Five Lessons Your Kids Can Learn from Backyard Chickens!
A few years ago we bought six chicks from the local Tractor Supply. Our daughters were of course very excited, and the chicks were cute. I rushed to finish building a coop out of a repurposed old doghouse, and as soon as the weather was warm enough we moved the chicks into it. While we all enjoyed these new pets, the bulk of the work to take care of them fell to me. It’s not that there was a lot of work, basically just feeding them each day, making sure they had water, and cleaning their house out occasionally; but our girls were still fairly young (6, 5, 3, and baby) and if we wanted the chicks to live I had to make sure these things happened.
After having chickens for a few years, I’ve come to see them as a great teaching tool.
Here are 5 lessons that your kids can learn from having backyard chickens.
1.) Responsibility: As the chickens got older and began laying eggs we realized that this was a golden opportunity to teach the kids responsibility. We assigned each of them specific jobs that they had to do each day. These included:
a. Collecting the eggs (an easy job, unless a chicken didn’t want to move off its egg. Then the job became more difficult. Also potentially messy if the egg basket is dropped.)
b. Taking our food scraps to the chickens (definitely the easiest job)
c. Cleaning the eggs (the hardest job, especially when the eggs got covered with mud and other unspeakable things).
I still had to help feed them sometimes, change their water, and keep an eye on their food level so I knew when to stop at the hardware store to buy more feed, but this wasn’t too bad. The kids would complain sometimes, but generally they just accepted that these chores were part of their routine and started to understand that the chickens relied on them. They were responsible for them. After a couple of years the chickens were laying fewer and fewer eggs, and I didn’t want to care for them through another winter, so we gave them away to friends.
This Spring we got another six chicks and are starting over, but what occurred to me recently is that I do almost nothing to take care of these new chicks. In fact, most of a week will go by and I haven’t even looked at them. Now that our children are older (10, 9, 7, 4, and 3) and accustomed to taking care of chickens they have taken on the burden of caring for them almost entirely, and without really being asked to. As a parent, this is gratifying.
2.) Patience: Chicks have to grow for months before they begin laying eggs. This was something that our children didn’t grasp at first. To be honest, I might not have grasped that either. It seems like a very long time to be feeding and caring for the chicks without receiving anything, but there was a genuine celebration at our house the day in late summer when we discovered the first egg in their coop!
3.) Perseverance: Obviously you can teach similar lessons with other animals, not just chickens. Dogs, cats, hamsters or any other animal. But the one thing I like about chickens is that they are outside. This forces our kids to go out and do the chicken chores in all weather: hot, cold, rain, snow – when they otherwise might not even step foot outside. Somehow I like to think that running to the chicken coop in a raincoat or filling their food bucket when it’s 15 degrees builds character.
4.) Education about the source of food: Our kids also get the benefit of eating the eggs that they have helped work to produce, which is satisfying and helps them understand at an early age where food comes from. As our society increasingly loses a direct connection to farms, this becomes more and more important. Now when we do buy eggs at the grocery store, they have an understanding that these don’t just magically appear in cartons and they are able to apply this concept to other foods as well.
5.) Economics: We were also able to use the chickens as an economic lesson. Our chickens would produce more eggs than our family was eating, so each week our girls would “sell” a dozen eggs to my parents for $2, which they would save up to buy something special. It was a basic, but effective lesson in the value of work and of producing a product. If we had weeks when the chickens didn’t lay many eggs, they understood that they had nothing to sell and were not going to receive their $2 that week.
One final note about chickens.
If you raise them in anticipation of “saving money” on eggs, you will be very disappointed.
It is absolutely cheaper to buy them at the grocery store for $1.50 / dozen than it is to purchase chicks, build/buy a coop, buy the accompanying chicken equipment, buy chicken feed (for months until they start laying) and continue to feed them.
For us, the chickens are a fun hobby and a great way to teach responsibility to our children. The eggs are just a side benefit.