Get Your Kids Homemade Chicken
I remember the moment my mom brought home our first chick, Victoria, better than most of my birthdays. It was a warm spring day, and we returned home from school to find that my mother had finally started the herd she had been waiting for. Looking at Victoria’s fluffy body and her skinny, dinosaur legs, it occurred to me then, as an eight-year-old child, that I had never seen a bird close up before. Birds were probably my least favorite creatures with their beady eyes and pointed beaks, but Victoria was something else. She chirped in her sleep, messed up her bowl of water, and responded to treats like all the puppies I loved before her.
Most people consider raising chickens for certain benefits – fresh organic eggs, fewer garden pests, a nutritional compost additive – without realizing that they can be great companions too. Since all of our chickens provide food and labor, it was my affection for them that stuck in my memory after all these years of raising these obedient birds. Now I understand that adopting a chicken can seem a little more difficult than adopting a dog or cat. But think of it this way: you never have to teach them where to write, or worry about them chewing on your favorite shoes. You will babysit them for the first few months to keep them healthy and strong, but from then on they can be on their own.
When I was a child, I watched Victoria follow my mother through the garden and tenderly react to a scratch on her back. Previously, I assumed that domestic meat animals live a robotic, semi-conscious life. Interacting with chickens opened my eyes to the depth and variety of events taking place among all living things around me. Caring for chicks after they lay eggs taught me to empathize with animals that weren’t necessarily cute, fluffy, young, or cute. If I hadn’t grown up with chickens, I’m sure it would have taken me much longer to understand the process my food goes through before it hits my plate. It’s no exaggeration to say that Victoria – and all the girls who came after her – helped me become an inquisitive and compassionate adult.
Thinking about raising your own chicken? Here’s how you, too, can go from modern family to American Gothic:
First, take stock of your yard
Do you have at least room for a large wardrobe and a large bed? Because that’s roughly how much space you need to set aside for the chicken coop and sheltered open walkway. It’s even better if you have a fenced-in yard where you can release them once a day. It’s also a good idea to think about your neighbors. Since chicks can be difficult to have sex with, there is a small chance one of your favorite chicks will grow into a loud, early-risen rooster. Will this be okay for your immediate neighbors? Or are they the kind who call the police when dinner continues after 9pm? These are lifestyle changes that should be considered.
Find out their housing situation
Before your chickens are old enough to venture out into the wild, they first need a cozy cardboard box with a lamp. Ideally, you can store them in a rarely visited room, safe from dogs, cats, and small children at this stage. For the first couple of weeks they will be too small to run into major problems, but by the time they start flapping their wings and taking short, energetic flights, you may need to upgrade to a larger crate or closed crate until they are ready to transition to chicken coop.
There are many ways to build a chicken coop. If you are close at hand, all it takes is a trip to the hardware store for ATVs and wire mesh. Plus, there are some nifty DIY kits that you can buy for a couple hundred dollars. Alternatively, you could follow Silicon Valley’s lead and build a chicken coop that costs more than most people’s mortgages . The idea is to provide them with a place to run, a roof for shade and a protected box so they can lie down and feel safe. And if you plan on expanding your flock at some point, make sure there is enough room inside to comfortably accommodate your chicks’ wire crate. When they get close to the size of an adult, it will take them several days to adapt to the chickens living there without leaving their cage.
Choose your chicks
Once you’ve prepared your living quarters, you’re ready to head to your local feed store and pick up the chicks. This is a great stage to get the kids involved because they will feel responsible for the chicks they choose and communicate with on their own – I know how I felt. I would advise directing them towards the more active ones. I picked a fair share of pretty chicks, thinking they were as quiet introverts as I was, but the next morning I found them dead because they were really sick from the beginning. Lesson learned.
Teach your kids to hug a chicken
Because chickens are safe and relatively easy to care for, they make great pets for children. As far as I know, the chicken hasn’t tortured anyone yet, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can be scary to handle at first. To grab the chicken gracefully, have your child place their hands on either side of the chicken wings. With a firm but gentle grip, the chicks feel safe and relaxed when held in their arms. If your child is nervous and the chicken flaps its wings, let him pull back, calm down, and try again.
It’s easy to get flustered when a bird waves and clucks, but staying calm is the key to becoming a professional blacksmith. For example, Victoria got a little worried when we brought her to my elementary school for show and story, but my mom stayed calm as Victoria climbed onto her shoulders and settled on the curve of her neck. Achieving this level of comfort with a chicken takes practice, so don’t be afraid to cover your face with multiple wings.
Chick watching is as much fun as loving shower. They constantly run, raise dust and take “mud baths” (ride in loose mud and sand to get rid of parasites). They are surprisingly agile and light on their feet, as evidenced by the incident when a brother turned baseball radar at a running chicken and saw it accelerating at 10 miles per hour. Watching and playing with them, you will be surprised how you used to live without chickens.