Raising chickens is exciting. Children and chickens go together. In fact, both start with the same letters — “chi.”
Hmmm, that isn’t just a coincidence!
Behavioral science has proved that raising children with companion animals fosters empathy, critical thinking and a lifelong ability to act with compassion and thoughtfulness. Animals also instill a strong sense of self-esteem. Kids with critters are happy kids. And….critters help to form and strengthen a child’s immune system.
We want our kids to have an enriched experience with these feathered friends. The bond between a chicken and his or her child is nothing short of magical. For those of us who grew up with those chicken friends (and were the “cool” kid BECAUSE we had chickens!), recollections of warm sunny days hanging with some real “peeps” reminds us of why we want our kids to have that same experience. If we sit back and watch, the interaction between children and chickens will happen as naturally as a bee finds his flowers! It really is that easy. Here are a few tips to ensure that some wonderful memories will be crafted in your backyard.
• Get the children involved in coop planning. Have them be active members in the designing of your chickens’ barn. Let them decorate the structure with their own “themes,” and come up with a name for their chicken chateau.
• Work though flock safety issues with your entire family. What materials will you use to fence in the birds? What are the best predator-proofing ideas? Design the run areas (you will want to “rest” one run, so consider space for two runs) and choose the enrichment furniture and plants that you will be adding to the outside area. Where will you hang The Chicken Swing and what type of plants will you want to add?
Chickens need brush and trees for shade and to feel secure. Add fast growing forsythia and thick stands of raspberry bushes. Gooseberry plants are also good at predator protection (they have spines). Grapevines are perfect cover plants, and you get grapes. Children love planning and planting their chicken garden!
• Chickens have individual personalities. There isn’t one breed of bird that will or will not suit your family. Birds are unique – and that’s why we love them.
Become a chicken’s hero! If you are familiar with raising birds, consider adopting birds in need. This is fantastic for older children. They will learn about community service and that one family can make a real difference in others’ lives. To adopt chickens in need, check farm animal rescues, your local ASPCA, or other animal welfare groups. Most rescues are happy to help support you in your adoption process. Your chosen rescue will be your chicken care support system if you are not familiar with keeping birds.
Adopting chickens is a fantastic idea for older children!
• Chickens are clean birds (they are birds, not mammals, which significantly reduces any zoonotic disease issues). A properly cleaned and maintained poultry yard is a delight! Happy, healthy and perky chickens are wonderful family members. You can also compost the manure for the garden.
Evidence and research from the CDC establishes that chickens are a very low disease risk for any individuals who are not immunocompromised. There were 1.2 million human food-borne derived salmonella cases in 2010. There were less than 98 live chicken related cases. You are far more likely to get sick from handling your cell phone or getting take-out, than caring for a backyard flock!
Raising the chicks
Proper socialization is key to fashioning the best foundation for any animal, whether you have a puppy, a kitten, or a chicken. Raise your chicks with the children present. Handle the babies frequently (always supervise young children around these delicate chicks). Handling the birds activates their instinctive imprinting behavior — they will see you as their parents — and the chicks will seek out this contact.
Young chickens, just like children, need guidance and parenting
— after all, everything is new to them!
All training foundations with your chickens start at this critical stage. You must be present for the chicks (plan your vacation week around the chick’s arrival time), and be ready to spend quite a bit of time with them. Young chickens, just like children, need guidance and parenting — after all, everything is new to them! Chickens are precocial, but they are entirely dependent on their mother for the first month of their life. Baby chicks are in constant vocal and physical contact with the broody hen, and she provides all of their needs and early education. You will be standing in for her role, and this is time-consuming. If you do not have the time to raise baby birds, consider adopting older chickens.
Rooster note: Cockerels (cocks under 1-year) will develop very strong attachments to your family at this growth “window.” Don’t worry about the boys – those roosters are so sweet!
Share your “love my chickens” story in the comment section!
“Respiratory Tract Illnesses During the First Year of Life: Effect of Dog and Cat Contacts”
Eija Bergroth, Sami Remes, Juha Pekkanen, Timo Kauppila, Gisela Büchele, Leea Keski-Nisula (Pediatrics, July 2012)
“Pets boost children's health, BBC News”