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Fowl Play: Chickens & Kids

First flock

Do chickens make good pets? Yes, chickens do make good pets. I would beg to ask, do children make good chicken keepers?

We have 5 hens a rabbit and a dog, and our children help to care for all of them equally, meaning when we remind them to do so. And as cute as the rabbit is and as clever as our dog is, it is the chickens who – when the kids have friends over – garner all the attention and interest.

Those birds are of endless fascination to visiting children, which of course gives our own children a heaping spoonful of pride as well as a bit of know-it-all-ness.

Some children (one boy in particular comes to mind) can be a little rough with the birds, chasing after them in an effort to see if they will take to flight like a plane down a runway. The girls tend to be a bit more gentle but just as fixated, simply resorting to checking for eggs every 15 minutes, which of course means disturbing any poor hen in the coop who might actually be considering laying an egg. (Just as an FYI, our chickens typically don’t lay eggs the day after a children’s party was held in our backyard, they really do need a day to recover from the ‘attention’.)

As for our children and their friends, we think that they have all benefited from their experiences with the chickens. They are all comfortable with the knowledge that eggs are laid by those same chickens in our backyard; they are especially fond of the blue/green ones. And they like eating those eggs as well, in fact we’ve been told by a friend that one certain child only wants to eat ‘Thompson eggs’ because “they taste better and are pretty” – he’s a smart kid that one.

Of course one of the main reasons we got chickens to begin with was so our children could learn about where their food comes from as well as to introduce the idea of farming and animal husbandry to them. But there have been other lessons learned that we initially didn’t consider, not until attending our local 4H poultry club that is.

The 4-H really encourages families to let the children take responsibility for the care of the birds as well as the management of the flock and the eggs. They strongly advocate the sale of eggs and discourage eggs being given away for free. The idea is to value the work of the chickens as well as the work of the children and to teach some simple economics; the cost to care for the birds should be reflected in the sale price of the eggs. We decided that our son would get to keep the proceeds from the sale of the eggs if he cared for the chickens; it’s our alternative to a paper route.

All kidding aside, if you plan to keep a flock and have youngish children (5 and under), the CDC has a document entitled “So you want to raise chickens”. It’s filled with common sense suggestions, mostly around sanitation, but it is worth the fast read. Additionally, here is a short list of advice we wanted to share from personal experience:

  1. Hens really do have a tender disposition and can easily get stressed by the attention children pay to then. For the sake of the birds if not the kids, visiting children should be supervised.
  2. If you have roosters, be cautious with them around the children. From our experience, they can be aggressive and territorial and will peck at legs or whatever other body part they can get to.
  3. Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching chickens or anything in their environment. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Bacteria on your hands can be easily transferred to objects, the birds and other people in your home.

Books to inspire and inform:
Your Chickens; A Kid’s Guide to Raising and Showing: This book covers budgeting, pecking order, health care and egg exploration.

One Hen – How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference: One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many.

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