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Gillette junior’s research rises to the top

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Gillette – Makala Johnson may seem like a typical high school student in many ways. However, she’s proving to be an up-and-coming scientist.

Johnson was a student at Campbell County High School and a member of Gillette FFA up until this year. She will be starting her junior year at the new Thunder Basin High School in Gillette and become a member of the yet-to-be-named FFA chapter there.

From the time she gets up in the mornings to when she goes to bed at night, she’s always busy doing something. Whether its FFA, music or 4-H, Johnson is a well-rounded student.

Out of these things, Johnson has a knack for conducting scientific studies on chickens.

Poultry project

Johnson started showing chickens in 4-H when she was just eight years old. She’s been passionate about showing poultry ever since. From this one year of showing, her experience has only grown.

When she joined FFA, she became very involved as a member of the Gillette FFA. She’s been involved in multiple career development events and leadership activities, and she takes a very active role in many parts of Campbell County Fair, showing goats, rabbits and chickens.

After these experiences, her ag teacher Kristi Holum wanted her to try out something new.

In Holum’s Ag Competition class, students can pick a project that they want to complete throughout the semester.

“Makala is very energetic, organized and just an all-around good kid. She’s always willing to help and participate in stuff,” Holum says of Johnson.

Science focused

When searching for her project, Johnson picked an agri-science project.

While scrolling through Facebook one day, Johnson and Holum found an interesting topic – feeding chickens cayenne pepper in the winter to increase egg production during molting.

During Johnson’s initial research, no scientific study could be found on the subject. She agreed that egg production becomes a problem during molting, so she decided that this topic would be a perfect one to research.

While this was her first time competing in agri-science, this wasn’t Johnson’s first experience with research.

“In fourth grade, I did a science fair project for school. I played music for my chickens in the barn to see which genre they liked best and when they laid more eggs,” Johnson says.

Her research found that the chickens laid the most eggs when country music was playing.

Little did Johnson know, about 10 years later she would be continuing with chicken-related research.

Starting the experiment

“The first thing Makala did was research because she wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to hurt her chickens. She talked to a local veterinarian, too, to make sure it wasn’t going to hurt the birds,” Holum says.

“I did research on eggs, and eggs are 90 percent water, so I decided to put cayenne pepper in their water instead of the feed,” Johnson explains. “I added two tablespoons to every gallon.”

The cayenne pepper allows the chickens’ bodies to be warmed, but since they don’t have heat taste receptors, no discomfort is involved. That warming effect helps the chicken become more efficient in their egg production, she says.

“Cayenne gives them the same effect as jalapeños give us,” Johnson continues. “It gives them energy, and they eat it not knowing because they can’t taste it. Then, they lay more eggs because they have more energy.”

That energy should off-set the loss of energy from molting. With more energy, egg production can increase during that time of molting, she explains.

Real-world implications

This research has proven useful to Johnson’s operation as she plans to utilize cayenne pepper every year. Through her studies, Johnson found that the cayenne pepper worked. Egg production went up about seven eggs a day in comparison to her control group.

While Johnson does admit that the temperature rose about half-way through her research, the study still seemed to be a success not only for her operation but for scientific research, as well.

Johnson’s agri-science project has led her to success. She was recently recognized as the top individual in her respective agri-science area and division at the 90th Wyoming FFA Convention.

“I got first at state convention with the agri-science project, and that means that I can go to nationals if they accept the paper I wrote up this summer,” Johnson states.

Holum explains the process, saying, “Now we are waiting to find out whether or not she qualified for nationals. They only take so many projects, and they base the decision off their papers alone.”

While Johnson’s research makes its way from right here in Wyoming to Indianapolis, Ind., it will also be showcased in the static exhibits at Campbell County Fair.

Matthew Winterholler is a student at the University of Wyoming majoring in ag communications. Send comments on this article to


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