Keeping a small flock of chickens in the backyard is much more than a passing fad or trend and is slowly working itself into the fabric of life for families all over the country and from all walks of life. More people are happily learning that chicken keeping is an activity that the whole family can get involved in.
Like planting a garden – and getting even the smallest of children excited about growing their own food to eat – teaching kids about responsibility and empathy for animals, even (or especially) those that provide our breakfast, is a powerful and important lesson.
Small children can help collect eggs, scatter treats for the chickens, and learn how to refill feeders. Older kids can be responsible for making sure waterers are full, cleaning the coop, and helping to round up the flock at the end of the day.
Chickens are fairly low maintenance and don’t require much other than daily feed and water, but they do need to be locked up in a secure coop at night to keep them safe from predators. If the kids are a bit older, their abandoned playhouse can be quite easily transformed into an adorable chicken coop. A garden shed also is simple to convert into a coop – although not many are willing to give up their potting shed! But maybe sectioning off an area and allowing the chickens one small section would work. For those who are more handy, building a small coop is a great weekend project that the whole family can help with.
In addition to learning responsibility, there are other lessons that chicken keeping teaches. Counting the number of eggs collected and keeping a weekly chart to track the results is a great lesson in arithmetic, as is doing a nightly headcount to make sure each hen is safely in the coop and on her spot on the roosting bar. Since chicken eggs can come in different colors ranging from greens and blues to cream, tan and white, little ones can practice naming the different colors or sorting eggs by color.
But even beyond the potential teaching opportunities that chicken keeping offers for parents, chickens that have been hand raised from chicks and handled frequently grow to be friendly, affectionate pets. Chickens will learn their names and come when called – or at least when treats are involved! The whole family will delight in watching their chickens chase grasshoppers, sprawl in the sun taking dust baths and stroll around the yard, clucking contentedly.
Since chickens are small and fairly non-threatening, they are more family-friendly than some of the larger types of livestock and perfect for children of all ages. It’s important to supervise small kids when they are handling baby chicks especially, so the chicks don’t get dropped or injured, and teaching kids to handle the chickens gently, not to chase them, how to pick up an adult hen, and so on, teaches empathy and compassion. Reminding children not to put their fingers in their mouth or to rub their eyes while they’re around the chickens and to wash their hands afterwards are all good lessons in biosecurity and the disease prevention.
Because so many urban and suburban areas are starting to allow a small flock of chickens, even “city” kids are getting to try their hand at raising a small backyard barnyard which teaches a very powerful lesson about where their food comes from. Getting the whole family outside, planting or weeding a garden, doing chicken chores or just enjoying watching the chickens wander in the backyard looking for bugs, seeds and grass to eat, contributes to valuable family bonding time as well.
Chickens love to nibble on plants and flowers, so keeping them out of the garden during the growing season is critical, but they can be put to work turning the soil and looking for garden pests during the off season, and love to help eat any wilted, bruised or bug-eaten garden produce during prime gardening season.
Kids can even help plant the chickens a garden of their own. Chickens can eat nearly anything that can be grown in a garden, except onions, unripe tomatoes/plants and leaves, eggplant, rhubarb, white potatoes, and avocados, all of which contain toxins that can be harmful to chickens.
All the culinary herbs have wonderful health benefits for chickens – and herbs are easy to grow. Like chickens, herbs don’t need much space, so they’re perfect for a backyard of any size. Most varieties of herbs aren’t picky about soil they’re grown in for the most part, so you can situate your herb garden where it’s convenient to the coop. Many are also drought resistant, so they are very forgiving if a little gardener forgets to water them regularly! Herbs do benefit from regular pruning and trimming, so letting the kids tend to their herb garden and share the trimming with the chickens is beneficial to all.
Welcoming chickens to your backyard will not only supply your family with delicious, fresh eggs, but also teach many valuable life lessons that your chicken will carry with them for life.
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- Children & Chickens: What Backyard Chickens Can Teach Kids - December 12, 2016