4 Lessons Keeping Backyard Chickens Have Taught My Kids
Keeping backyard chickens has been such a great addition to our family. When we started keeping backyard chickens I had intended on providing healthy, cruelty free, semi-organic, fresh eggs for my children. I had read and seen so much about the added nutritional benefits of having free range or cage free chickens. We don’t have a large amount of land but we did have room to raise a few chickens.
My to my surprise and delight chicken keeping has taught and helped illustrate several life lessons to my children. Here are just a few that we have learned from keeping chickens.
From time to time my kids would wonder, ‘Where are the baby chicks? If we just let the eggs in the nesting box long enough won’t they make a baby chick? I think it is time for the chickens to become a mommy’.
These are questions I hear from time to time from my kids. I explain to them that we don’t have a rooster. You need a rooster and a hen to make a baby chick.
They think on that for a few minutes.
Like you need a mommy and a daddy to make a baby?
YES! But in this case we don’t have a daddy roster…just the mommies. They mommies (hens) produce an egg every day. If there is a daddy (rooster) around then there is the possibility that they would make a baby chick. Just like human mommies and daddies there are certain acts (ahem..sex) that needs to happen before a baby is produced. We have these conversations so there is a groundwork laid for talking about procreation. Yes, I said it. We are using our chickens to start the sex talk.
2. Liquids freeze and expand
By keeping chickens we had a lesson on expansion of liquids in the winter. One winter we were hit with more inches of snow than I care to remember and we were not able to get to the coop each day to collect the eggs. So when we were able to shovel our way to the nesting box we found that several of the eggs had cracked and the white of the egg had frozen.
Naturally this bodes the question from my children as to ‘why?’ (Isn’t that always the question?)
So instead of watching expansion and contraction on Myth Butsers they were able to see first hand what it looks like when eggs freeze. I explained that with the cold weather the molecules of the liquid of the egg had expanded. They expanded so much that it pushed past the air sack, past the inner membrane and cracked the hard shell. They know that popsicles freeze and ice cubes freeze but those expansions are not as drastic when you are not able to see. By keeping chickens we are able to explain a bit of science to our kids that is applicable beyond the classroom.
When we had our first flock of chicks we lost one within 3 weeks of having them home. It wasn’t malnutrition or pasty butt. It was a red tailed hawk. My husband was in the driveway constructing the coop and I had the chicks in the back yard in an open play yard. My thinking was allow them to be outside, enjoy the sunshine, peck around in the grass and get acclimated to the outdoor elements.
I walked through the kitchen and looked out the back slider door to see a red tail hawk come gliding in, talons out stretched, swooping in for one of my chicks. I screamed and ran out the back door waving my arms like a mad person. I had scared him off. YES! But then I had a sinking feeling. What if this wasn’t his first swoop? I looked in the play yard and the chicks were running in circles, totally freaked out. I did a quick head count. There were only 5 in the play yard. That red tailed hawk not only had stolen one of my chicks but she was coming back for another one!
The kids and my husband came running to see what I was screaming about. I had to break the sad news to the 5 and 3 year old that one of their baby peeps was gone. I explained that I was creaming to scare away the red tailed hawk. The girls were convinced the chick had escaped and we were going to find her. I told them that no, the hawk had taken her and had her for lunch. I reminded them that hawks are wild creatures and they need to feed themselves and their babies. They don’t see our peeps as our pets but as their lunch.
And then we sang ‘The Circle of Life.” (No we didn’t.)
We had some tears and were sad but it was an opportunity for them to see that we need to be the protectors of these peeps until they were old enough to be safe in their coop. I don’t think they looked at that red tailed hawk that hangs our on our power lines the same way again.
4. 1 chicken =1 egg per day
Like grown women, chickens have cycles. With hens there is not a shedding of the lining of the uterus (Thank you Jesus!) but simply a passing of the singe celled organism of the egg. On average, one hen will produce 1 egg every 24 hours. There are variables in this such as the time of year, temperature outside, stress levels, illness or life cycle. But typically we get 1 egg per day per hen. The kids know that we need a rooster to make a baby chick (See lesson #1) And they know that the hen lays the eggs. So through the process of deduction the kids have concluded that the hen has the opportunity to become a mother every day. But ours can’t. Because we don’t have a rooster. So once again we are laying the foundation of starting the reproduction a menstruation cycle with the kids.
Do you keep chickens? What have your chickens taught you?