Tuesday, June 10, 2014

3 reasons keeping backyard chickens is good for my toddler

Welcome to the June 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Animals

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly 
Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama
This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about kids and pets.
About 6 weeks before my second daughter was born we adopted 5 laying hens. My initial expectation for the level of interaction with them was to get eggs from them and that's it. I didn't anticipate viewing them as pets (like we view our dog). I expected ornery, crabby little beasts that made weird noises, pooped a lot and gave me an egg every once in a while. What I wasn't prepared for was my toddler's reaction to them.

Penny, who is now 2 years old, loved these strange birds from the very start. 

So what is it about keeping chickens that makes it worth it to me? After all, I'm a mom with two kids under the age of two. Why would I sign up to add 5 more creatures to keep under my wing (no pun intended)? Ain't nobody got time for that, right?!

1. Plain and simple, she enjoys the heck out of them. She loves talking about them, chasing them when we let them into the yard, and they seem to enjoy her. In their own chicken way. There's been several times where we're out in the backyard finger painting or whatever and they come over to her to check out what's going on. They've always been gentle, docile and friendly and that simply amazes me. I never expected chickens to be sweet
2. She's beginning to learn about animal care. We've had at least one dog for her entire life but caring for Squirt is a little bit above her right now. However, taking care of the chickens is a perfect introduction because there's several levels of participation. 
  • Observation: As we got accustomed to being chicken owners, we first kept them inside their pen to learn about their behavior and what we can expect from them. Because these weren't chicks that I had raised myself, I wasn't sure what their temperament would be. So the start of our relationship began through chicken wire. I started by pointing out to Penny that we have 3 colors of chickens, that we have two pairs and one single and we are working on naming each one as she discovers the differences between the two black and two brown hens we have (I'm going to admit it - I still have a very hard time!).
  • Egg collection: This is the fun part! Several times a day we go out to the chicken coop and open our special egg collection door. This door is on the outside of the pen so we don't have to put on our "muck boots" in preparation for possible contact with chicken poop. Depending on the time of day, there could be an egg or two waiting for us or a lady sitting in the nest box working on one. I have a running joke that once the girls have met their "quota," meaning at least 4/5 of the hens have laid an egg they are allowed to free range for the rest of the afternoon! Otherwise they are in "chicken jail" until the following afternoon. Penny's favorite thing to do is "count eggies" when we get back inside. It's been the biggest help in getting her to learn her numbers 1-12. As she grows older she'll learn more and more about the process of creating an egg and gaining an appreciation of where her food comes from. Every time that we get to take an egg we say "Thank you chickens!" 
  • Food: The chickens are fed their own special pellets that normally account for most of their nutrition. Our hens also benefit from the many kitchen scraps that I make throughout the day. Over 75% of what my family eats is fresh so I have tons of veggie or fruit scraps that were previously going to the yard waste bin that are now being very happily munched up by our chickens. Once or twice a day we take our scrap bin to the pen and toss it in for the birds to have some treats. This is another one of Penny's new responsibilities; she carries the little bucket from our kitchen to the pen door, and I'll toss the contents into the pen. If the chickens have met their aforementioned "quota" they are allowed to run around the yard and eat tender grasses and bugs, and are obligated to allowing Penny to pet them. My intention in showing her that we can pass our scraps on to the chickens is so that she can learn that not everything "unworthy" of the kitchen table needs to go in the trash or compost. Now that the weather is warmer and weeds abound in my yard, we've spent many an afternoon weeding and collecting those weeds for the chickens to eat too. I tell ya, my yard waste bin has been pretty empty these last few weeks!    
  • "Chicken chores" are done a couple times a week and are still above Penny's level but she still gets to participate. If Ruby is down for a nap and I'm not currently wearing her, Penny gets to ride on my back in our Boba. She gets to watch mama do chicken chores with a bird's eye view (pun totally intended). These chores range from fluffing up the pine shavings in the nesting boxes for a cozy place to lay eggs, raking the pen to move around scraps or weeds, filling their food canister or water canteen, to finally the OH SO GLAMOROUS mucking of the chicken coop. Typically the last one I let Penny run around in the yard so that I have more freedom to move around in the coop without worrying about if Penny will accidentally touch or reach for a poopy roost. Again, this teaches her about caring for our animals responsibly and all the work that goes into them.   
3. Finally, and not to down play this point in the least bit, my toddler and the entire family benefit from all the nutritional amazingness of the eggs! DUH! Fresh, free range eggs are astronomically more nutritious than store bought eggs. We call them "happy eggs" because they come from happy chickens. Free range eggs have:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

The yolks are a healthy orange color and taste so much better than commercially harvested eggs. I am also 100% positive that they are the reason why Penny has enough hair for a pony tail right now :) Eggs are chock full of protein, and hair is protein, so it makes sense to me that if she's getting a ton of extra protein daily that her hair and nails would grow faster. Am I right? Whether or not there's true science behind it, I believe it.

Keeping backyard chickens is just the beginning of teaching my children about honoring and respecting our food. Our culture of excess glosses over where food comes from and it comes to no surprise that many children have no idea where food comes from or how it magically appeared on grocery shelves. Even something as simple as an egg, which many of us take for granted, is a precious gift given by nature. Laying an egg isn't an easy feat for a chicken, it's uncomfortable but she still does it every day for us. It's a simple start, but hopefully will foster an understanding of the greater world beyond our pantry shelves.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • What Animal Rescue is Teaching My Children
  • Tips on Picking the Perfect Kid-friendly Dog — Lactating Girl at The Adventures of Lactating Girl shares some tips she's learned on how to find the perfect child-friendly dog for your family.
  • All New Animals Are "Woof" — Baby Boy is still learning animals. Life Breath Present doesn't yet have any at home, but he still believes that all animals are "woof." Here's the proof.
  • Dude, where's my Horse? — Adora loves horses, but Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different really doesn't. However, Adora's longing wins out; learn about their interactions with horses here.
  • Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Family Pet — When is a family ready for a pet? Donna at Eco-Mothering discusses her worries as well as the benefits of adopting a dog, including how it will affect her seven-year-old daughter.
  • Parenting Challenge--Learning from Animals--running the emotional gammut — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about the emotional learning her family has experienced through sharing their lives with animals.
  • Puppy Love for our Family — In case you didn't catch it from the blog title, Pug in the Kitchen, the family pet is an integral part of Laura's family and home life!
  • Vegetarianism and Animal Rights: Explaining to Children — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook is mostly vegetarian...not 100%, and not because of animal rights...yet she has found that the idea of not hurting animals is the aspect of vegetarianism most easily understood by a young child. She explains what her son has learned about not eating meat and how it has affected his social life.
  • Pets & kids: The realities — Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the benefits and drawbacks of pet ownership when young kids are involved.
  • HOW PETS CONNECT WITH EMOTIONS: KIDS & PETS AFTER 9-11 — Parenting Expert Laurie Hollman at Parental Intelligence discusses the importance of pets in lowering stress after traumatic situations, why children choose certain pets, the loss of a pet, and the role of parents in teaching care-giving to animals in a warm, gentle way.
  • It's not our house without a dog! — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work describes why giving a loving and disciplined home to at least one shelter dog at a time enriches the life of her family, and has become a vivid memory in the minds of her children.
  • Canine Haikus

    Kids, dog, haikus, at

    Dionna (Code Name: Mama).

    Pet-centric poems.
  • Beanie's BunniesOur Mindful Life's Sofi Bean has gotten her first pets!
  • Montessori Care of Pets — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her experiences with kids and pets and shares Montessori resources for pet care.
  • How to Nurture Your Child's Awareness of Spirit Guides — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama hosts a post from her regular contributor Lauren of SpiralElixir.com. Lauren looks at the concept of animals as spirit guides and how deeply children are connected to this realm. She also encourages us to open ourselves up as parents to the reality that children are naturally more connected to the animal world, giving us ideas on how to nurture their relationships with their Spirit Guides.
  • No Puppy! — Meg at the Boho Mama shares her tips for dealing with toddlers and the (very real) fear of animals.
  • Year of the Pets — Jorje of Momma Jorje wasn't sure she ever wanted pets again, but things have changed a lot this year!
  • 3 Reasons Why Keeping Backyard Chickens is Good for my Toddler — Bianca, The Pierogie Mama, started keeping backyard chickens for the benefit of their eggs, but what she wasn't prepared for was what they would teach her two year old daughter too.


  1. I have wanted chickens for.ev.er. Unfortunately, my youngest is allergic to eggs, so it looks like my chicken dream will die an unhappy death. I love the thought of your chickens checking out your finger painting - so sweet :)

  2. What amazing lessons! I would love to have chickens and hope someday we'll have a yard so I can fulfill my dream. :) I love that Penny considers them friends.

  3. Sigh. I cannot WAIT to be able to have chickens. Where we currently live our landlords have a no pets policy, but I'm still on Pinterest pinning urban chicken keeping all the time :) What fun and I love to read about families with young kids and chickens!

  4. Isn't chicken culture amazing? We love keeping chickens, although right now we have a pesky crew of young roosters that insist on sleeping in the garden rather than their own area. Guess the rooster that rules the roost has thrown them out already.

    1. That's hilarious! We re not allowed to have roosters within city limits (though I know of some neighbors who do), and quite honestly I don't ant any. I don't think we'll do the chick thing until my girls are old enough to truly appreciate it. Though truth be told, my buff or wants to be a mama sooooo

  5. What sweet photos! I love the character-building lessons as well as extra nutrition your children will get from having chickens. :)

  6. I'm wanting to have chickens, so his is so awesome to read! I'm working toward our next home (our OWN) and plan to have chickens there for sure.



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