We spend a lot of time at the feed store. Goat feed, chicken feed, wormers, buckets, pails, tractor parts, bedding, fencing, vitamins…yeah the folks over at the feed store see a lot of us. As many of you know it’s chick season and in my many “ins and outs”, picking up things that the farm requires, I’ve spent a good amount of time hanging over the cattle gates, staring into the red lit troughs filled with adorable chicks and ducklings that the feed stores get in this time of year. This post is meant to be my own light-hearted response to the many battles I’ve witnessed between child and parent over those unsuspecting brooder boxes, which usually starts out with “PLEASE, PLEASE can we get some!!!” I’m in my thirties, but I’m not so old that I don’t remember that same, earnest, childhood plea like it was yesterday. My poor father, on one unsuspecting Saturday trip to get bird seed at the local co-op. We came home with a box of broilers, with no idea what to do with them, no idea that they would get huge and too fat for their own legs. But it seriously changed the rest of my life. And I now live on a farm and write for a living, owing much to that first box of chicks. This post is in no way meant for children to read without their parents permission or a serious attempt to get children to trick their parents into pets or animals that aren’t wanted. But I hope that if you are considering getting chickens for your kids this spring (which if you’re snooping around Community Chickens, I might not be too far off eh? eh?) that this might help you to think through what might be involved. You might feel compelled to read this to your kids to help them understand what it is they’re asking you to commit to. Or you might simply read it yourself and chuckle the way I did, at recalling the memory of child who dreamed of skipping through the grass with a basketful of eggs.
Hey kids, I know how you’re feeling. You just went into the feed store and saw all those adorable peeps and you’ve just gotta have some! It would be so cool to watch the baby chicks turn into chickens and be able to collect fresh eggs each morning. I was once a kid myself and I remember. So here’s some pointers to help you out.
So if you’re reading this, you’ve got some good things on your side. You’re old enough to use a computer and to read so you’re probably old enough to take care of chickens because it’s pretty easy. But you’ve gotta do it for real. You can’t just promise and then back out. Chickens need food and water everyday, they need their pens cleaned often which can be a little gross and stinky and you might even get chicken poop on your hands, yuck! And if you live where it snows, then you’ll have to take care of them in the cold. Is that something you can handle? Would you be willing to get up a little earlier before school, get bundled up in the winter and bring them water? Think hard now, really imagine what it will be like. Ok, can you do it? Cool, read on!
Ok, next thing. If you were in a feed store with your parents you’ve (probably) got some more good things on your side. Feed stores tend to sell stuff that help people who live in the country. So if your parents went to the store in the first place, you might have a backyard big enough, and your neighborhood might allow you to have chickens. You’ve gotta find that out first. Ask your parents…real casual like, maybe at the dinner table. Comment on your mothers delicious meal, eat your broccoli …yup all of it, and then mention your curiosity about the rules of keeping chickens where you live. If you’re neighbors already have chickens, chances are you’re in the clear. So read on.
They need a place to live. Ok, this is the hardest part. Chickens need a house that is safe from wild animals. Foxes, racoons, hawks, even your dog might hurt your chickens. It’s not their fault, that’s just what those animals eat, like when you eat a chicken sandwich. These animals don’t understand that the chickens are your pets so you have to keep them safe. You will probably need your parents help in making a chicken coop. This might cost some money too. So think about how you can offer to help your parents with this. Do you earn an allowance? Can you do extra chores around the house, or maybe help the neighbor rake leaves or shovel their sidewalk, (with your parents permission)? Do you have a birthday coming up? Maybe trade the toy you were hoping for on your list for a chicken home or the supplies to make one for your chickens.
Ok here are the good things about chickens that you need to tell your parents.
1. They’re so, so, so cute!
Sometimes mom’s can be swayed just with this alone. But you have to remember that they’re going to grow up, and they’re going to be a big chicken for much longer than they’ll be a little chicken. Will you love them just as much when they’re not all small and fuzzy?
2. The whole family will get fresh eggs.
Eggs that come from your own chickens taste sooo much better than the ones at the store and they’re usually better for you too. This is because you’ll take such good care of them, so they’ll be very happy and lay great tasting eggs.
3. It will help you be responsible.
Know your stuff before you even mention chicks to your parents. Tell them that you know that you will have to feed them and give them water every day. Figure out how you will do this each morning, and each evening. Make sure you think about nights when you have homework or after school activities like dance or sports. If you have brothers or sisters, they might be on board too and they might be willing to share the responsibility.
4. It will teach you about money and the worth of things.
Your family will also have to buy chicken food, grit (which is little rocks that help chickens chew their food) and bedding. You could mention that this might be traded for the cost of eggs that your mom and dad won’t have to buy at the grocery store anymore. You could also talk to your parents about selling extra eggs to the neighbors. I’ve heard of children paying for their own college with an egg business. You might not be able to do something that big, but you might be able to save a little money in a piggy bank.
5. It’s educational.
Learning about animals helps you learn about life. You will get to see how a bird grows, how it’s fluffy baby down will turn into colorful, stiff feathers. You will learn where eggs come from and maybe even learn to cook a few recipes all by yourself. (With your parents permission) You will learn all the sounds that chickens make, how they scratch and flap their wings and live their little chicken lives. And sadly you might learn about death. Sometimes chickens get sick, or have an accident, and unless your family is vegetarian, you might even eat chickens. This can teach you about where our food comes from, how special chickens are and how much we miss them when they’re gone. But you can also feel good because your chickens lived a happy life because of you!
6. You could join a club like 4-H.
4-H is a great club that helps kids like you to get together with other kids who like to raise animals, grow gardens and all kinds of other fun stuff. See if there is a group that meets by your house and ask your parents if you can go learn more about the club.
So that’s all I got. Good luck to you in your mission. Parents, if you can think of other reasons why raising chicks is a great idea for families to do with their kids, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or visit the Community Chickens Facebook Page.