Chicken-Keeping for Kids
Once relegated to farm life, many chickens have left country living behind, showing up in suburban backyards and even enjoying city life as coops spring up around every corner. The trend may have been built on the desire for fresh eggs, but many have embraced backyard chickens as part of the family.
Several years ago, HGTVGardens contributor and chicken enthusiast Melissa Caughey launched her award-winning blog, Tilly’s Nest, to chronicle her experiences with her own backyard flock. Melissa’s new book, A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, is a spectacular result of her experiences raising chickens with the help of her children. Fun, fascinating and full of practical tips for keeping chickens, A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens is a must-have for anyone interested in starting a flock to call their own. Melissa talks with us about her book, family, and the joys of raising chickens.
Congratulations on your book. You’ve been blogging about your flock for years. What inspired you to put this book together?
Thanks so much! We moved to Cape Cod eleven years ago for a quiet, simpler life. I grew up on a dairy farm and I wanted to rekindle some of what I had in my childhood. The land was a blank slate and we got to work amending the soil and planting things and the kids were always out there with us. I noticed there were a lot of chickens in the area and I thought we’d give them a try. It just stuck. It was great for the family, it was great for the kids. The book is a culmination of everything we’ve done with the flock and our journey as a family.
So your kids stay involved with the gardening and tending to your flock?
Certainly for now. They are young now and may lose some interest as teenagers. Kids are so “plugged in” these days and giving them these experiences is like planting the seeds my parents planted in me. We plant these “seeds” in them and they can choose to grow them. It’s amazing how many people are keeping chickens these days. The book is about sharing some of the things we’ve done as a family and giving people an idea of how to get started and how to do it.
You nailed it. From the title, I thought the book would speak to younger kids and it certainly does that. It has plenty of recipes, crafts and projects that will be engaging for kids, but it goes beyond that. This is a book that kids will love, but there’s so much practical information about keeping chickens in there. Great for kids, but it’s also perfect for just about anyone who is interested in learning to raise chickens.
It definitely evolved. It’s geared for 8 to 12 year olds, but it occurred to me there might be parents or grandparents who pick up this book as well. I don’t believe in talking down to kids. We don’t always give them enough credit. My kids went to Montessori schools, so I want to give kids the opportunity to do for themselves. When they grasp concepts, you want to give them more. We’ve had such a magical experience and I wanted to put it out there in a way that isn’t intimidating and still explains what it’s like to have a barnyard animal in your backyard and answers all of the questions people may have. Do you need a rooster? How do chicks hatch? What’s it like when chickens lay their first eggs?
Chickens make you appreciate the smallest things in life. Whether it’s the first egg from a young hen or one laid by a geriatric chicken that is beyond her prime years, it’s such a pleasure to watch the flock. The kids learn so much from the experience of keeping chickens as new chicks are hatched and grow, getting to collect eggs and interacting with the flock. We’ve been indoctrinated to think of them as livestock, but chickens have so much personality.
What’s happening with your own flock these days?
We have an aging flock here and we lost one of our older girls in the fall. It’s important to us to let the chickens live out their natural lives and our kids understand the “circle of life,” but we didn’t want them to lose all of their chickens at once, so last spring we purchased some new day-old chicks. So we have a chicken nursing home and a chicken nursery. The new girls are just getting into an egg laying pattern. It’s been good for the kids to watch the cycle and they understand that the older girls won’t live forever. That’s all part of it too.
With the larger flock, we put in a new coop last spring. The kids were involved with that too. One of their requirements was that they wanted a coop where they could go inside and sit down so they could read to the chickens and talk to the chickens and hold them and all of those things. They have so much fun and they are still learning from them. You know, you get these wonderful eggs, but there’s a lot more going on in the coop. It’s just a great way to engage kids and plant those learning “seeds.” They don’t necessarily use those seeds right away, but they get stored in there and they will stay with them for a lifetime.
Recommended reading for backyard chicken lovers of all ages, Melissa Caughey’s A Kid’s Guide to Chickens is now available from Storey Publishing.