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Kim Salsbury and Haley Lemle, left to right, point to Lemle's name at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. Haley Lemle/Courtesy
Kim Salsbury and Haley Lemle, left to right, point to Lemle’s name at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.
Haley Lemle/Courtesy

A local Jackson College student has competed her way up the pecking order with an unusual subject matter — chickens.

Competing as part of the Future Farmers of America, Haley Lemle, 18, has won or placed in a variety of science competitions, most recently placing fourth in the national FFA competition. Her project studied whether feeding peanut products to chickens might result in allergenic meat.

“The chickens fed peanut flour and peanut oil both had peanut allergen in them,” Lemle said. “So, when they were fed peanuts, it did transfer into the meat.”

Using peanut products to feed poultry is becoming increasingly popular, according to Lemle, which may cause problems for those with nut allergies.

“[It’s] not that the peanut industry is doing anything bad, there’s just a lot of people that don’t know,” Lemle said. “I feel like this is important just to anyone with allergies.”

Lemle first entered her project into the FFA state competition in March, where she won first place in the Food Products category. She also entered the Southeastern Michigan Science Fair the same weekend, winning first in Zoology.

This allowed her to attend the State of Michigan Science fair, where she won first again, qualifying for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, although she did not place. Lemle placed fourth at the national FFA competition, running Oct. 19 – 22.

“I was aiming for the top three, but I didn’t get questions I could expand on,” she said in a message. “Overall, I’m happy I placed so high.”

Lemle used 60 chickens to conduct her experiment. Although she originally planned on using peanut meal, she had to use peanut flour instead. This quickly caused problems.

“As I was going along, I noticed the chickens weren’t eating the peanut flour, and they were smaller, because they wouldn’t eat as much,” Lemle said.

She switched some of the chickens over to peanut oil instead, splitting her chickens into three groups: those eating plain food, those eating food supplemented with peanut flour, and those eating food supplemented with peanut oil.

Although this means she can’t compare all aspects of the data, Lemle still feels that her study has meaning.

“Right now, peanut allergies in the US are increasing, so it’s something that’s kind of a bad combination,” she said. “The peanut industry wants to push their products, and if the chickens eat them, and then someone who has peanut allergies eats them, it could be a really bad situation.”

Self-reported peanut allergies have doubled between 1997 and 2002, according to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Others, though, would like to see more testing. Lemle’s FFA advisor, Kim Salsbury, 50, points out that the precursory nature of the experiment should be considered.

“It’s important for people that are feeding their chickens to understand that the peanut allergen can show up, and we really don’t want to use peanut products in our feed,” Salsbury said. “Because it’s a preliminary project, I would suggest repeated trials before we go out in public. So it would need to be repeated again.”

Doing the project was beneficial for Lemle anyways though, Salsbury said.  

“Haley succeeded in learning the scientific process,” Salsbury said. “She went through the steps of what you would do if you were going to major in science. Several of her science classes, you do cookbook labs or take notes, but you don’t really get your hands wet with science. That’s probably the most important thing she learned.”

A self-proclaimed poultry geek, Lemle has been working with chickens for as long as she can remember.

“My first memory really is when my parents got me chickens, and that was my whole world,” she said. “I’ve always been a science geek, so I would have my science books and I would play with my chickens.”

Lemle currently has 30 pet chickens and is considering studying poultry science.

“[This type of study is] a new and upcoming thing,” Lemle said. “it’s important because we haven’t tested this kind of thing before.”