Chickens: For this family, worth the worry
Raising chickens can evoke worry.
Concerned family and friends warned us that chickens transmit diseases, produce a foul stench, require daily attention, lead to heartbreak, require significant protective measures and cost a lot to feed.
But, then, so do children.
So after years of dreaming, our family has become backyard chicken farmers.
It started innocently enough. When we first moved to town, we walked the kids, preschooler Zoe and baby Adam, in the double stroller to a neighborhood farm where we emptied our week’s worth of food scraps into compost piles and watched the resident chickens merrily feast.
No matter the season or weather, it was a high point of our week as we breathed fresh air, stretched our legs and dreamed about creating our own farmstead.
News of our farm outings led a kindred soul to gift us a book on raising chickens.
Almost daily, the kids flipped through the pages picking their favorite hens, roosters and coops. Renters at the time, our aspiration had to wait.
That winter we bought a home perched on a standard city lot. Come spring we started our gardens and by summer began warming the neighbors to the idea of backyard chickens. All were enthusiastic. One neighbor offered sections of chain link fence from an unused dog kennel. A year later, just as the trees were shedding their leaves, the chicken run was cobbled together.
During the winter months Zoe and I surfed the web, researching chicken breeds and coop designs. After the spring thaw, we formed a backyard chicken cooperative with two neighboring families, with hopes of sharing the workload and forging deeper friendships.
Coop construction continued to find the bottom of the to-do list. So I decided to create a sense of urgency by ordering chicks from a local breeder. A few weeks later we brought the chicks home where they nestled in a cardboard box under a brooding lamp, in our basement.
With the clock ticking, I used time at home with the kids to work on the coop.
Adam joined me on a trip to a local sawmill where we acquired framing timbers and saw lots of big trucks. Zoe, a quick study, identified imperfections in my work and offered many suggestions about how to improve my handiwork.
They learned the names of tools and took turns handing me screws. Each practiced measuring, marking and cutting boards. Then, after a 15-minute work session, they would grow tired of the project, complain about the loud power tools, and nag me to play with them.
As the project crept slowly, the chicks grew quickly and so did concern. One worry led to another. I fretted about the remaining tasks, not enough hours in the day, and that we would become basement chicken farmers.
The kids worried the chicks were getting too big for their box. Lori and a neighboring Mama worried carnivorous critters would get into the hen house. Voice-mail messages from grandparents even started including queries about the well being of the chicks.
Eventually collective efforts prevailed. The chicks now inhabit a spacious coop and run, which have both been carefully constructed to keep predators at bay.
Each morning, while still wearing jammies Zoe pulls on her pink Hello Kitty boots and Adam his black and yellow firefighter pair. Then together they skitter across the backyard, open the coop and, in unison, say, “Good morning, Sweeties.” Throughout the day the kids climb in and out the coop’s side door, hand feed the chicks freshly collected worms and bugs, and eagerly await the first egg.
Come nightfall, after teeth are brushed, stories read and lights off, I skitter out to the coop and greet the brood as they huddle on their perch. “Goodnight, Sweeties.” I close the coop door and make sure the gate is latched, just in case.