Reading Time: 4 minutes
Generational teaching at it’s best. Chickens and grandkids.
Story and photos by Bruce Ingram.
Our two grandsons Sam and Eli, aged 10 and 8 respectively, live across the hollow from Elaine and me, and they frequently visit us. When the boys were 5 and 3, they came over one day while our chickens foraged throughout the yard. The boys were so excited to see the birds roaming that they ran toward them, which caused the birds to panic and briefly flee the premises.
After putting our birds back into their run, my wife and I explained that chickens become scared when people, especially strangers, run toward them. The grandsons wanted to say they were sorry to the chooks by holding and petting them. We countered that chickens don’t seem to like petting much, but they might allow themselves to be held if a treat were part of the bargain. But even then, the boys might have to cradle individual birds a number of times before the birds would accept a tasty tidbit.
I’d like to report that that was the last time the boys ran toward the chickens and that our birds immediately became content when held by the boys. Neither scenario, of course, instantaneously became a reality, because, with just about anything related to youngsters or chickens, success comes in small steps over time. But that day was the beginning. Here are some other small steps to take.
Getting to Know Each Other
Every summer, one or more of our hens becomes broody. Sam and Eli will eagerly anticipate the day the chicks hatch just as much as Elaine and I do. Several days after that miraculous event, we invited the grandsons over to observe the chicks. Before the boys entered the run, we told them that they have to walk slowly and talk calmly around the mother hen and her offspring. We added that the hen will tolerate a chick being picked up if we do so slowly and calmly; hold the chick firmly but gently; and then soon release it back into its mother’s care. We then showed the boys how to do all these steps. This approach has worked really well for us. After all, it’s good for peeps, at a young age, to become acclimated to their owners and become used to being held.
Give Kids Chicken Chores
Another important step in the dynamic between kids and chickens is giving the kids chicken-related chores. For example, we pay our grandsons to help clean out the coops, to supervise the birds when they’re in the yard, to fill feeders and waterers, and to collect eggs. The youngsters learn the value of working to earn money, and our birds become more and more accustomed to the boys’ presence.
Sam and Eli also learn they have to work cooperatively to complete the tasks and be paid — another life skill. Sam seems to enjoy herding the chickens and keeping them out of the surrounding woods, while Eli prefers to clean the mats below the straw in the henhouses. For some reason, the youngster particularly enjoys spraying manure off the mats.
Create Fun Activities
Elaine and I think a lot about how to make chicken-related activities meaningful and fun for kids and grandkids. For example, every summer we task our grandsons with naming all the female chicks that hatch. This gives the boys a sense of ownership, plus it’s amusing for Elaine and me to see what names the boys come up with. Two summers ago, their choices were PJ, Popcorn, and Angie. Last summer, the appellations were Orginia, Blaze, and Peach.
Another activity that the boys really enjoy is when I hold a chicken and pretend that the creature is talking to them. The more the “chicken” jokes with them, the more they like it. Perhaps their favorite compliment coming from a bird is: “Little boys are so amazing and beautiful, even without feathers.”
Yet another pleasurable pastime is feeding treats to our birds. Sam and Eli have already learned that chickens exhibit great excitement when any kind of bug is tossed into the run. The boys laugh hysterically when they throw pieces of bread into the run: Our birds frantically run after the tidbit and then chase the winner of the dash around the run.
The boys also regularly gather clover, dandelions, chickweed, and broadleaf plantain to give to the birds. My wife and I taught them that such flora promotes healthy chickens, while other foods, such as greasy food and desserts, aren’t conducive to the birds’ well-being. We’re also in the process of teaching them that foods such as rhubarb, raw potatoes, fruit pits, and seeds aren’t at all good for the birds.
Elaine and I hope that Sam and Eli will grow up and become chicken keepers one day. Meanwhile, we’re doing all we can to make sure that the boys and our chickens will have mutually beneficial relationships.
BRUCE INGRAM is a freelance writer and photographer. He and his wife Elaine are the co-authors of Living the Locavore Lifestyle, a book about living off the land. Get in touch with them at BruceIngramOutdoors@gmail.com.
Originally published in the December23/January24 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine, and regularly vetted for accuracy.