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School turns animal farm -- all in aid of learning

IT'S the only national school in the country with its own herd number.

And thanks to its four-legged friends, pupils have to be reminded to go home in the afternoon.

St Oliver's National School in Killarney, Co Kerry, is home to six goats, two pigs, four hens and a cockerel that are all cared for during term by devoted pupils.

Feeding, changing the bedding and all the other jobs associated with animal husbandry are organised on a rota basis, with all 738 students eager to pitch in.

Principal Rory D'Arcy first got the idea to keep animals at the school from Tom Collins, chairman of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, after a lecture he gave on giving pupils as broad an experience as possible.

"He made a comment that if he was in school now he'd be getting hens as well as an interactive white board," Mr D'Arcy said.

About 14 months ago, a team of volunteers built a chicken coop and the newest residents moved in.

They were followed in February by three nanny goats with their kids, which are being reared for the charity Bothar and will eventually be sent to Africa. The pigs arrived in March.

Local farmer Mike O'Shea from Aghadoe has come on board as an adviser and will look after the animals during the summer holidays.

The farmyard is next to St Oliver's outdoor classroom, built thanks to the generosity of the Rotary club. The school also has a wormery, composters, its own arboretum and even a bug hotel.

"I'm very lucky with the staff I have here who were willing to get behind it, but we've also got huge support from the Rotary club and local businesses.

"What we're trying to do is find something that will give the children the key to learning, be that animals, sport, art or whatever it is they enjoy," he added.

Irish Independent