The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

03/18/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/18/2024 06:31

Inaugural First Flock retires to 4-H center as 15 new hens move to Governor’s Mansion

From left, Georgia 4-H leader Melanie Biersmith listens to Centurion Poultry owners Gijs and Louis Schimmel discuss the breeds and personalities of 15 new hens joining the First Flock with National 4-H representative Bo Ryles.

Georgia's inaugural First Flock is retiring to Fortson 4-H Center almost three years after they came to roost at the Governor's Mansion in 2021.

Six members of the original flock traded places with 15 new hens during a ceremonial swap on Feb. 1 at the First Flock's custom coop on the eastern side of the 18-acre mansion grounds in Atlanta. The idea for the project was hatched in 2020 when Georgia first lady Marty Kemp expressed her desire to include agricultural education via residential hens at the mansion. A joint initiative between Georgia 4-H and Georgia FFA resulted in the construction of state-of-the-art accommodations for the selected chickens.

Free-range retirement

Fortson 4-H Center, located in Hampton, Georgia, is one of six 4-H facilities across the state and is home to the long-established Fortson Farm. Goats, sheep, pigs and other chickens already call the farm home, and the retiring First Flock hens will live a life of luxury in a free-range setting under the care of 4-H center staff.

Fortson 4-H Center Director Mary Melson and Environmental Education Coordinator Jordan Parker corralled the six hens into a well-appointed crate for their 40-mile journey to the 4-H Center. "These girls will make a perfect addition to our farm and thousands of students will continue learning from them," Melson said.

The 15 new hens that now reside at the Governor's Mansion arrived courtesy of a partnership between Centurion Poultry, the UGA Department of Poultry Science and the Georgia Poultry Federation. Centurion Poultry owners Gijs and Louis Schimmel personally delivered the chickens, which were raised on their Oglethorpe County property.

The First Flock has become a treasured part of Georgia's first family and is a visitor favorite during mansion tours. Placards are displayed on-site to enhance the educational experience, with information about breed selection, care and Georgia's poultry industry.

The coop was designed as part of a 2020 competition that invited county 4-H and FFA clubs throughout Georgia to submit plans for the coop at the Governor's Mansion. Using knowledge of poultry and agriculture, teams of students drafted proposals that included a site, concept, measurements and landscaping to fit the designated space at the Governor's Mansion.

The First Flock was established at the Georgia Governor's Mansion in July 2021.

A team of 4-H'ers and FFA members from Warren County ultimately won the competition, prevailing over five other teams from across the state. The plan consisted of nesting boxes, roosting spaces, a fenced enclosure with ample space, watering and feeding stations, and a dust bath.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared his commitment to agriculture in Georgia and organizations like 4-H and FFA at the original First Flock dedication in 2021. "The newest members of the First Flock will continue this legacy as they educate and delight visitors in years to come," said Bo Ryles, senior director of the National 4-H Council and liaison to the First Flock. The retiring members of the inaugural flock will continue their educational mission and "make the best better" as part of summer camp and environmental education programming at Fortson 4-H Center.

Environmental education with Georgia 4-H

In addition to the farm, Fortson 4-H Center's 77-acre property boasts a climbing wall, zip line, amphitheater, hiking trails, ponds and a herpetology lab. Thousands of youths visit the facility each year for 4-H environmental education programs and 4-H summer camp.

Environmental education programming takes place from September to May and serves school audiences, offering single-day and residential field studies using the outdoors as a classroom. The research-based curriculum correlates to the Georgia Standards of Excellence, providing hands-on learning in the context of the real world. Summer camp at Fortson 4-H Center takes place for seven weeks in June and July and county groups from around the state enjoy a week filled with outdoor activities, team building, adventure, friendship and fun.

Georgia 4-H empowers youth to become true leaders by developing necessary life skills, positive relationships and community awareness. As the premier youth leadership organization in the state, 4-H reaches hundreds of thousands of people annually through University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offices and 4-H facilities.

For more information about 4-H, visit georgia4h.org.