of the building to supply drink for the 13-day-old chickens.

The spider webs don’t give her the heebie-jeebies, but when she saw a rat on the ceiling inside one house, she left her boss a note that said she would check that house later.

“I just don’t want to have to touch one, and I was worried it would fall on me,” she says.

Each day she peers at the 23,000-plus wobbling tufts of white, gray and black in each of the four houses and looks for the decomposing bodies of the ones that have died.

“The other chicks will peck at a dead one, so every now and then you will find one that its body will be all bloody and it smells like a gut-shot deer,” McKenzie says.

She retrieves the dead ones and pulls the live ones out of a feeding bin when they become trapped.

The gray and black ones, McKenzie bestows with odd names like Duck or Goose because they are her favorites.

“I do eat chicken, but I try not to think, ‘Hey, I might have raised this chicken I’m about to eat,’ ” she says.

McKenzie, 16, works for Ben Lauderdale, who supplies broiler chickens to Pilgrim’s Pride.

Why does she make daily visits to the chicken houses at 4 a.m. or after school?

It’ll be worth it come January when she is in Spain strolling the Old Quarter in Madrid and touring an olive-oil company in Antequera. She’ll appreciate the time spent in those chicken houses when she goes to Portugal to see the farm of the Danone Co., which provides us with Dannon yogurt.

$100 a week

The $100 a week she earns at the chicken houses will help fund the trip.

“I got my passport the other day, and I was so excited,” McKenzie says as she props herself on the bed of her pickup. “I’ve never been overseas.”

McKenzie, daughter of Harvey Crabtree and Stephanie Turner, both of East Limestone, is getting this opportunity because she is the state’s vice president of the Future Farmers of America.

She will be one of 37 students nationwide who will take the trip as part of FFA’s International Leadership Seminar.

“We’ll see churches and historical monuments, and work with elementary students on English, but the big thing is learning the differences in agriculture,” McKenzie says. “This will open our eyes on a worldwide level and to our role in world agriculture.”

McKenzie’s family raises a couple of hogs each year, but otherwise, she has not grown up on a farm. Hanging out with the boys led her to farming.

“I didn’t want to take home ec because I wanted to be with the boys because most of my friends are boys, and the boys are in ag,” McKenzie says. “My adviser, Ronald Harris, encouraged me to get involved in ag competitions, and now I want to be an ag teacher.”

She says that through FFA, students can earn scholarships and gain hands-on farming experience. Her work at the chicken houses is part of the FFA’s placement poultry program. She has to document hours worked and job experience.

“I’m amazed at a lot of kids who do programs where they start their own farms,” McKenzie says. “One girl raises honeybees and makes lip gloss and makeup from their honey.”

When she graduates, goes to college and lands a teaching job, McKenzie doesn’t plan to pull off her muck boots forever.

“I think I’ll have a farming operation, too,” she says. “I want cattle and crops and maybe a few chickens — perhaps the layers, the ones that lay all the eggs.”

Those are dreams of the future, and for now, the squawking chickens are calling her, as is a shower.

Help a student get to Spain and Portugal

East Limestone junior McKenzie Crabtree is raising $6,000 to fund a trip to Spain and Portugal for the Future Farmers of America International Leadership Seminar.

McKenzie is the state’s vice president for the FFA and will get to tour farming operations in those countries.

Individuals or corporations who would like to donate can do so through her name at any First American Bank branch. Or you can contact McKenzie by e-mail at mckenzie_crabtree@yahoo.com.

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