A few years ago, we were at a friend’s house celebrating. I don’t remember exactly what we were there for—perhaps our expat friends came home for a spell, or maybe one of our children turned another year older, or better yet, it may have been a combination of these things. Regardless, we were surrounded by friends, laughter, and as usual, way too much food.
I remember lots of things about that visit to Rocky Point. There was ice cold beer, perfectly barbecued meat, and lots of chickens. The chickens, however, were not on the grill. They were just hanging out with the cat scratching about the yard. It was one of the first times I had ever been up close and personal to free-roaming chickens and it was a bit bizarre.
As I watched my friend’s young daughter run around the yard picking up chickens like footballs, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This child had no fear. But, why should she? To her, these animals were family pets. She loved them like my family loved our cats and dogs. She had even named all of them and knew which chicken was which—even though they all looked the same to me.
Since my children have always loved animals, I knew they would be intrigued by my friend’s chickens. But, I never expected them to eagerly partake in a rowdy game called “chicken tag” or learn how to carry the hens around on this visit. However, they proved me wrong.
As I stood on the deck with a cold beer in my hand, I was taken aback by their interest in these silly little creatures. Yet, there they were: barefoot, grinning ear-to-ear, with fluffy hens in their arms.
Suddenly, my heart whispered, “You can have this too.” But the voice was so quiet that I dismissed it until one night over dinner the children asked if we could get chickens. Apparently, they too had a little voice inside that was clambering to be heard. This was the sign I had been waiting for, but I wasn’t sure what my husband was going to say when I looked at him and said, “Can we?”
To everyone’s surprise, he agreed. He thought it would be a wonderful experience for our family and admitted that he had been thinking about it just like the rest of us. After the kids assured him that they were fully committed to this adventure, we decided to go for it. So, this is how we began raising backyard chickens for fresh eggs.
Over the past year, I’ve had people ask me if we’ve gained anything from this experience. Aside from having fresh eggs every day, keeping a small flock of hens has exposed our children to many things that most children only get to read about in books. By having a vested interest in our backyard pets, our children have gained firsthand knowledge about biology, life cycles, the environment and our ecosystem. It has also taught them to be responsible stewards of our planet and has exposed them to a way of life that is not always valued in today’s society.
As it turns out, our hens have taught our children six important lessons:
1. They’ve become more responsible.
Our children are heavily involved in taking care of the hens. They’re responsible for collecting the eggs, checking their water and food supply, and letting them free-range, weather permitting, as soon as they get home from school. Our children understand that they need to be actively involved in raising our chickens.
2. They’ve learned where their food comes from.
Until we had chickens, our kids didn’t pay attention to where their food came from. They knew that chickens laid eggs, but in their minds, grocery store eggs just magically appeared in our refrigerator. However, once our hens started laying eggs, the kids were able to see how the whole process really worked. Now they have a solid understanding that the food we eat comes from living animals first, then the grocery store, butcher or farmer’s market.
3. They’ve become less wasteful.
Our children are slowly starting to realize that we, as a society, waste an awful lot. Now, instead of just sorting out the table scraps into the compost bin or garbage pail, we have a third option—our hens. The kids know that the chickens take our healthy scraps and use their nutrients to produce fresh eggs for us. They also know that the compost pile uses the remaining scraps to create rich compost for us to use in the gardens, which will later help us grow fresh herbs and vegetables. This knowledge has put a whole new meaning on the slogan: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
4. They’ve become kinder humans.
Everything we do for our chickens is done with much love and care. They are our pets and we put a lot of thought into their well-being. Our children are continually asking questions about the hens’ health and happiness, and this compassion for their pets is making them more considerate humans. It shows them that when we treat others kindly, they treat us well in return. So, if we want the hens to lay fresh eggs for us, we need to take care of them first.
5. They’ve learned to unplug.
When you have chickens to take care of, you get more in tune with nature whether you like it or not. The chickens can only free range for a certain amount of time each day and now that there’s a hawk nearby, the kids need to supervise our hens to make sure they are kept out of harm’s way. This means that they have to go outside every afternoon and play with the chickens. Although they may use their iPads to take pictures of their pets, they’re no longer wasting time playing video games.
6. They’ve become quite knowledgeable about backyard chickens.
In a time when most children are obsessed with selfies and apps, it’s refreshing to see our children bringing their friends over to play with the chickens. Some children are hesitant at first, but once the chickens get running and swooping, laughter always follows. Our children know that their chickens love to snack on kale, blueberries, and peaches, but that they won’t go near a fresh strawberry or cucumber. They know that chicken poop is the best thing to get a compost pile cooking and that feeding your chickens marigolds will help them create the most beautiful-looking yolks. They also know that even though chickens descended from dinosaurs, they make really great pets, which is the most important thing to know!
Currently, Regan’s Roost is situated on a modest parcel of land smack dab in the middle of suburbia where six very spoiled hens call it their home. Our hens sleep, roost, and lay fresh eggs daily inside of a beautiful Dutch Colonial Coop that is housed within a wire-mesh enclosed run for their safety. The “girls” enjoy lots of free-ranging activities each day including hunting for bugs, wreaking havoc on our plants, and going for rides on the swings. They also enjoy being hugged, kissed, and carried about the property like footballs. April marked our 1-year anniversary of raising backyard chickens and we couldn’t be happier.