Rich and Marion Patterson of Winding Pathways LLC share their experiences with sharing their animals with their kids for the benefit of all.
Kids love animals. Even infants are fascinated watching colorful wild birds visiting a feeder. Toads and butterflies capture their imagination, while puppies, kittens, bunnies and just about any other animal grabs their attention.
Involving children in a backyard flock is rewarding for parents and educational for youngsters.
Flocks and Kids
Thousands of families keep a small flock of backyard chickens for the delicious eggs they provide and their rich manure that’s an essential part of good compost for garden plants. But there’s even more to raising a flock … and raising kids. Ask parents of young children why they keep chickens and most will respond that the flock provides their children with these benefits:
- Learning responsibility by caring for hens.
- Learning where food really comes from. It’s not the grocery store.
- Instilling pride by producing delicious family food.
Nancy Patterson knows the benefits of growing up with backyard birds and helping to manage the family flock. Years later she looked back and said, “I loved it when new chicks would arrive in a box peeping and full of hope. Mom used to read us a book called The Far Side of the Mountain which had a trained peregrine falcon as a character. I would pretend that our older chickens were falcons as I watched them flap down from their roost. I never liked reaching in to get an egg from under a hen. They would peck and it was startling. But I suppose it built character and helped me learn how to be polite but also to stick up for myself,” she said. Nancy went on to earn a Master’s Degree and now manages a science center that involves children in natural history.
Start ‘em Young
Babies love activity and color. Gently holding an infant so it can watch hens searching for tidbits on a summer lawn begins a bond between the child and living creatures. Young children also love watching baby chicks scurry about the brooder.
As they grow, kids become more capable of helping manage the flock by gathering eggs, scooping mash into the feeder, filling waterers, and opening and closing the coop door. Beth Allsop hasn’t tended chickens for decades but as a child, she had managed her family’s flock. “I was proud that I helped my family by caring for the chickens,” she said. Chickens can also give older children business experience as they market and sell eggs to relatives and close friends.
Be cautious. There are pitfalls. Baby chicks are delicate and birds of any age can have salmonella on them. Best to start children out observing the birds and then, like adults, learn to wash their hands after caring for and handling the chickens.
Birds and Kids Maturing Together
Chickens are smart and amusing animals who are resourceful, curious, and clever enough to be trainable. Kids who care for these birds see their curiosity and ingenuity as they hunt for food, clean themselves, and find cunning ways to escape their runs. Children can enjoy being around a small colourful flock of hens, and with some adult coaching, hone their observational and research skills. Managing a small flock as a child can lead to rewarding careers in science, and agriculture.
Lesa Vold, Iowa State University Communications Specialist, points out that even if you grew up on an urban environment, you can still pursue a career in agriculture, or agrarian related sciences. With a lot of enthusiasm, and the right degree, there are many exciting jobs in farm research, teaching, microbiology, genetic research that will connect you to the world of urban and rural farming. Starting kids off tending a small backyard flock may be a great way to lead them to interesting jobs in the future of animal science.
Learning Better Lessons
But you don’t want to force your kids to care for chickens. “Chore” doesn’t have to mean “awful.” Unfortunately, there are plenty of today’s senior citizens grew up on farm and will still talk about their dislike of caring for the birds.
- “I had to get up before dawn and take care of those birds. Sometimes it was really dark and cold out. Never again do I want to be around chickens,” they say.
- “When I was young a rooster attacked me and every time I had to collect eggs I’d stick my hand in the nest under a hen and get pecked. It didn’t really hurt but I didn’t like it,” they also remark.
As a parent, work with your kids to see the beauty and benefit of poultry; make it fun rather than a chore. Since young children are small and impressionable, one bad experience can make them dislike chickens for life. Aggressive roosters sometimes attack, but hens rarely do, so work with your kids to know how to observe and approach all of the birds. Teaching kids to collect eggs after hens vacate the nest, or to wear a pair of gloves to reach into the nest will limit being pecked. A pecking hen rarely does physical damage to young hands but the experience can be startling and make young kids weary of the birds, instead of really getting to know them. Hand raising chicks often makes the birds easier to handle as adults, depending on the breed.
A small backyard flock is an ideal family activity. While creating wholesome food it gives children a fun learning activity.