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4-H’er Payton Duncan raises chickens
CARING SPIRIT: Camp Branch 4-H’er Payton Duncan enjoys taking care of the chickens around her farm in Warren County. She started raising chickens even before entering 4-H buts has learned the proper way to exhibit breeding stock at the county fair.

4-H’er makes tending animals top priority

4-H Week: Payton Duncan plans to make a career out of caring for animals.

Editor's note: Editor's note: Oct. 7-13 is National 4-H Week. This week we celebrate by introducing you to the Duncans, a first-generation 4-H family in Warren County who are taking projects ranging from goats to cake decorating and everything in between. Fourth in the series is Payton, a young lady who puts caring for poultry at the top of her to-do list.

Payton Duncan greets me outside the back door with a cat in hand. "My grandma gave him to me for my birthday," she says. We walk into the mud room and stop to pet Violet, the family dog. Inside the house at the dining table we sit a spell and talk about 4-H. Then we head to the chicken coop, where on the other side of the fence a friendly goat comes to greet us.

To say Payton likes animals may be a bit of an understatement. The Warrenton High School freshman plans to make caring for animals her career. "I want to be a veterinarian technician or a veterinarian," she says. Her training starts in 4-H when she enrolls in the veterinary science project and poultry project. "We learn to problem solve," she says. "The animals can't tell you what is wrong, you have to figure it out. Then you have to help fix it, if you can."

Poultry pride
Payton, along with her sisters, Taylor, Emma and Ally, currently have roughly 30 Barred Rock hens and two roosters roaming the family's farm just north of Warrenton, Mo. Last year, the four entered 50 market birds combined in the Warren County Fair Poultry Show. "It was a lot of work," Payton says. "We had to wash them all by hand."

Washing is part of making the animal ready for exhibition, something Payton enjoys. "I love showing breeding stock," she says. "You can show them and take them back home to stay."

The oldest of the Duncan sisters, Payton has become proficient in exhibiting her chickens. For two years in a row she has won poultry showmanship. But the contest is not about just the appearance of the bird.

FREE RANGE: Hens and roosters at the Duncan farm in Warren County roam freely during most of the day. In the evening they are locked in a paddock for safety.

"You have to be able to explain all parts of the bird, know your breed, its origin, how many eggs they will lay, what feed they eat," she explains, "and you have to be able flip the bird on its back so the judge can look at its underbelly. Not many birds like this." But her Americana hen, Falcon does. "She is really nice and calm," Payton says.

Lending a hand
The four-year Camp Branch 4-H member says that raising poultry or any animals teaches responsibility. "You have to be the one feeding and watering them," she says. "They rely on you to take care of them." But she adds it is also a humbling experience.

"When you first start out, you don't know anything about raising them or showing them," she says. "You need to ask for help." Payton has found many friends and mentors in the poultry project willing to help her improve her knowledge.

She plans to pay it forward to other 4-H members, both in the poultry project and at the club level. Payton is part of knitting, shooting sports, cake decorating and veterinary science project groups as well.

This year, she serves as president of Camp Branch 4-H, the largest club in Warren County with more than 80 members. "I think it is important to help other 4-H'ers feel comfortable, help them learn and be excited about 4-H," she says. Payton is also part of the Warren County Teen Leaders.

The 9th grader will balance her time in 4-H with being active in Warrenton FFA, band, French club and chess club. And when it is time to relax and unwind from a busy day, you may find her out feeding the chickens or simply curled up on the couch with her cat Peter.

Did you miss one of the Duncan five? We have you covered. Check below for more on how this first-generation 4-H family is getting the most out of the organization:

• Becoming a sharpshooter at age 8

• 4-H proves girls can weld

• 4-H’er sees life through her camera lens

• Mom urges parents to be present with kids through 4-H

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