About 2 years ago during a cold, February month, we brought home our first batch of baby Rhode Island Red chicks!
They were so unbelievably adorable, it was heart-wrenching. They were so small, and so soft, and so sweet with little "peeps." For the first few weeks we kept them in a large Rubbermaid box in our living room with a red heat lamp above them to keep them warm, pine shavings in the box, and little food and water dishes. They were very happy being held, sitting on our shoulders, pecking the carpet when we let them out, eating, sleeping, and peeping.
Originally we had seven, but the harsh reality of baby chicks is that you will lose a few. I was hoping this wouldn't be the case with us (because we're different!), but it was. One was accidentally stepped on, and she died (after much grief and many tears), and one was just a little too adventurous and flew into the chihuahua pen of our neighbors yard and was very slowly ripped to shreds. I had no idea she was over there, and I was hoping she was just lost in the garage behind some boxes all day. Unfortunately, I saw my neighbor putting her carcass into a plastic bag while I was upstairs changing someone's diaper and happened to look out the window.
Dogs are vicious with chickens. I thought I'd have to worry about cats, or raccoons, or hawks; I haven't even seen any of those get near the chickens. Dogs, on the other hand, are after them like they're made of bacon and peanut butter.
Now, there are many reasons to have have chickens.
Eggs are definitely high on the list of obvious perks. Chickens start laying after five or six months, roughly, so it took until summer to start getting eggs. But I was so new to this; I honestly had no idea what to do with the eggs (yes, really).
Do you need to do something with the eggs before you use them? Wash them? Clean them? Sterilize them? Boil them? There has to be something more to this that I'm missing; you don't just crack the egg open and use it.
Turns out, that's all you do! You should wash it with soap and water, just for sanitary reasons (it did just come out of a chicken, after all), but other than that...bon appétit!
But there is one reason in particular I have chickens in my suburban backyard...
Although, backyard chickens are nothing new, they seem to be back on the radar these days. Back in the day they were pretty normal to have. They are very easy to take care of, they are very sweet, they put themselves to bed at dusk, they are wonderful contributors to fertilizing your garden... and they give you eggs!
And still, these reasons were not why I got chickens. The eggs are fantastic, no two ways about it; but the cost isn't as fortuitous as you'd think. One dozen eggs at the market costs about $2.50. If I get five eggs a day from my chickens, the most optimal number of eggs I get a month during laying season is 150 eggs. One bag of feed for the chickens is about $14.
At first glance this looks like an amazing deal! However, chickens don't lay every day of the year: they molt during the winter and won't lay for about three months. I've had them molt during the summer because of the heat, so they won't lay then either. So, during the seven months they are laying, you're solid. But the months they aren't laying? You're paying $14 for non-laying chickens.
Again, this is not so extravagant a price as to dissuade you from buying chickens. Heck, dog food is a lot more than $14, and they give you nothing in return (except love and undying loyalty, which I'm sure has a value to it).
So why do I have chickens?
Because I have a motto: Life begets Life.
I believe that the more life you have in your home, the more life you get out of it. I sincerely believe that the best way for my children to learn how to respect others and respect life is to have life around them from which to learn. These are concepts you cannot write in a book or manual with which to instruct your kids.
Children, and adults, for the record, will learn how to respect and understand life if it is experienced.
Growing gardens with your kids is important. It shows them the value of hard work and where our food comes from. It doesn't just "appear" at the store, but it takes time and effort to grow life in fields.
Likewise, raising chickens is the perfect way to show the kids how animals grow into adults, and what changes they go through to get there.
But more importantly, and this is my primary reason for having chickens: It teaches the kids how to respect life.
It is astonishing how some kids react to animals. I have seen some tenderhearted kids get on their knees and pet our chickens in the sweetest manner. We have a friend whose three-year-old will find a chicken to put into a wagon, and cart that chicken around the backyard all day. It is absolutely hilarious to watch, and the chicken loves it!
I have also seen kids who are terrified of the chickens. There was one morning I let the chickens out before some friends were visiting, and the little five-year-old girl held her toy poodle to her face and proceeded to scream her head off in terror until I rescued the free ranging chickens and put them back into the coop.
Another child has rushed outside and found the first stick available and proceeded to whack my chickens mercilessly until I grabbed the stick out of his hand and locked the chickens away until he left.
What I would like to teach my kids, and myself if I am being honest, is the value of life and the responsibility of dominion over lesser creatures.
The little girl who was terrified of chickens saw them as a chaotic force in the form of a beast, and she felt that she was subject to the beast.
The little boy who beat the chickens did not understand the value of life, and wielded his power over them through the force of violence.
I would like my children to understand the value of life, and not only how important each life is but also the cycle and rhythm of life. I would like them to learn how to respect life, as well as how to take responsibility for life that is in their charge. For instance, it is their responsibility to feed and water the chickens and collect the eggs in the morning before school, and if they fail to do this there will be consequences. If they don't have food, they don't lay eggs. If they don't have water, they will break out of their coop to find water (and will find their way into my garden and eat everything, which kind of turns me into the Hulk...).
But these are also chickens, not humans. So we understand that the chickens we get from Costco are the same type of chickens we have in the backyard. We are responsible for the well-being of these creatures and we should endeavor to give them the best life possible while they are here; we also understand that they are farm animals, and traditionally if they stop laying eggs they become dinner. (This is not happening in my house because I am a wuss, but we have talked about the reality of food many times. And the reality that sometimes their mom is a wuss.)
When I say life begets life, I am saying that the life that my children understand and respect now will affect how they respond to life in the future, and that will affect how they raise their own kids and so forth.
Raising kids is a crucial part of growing as a person. You don't need to write a best-selling instruction manual in order to learn patience and empathy from your kids. When they hurt, you hurt. When they are tired and frustrated, chances are you are even more tired and frustrated. But if you are parenting deliberately, you will learn more from your kids than they do from you.
Raising chickens is fun, but I am raising them for my children in the hopes that they will be prepared for life. Because I love my kids, and life is good.
Originally posted on Platypus Directive.
~~For those of us with fire.~~
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