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.”

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Jordyn Pair
Jordyn Pair is from Milford, Michigan and plans to study Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. She has previously written for Spinal Column and The Madonna Herald, Madonna University's school newspaper. She enjoys writing, photography, and videography, as well as choir, martial arts, and blogging. She plans to pursue a career in journalism. email: | twitter: @jordynpair