The chicken, the egg, and the children

Wednesday night I went to a meeting about a proposed city ordinance to allow backyard hens in residential areas. Although my city was formerly a farming community, hens and other livestock are currently only allowed in areas zoned for agriculture. I’m interested in having backyard hens myself as a way to live more sustainably and because I feel it would be great for my kids. A teacher who attended the meeting, while pleading her case in favor of the hens, said she’s had students that didn’t know a hamburger came from cows. That got me wondering, how many of today’s children really have no idea where their food comes from?

Penny, a New Zealand mother of two who blogs at Walking Upside Down, reinforced the point when she mentioned her son’s kindergarten teacher told her she once took a class to farm growing cabbages and the kids asked, “Who put them there?” Penny said, “I was so surprised there were kids in my area who didn’t know where veges came from!”

Belinda Moore, who writes Home Grown says, “Children need to know their food, be connected to it. Even if you’ve never grown anything before, learn beside your little ones. Sharing this knowledge now could foster a lifelong interest in gardening, a forgotten skill that some day could become vitally important once again.”

I feel fortunate that we live in an area where we have access to local farms so that my children can see how different fruits and vegetables grow and that they don’t just appear in the grocery store. We also planted a garden for the first time this year and they were able to experience something growing from just a seed into a vegetable we could eat for dinner. Those kinds of experiences, I believe, are important to give our children.

Another thing I appreciate is having access to local free-range eggs. I recently discovered a family farm a few miles from my home, Ollin Farms, that sells fresh, free-range organic eggs every Wednesday morning. The problem is, as I’ve come to discover on more than one occasion, you have to be waiting at the farm stand when they open at 10 a.m. in order to make sure you get your eggs. They only have a limited supply and they sell out fast. Just this week I went to pick up a dozen for both me and my friend Alison. Julian and I arrived at 10:15 a.m. and the eggs were already sold out. According to the farmer they only had 7 dozen this week because their older hens are slowing down production for the winter and their younger chicks still have another month or so to mature before they start laying eggs. Seven dozen in one week is just not enough to keep up with demand.

That is just one of the reasons that I would like to be able to own a few hens of my own. Not only would I like the organic, free-range eggs (which are far healthier than factory-farmed eggs), I would like to expose my children to the experience of caring for animals and to get better acquainted with their food. My daughter Ava, 4 years old, has already told me with pride on numerous occasions that she will be the one who collects the eggs every day.

Owning your own chickens is also better for the environment. According to Meg Hamill who writes for Planet Save, “Making backyard chickens legal is a good move for cities interested in reducing their ecological footprint. Urban chickens provide a local source of eggs, meat and manure.”

Ever since the proposed backyard hen ordinance came about several months ago, it has received a lot of attention here and quickly became a very contentious subject. There are several people in favor of the ordinance, most of them interested in knowing where there food comes from (these are also the folks who grow their own tomatoes and other veggies), and in living more sustainably. There are also a good number of people who are opposed to it, citing concerns like smell, noise, unhealthy for children to be around, increased predators, decreased property values, etc.

It was the mention of chickens being unhealthy for children to be around that piqued my interest. Although a physician who was present at the meeting dispelled those concerns, I decided since I know quite a few people, both in person and on the ‘net, who raise chickens and have children, it was worth it to ask them about their personal experiences too.

My sister-in-law Jennifer who lives in Kansas with her husband and 8 children, as well as numerous chickens, a cow, some pigs and goats told me, “Some people think that the feather mites that chickens have are a problem, but they are not transferable to humans. Any pet that is not cared for well or cleaned up after obviously poses a health risk of some kind, be that cats, dogs, rabbits, etc.”

I think that is the real concern in our city. People are understandably concerned about the few folks who won’t be responsible chicken owners and either won’t care for their hens properly and/or won’t clean up after them. While I’m sure there will be a few bad apples, I say why not cross that bridge if and when we come to it? Let’s trust in our neighbors that they will do the right thing rather than assume the worst right off the bat. I believe most of the people who want to get backyard hens want to do it for the same reasons that I do and will likely be responsible hen-owners.

When properly cared for and cleaned up after, chickens should not pose health risks, and from what I heard from several people I asked, kids can’t get enough of them.

Sarah with a chickenMy sister-in-law Jennifer said:

Our kids love their chickens. I don’t know that chickens should be a petted-type pet, but ours certainly are. My children love carrying them around. They have put chickens in a swing Andrew holds a chickenbefore (not sure the chicken liked that so much, but she didn’t throw a fit either). We get so much enjoyment from watching them. They go nuts for watermelon rind and tomato scraps and everyone in the house loves to check for eggs. They have found new and creative places to lay their eggs and thus we often have to hunt for them. It’s Easter every day at our house!

Angela from Rahn Family Blog told me her daughter Shraddha spends hours with their chickens. She’s got some adorable pictures of her daughter with her “babies.” “I never realized how much fun we would have with chickens. We are always so excited to run out and feed them leftovers and they jump all over us in excitement whenever we come to visit…especially when leftover oatmeal is with us.”

Amber from Berlin’s Whimsy writes the Chicken Chronicles about her little flock. In her post Chicken Therapy she relates how she and her two kids have been too busy to spend time observing their chickens lately and they all miss it.

We miss our chickens. We see them fairly often but it isn’t the same as walking out to the chicken house in the morning and watching them flee from their confinement—-a spectacle of legs, wings, and squawks, leaving feathers floating in the air. I especially long for sitting outdoors with a bit of knitting while absent-mindedly watching our chickens interact with one another, listening to their chicken conversations. As much as it is amusing, it’s just about the best prescription for stress relief—-another lesson in simplicity. I know it sounds odd, but until you’ve tried it, you just won’t understand.

Monica Brand, a home schooling mom to two girls and two boys, shares a picture of three of her kids, the Chicken Wranglers.

Leslie, from Recycle Your Day says her little boy loves having chickens.

Tristan loves to go every morning and feed them and check for eggs. He always crouches down and points to one and says “egg”! It’s really cute. When my niece and nephew come over they love to watch them and my niece will go and retrieve eggs if she see’s one or two! She always asks about them. Kids really find them to be fascinating. I’m happy that Tristan has the opportunity to grow up with chickens and horses. He loves em’ both.

Dawn from Kaiser Alex told me on Twitter that she has fond memories of hatching chicks in an incubator back when she was a kid in elementary school. I asked her how she liked it and Dawn responded, “Well it was 25 years ago and I still remember, so I guess pretty well.”

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that this ordinance will pass so that we can take the next step in living more sustainably and so my children can have these special kinds of experiences and memories too.

Additional resources:
The City Chicken
Backyard Chickens
Chicken Raising with Toddlers
How to Keep Chickens in the City
Nine Books for Newbies to Urban Chickens
Raising Chickens on an Urban Homestead
Raising Urban Chickens: Part 2 – Building a Coop
Raising Urban Chickens: Part 2A – Building a Coop

Cross-posted on BlogHer. Feel free to check out the discussion over there too. 🙂

33 thoughts on “The chicken, the egg, and the children”

  1. I was talking with my 89 year old Grandmother about how I would like to make more preserves and the organic movement as a whole. She believes we are all crazy. She lived a hard life of work. Living through the Depression and raising four children on WELL water (like go down and get the well water and carry back up to the house by hand!) She shakes her head, why when you can buy it all prepared at the store? However her generation only buys what they need, rarely in excess and reuses a lot of stuff.

    I think it would be interesting to raise chickens. I am not sure I would want to personally, however with more information anything is possible.

    I hope your city allows it 🙂

  2. We had some free range chickens a while back. I liked the eggs but not that they ate the tops off of all my flowers. And the rooster was mean. Scary mean. We ended up getting rid of them and raising a cow. But that is another story.

  3. it would be so great if they allow it. I’m so afraid that my kids will tell me that our food is coming from the shelves of the supermarket some day!

  4. I love watching my chickens, too. I’ve had my two roosters since April, and they’re very curious and entertaining – especially when they try to run. 🙂 I just got my new hens last weekend, but since they’re still young I probably won’t find any eggs till spring. Hope your city allows them, nothing beats the flavor of real farm raised eggs.

  5. Our area has debated it in the past. Roosters should never be allowed in suburban or closely situated homes. I’m sure that’s not even on the table, right? They’re way to loud, way to early to be anything but a nuisance (and would be so disrespectful to neighbors)

    The problem is, to be truly free range, I don’t think your yard is large enough. Unless you want to give it all over to the chickens and even then, they wouldn’t have enough room to roam and truly be happy.

    We had them as a kid. Parts were fun, parts were extremely disgusting. And the lice, mites, etc are really hard to keep down. The eggs were great, but they ended up being way more expensive then purchasing and the chickens destroyed much of my parent’s yard, flowers, trees (the chicken manure was too acidic for growth and killed many trees). They will peck your kids and your kids are pretty young. I wouldn’t want them handling chickens until they know not to put their hands in their mouths, etc.

    At the end of their laying life, would you be willing to eat them? That was tough on us kids. I remembering sitting down to a dinner of Fluffy vividly. That was really a lesson of where your food comes from and why you shouldn’t name your food!

    I think kids not knowing where food comes from can be alleviated by just visiting farms, as you’ve done. You could argue that in favor of visiting a slaughterhouse too, but you wouldn’t do that, I hope.

    In general, I think kids just don’t know much about the world. Daycare institutionalization of children has led to less and less children exposed to the world. Be it where their food comes from or beneficial time in the woods. We’re growing generations of children that are inexperienced and naive about the world they live in.

    If you really want chickens, go for it. I doubt you will want to stick with it for long. It’s messy business.

    Maybe wait and get a little hobby farm so both you and the animals can coexist in a happier way.

    I’ve vegetable gardened for decades. It sounds like you’re getting the bug. I could see you on a little farm.

    There’s a completely self sustained (solar, wind energy powered) farm near the art colony of Grand Marais here in Minnesota for sale. The owners are retiring, but have had a very successful organic farm, selling to restaurants and at local markets. You interested? 🙂 It’s gorgeous and you’d fit right in!

  6. We had chickens when I was little (in your town, in fact! and Brighton). My great-grandma always had chickens and I always got to feed them and go looking for eggs. It was an awesome part of my childhood! A few springs we slaughtered chickens too. I never thought about it, but I guess I did have a blessed childhood int that regard. But really, the point I was getting at (yes, I did have a point) is that this is the first I’ve heard about chickens being dangerous/bad for kids. Sure, we worry about a lot more now than we used to, but I think chickens are pretty innocuous.

    My aunt lives in Los Angeles and has chickens!

  7. Lest I lead any of you think I would get chickens on a whim, I assure you that would not happen. If you’ve been around my blog for any length of time you know I tend to be a researcher when it comes to many things and I would be reading more about caring for them, clean up, how much work is involved, veterinary care, how to build a proper coop, keeping them warm in the winter, where to have them slaughtered (slaughtering is forbidden per the ordinance), etc.
    I don’t know that I’d be comfortable getting hens while we are still in this house (with our little backyard). I’d probably want to wait until we move and have a little more growing room, if you will. But I’d like to know whether or not my city will allow them, since that will play a big factor in whether or not we stay in this city (which we otherwise like) or try to move to a different town.

    A couple people mentioned roosters – roosters would absolutely not be allowed in the city (just hens as I stated above) and I have no desire to have a rooster anyway. 🙂


  8. I think it’s great. I have fond memories of my grandparents – going to gather eggs the mornings that we slept over, caring for a new batch of chicks that my grandfather picked up and kept in the house under a heat lamp till they got a bit bigger. I think all kids need to experience this. And I think it is quite sad that we live in a generation that there is so much detachment from our food.

  9. I think they will pass it due to the increasingly bad economy. Especially if they wait til the beginning of next year and see how badly the xmas shopping season will be, they will see that people are more concerned with feeding their families.

    I’m glad to hear that there will be some structure and requirements of people to get educated on what it all entails which was my husband’s concern, too since he grew up with chickens and only wants ducks, no hens. I would like both but then again, I didn’t have an experience to compare it to like he did. I wonder if they will allow ducks, too? Those eggs are supposed to be very tasty and they are easier to care for and are nicer from what he says.

    I’ve never been able to get the eggs from Ollin or the csa we were members of last year. I think people line up like an hour before they go on sale or something. Ollin is down the block from us and we still lost out the sev’l times I went but I always stopped and picked up veggies from them before my garden went gangbusters this season.

    And fyi, the public kindergartens here do the egg incubator thing in class with the kids. At least the school by me does it, we saw it on our tour last spring and my son was into it.

  10. We’ve just started raising chickens this year in our cohousing community. One of our chicks turned out to be a rooster and we gave him away, the remaining 5 have started laying, and we’re just building a permanent winter coop now (they were in a chicken tractor).

    It’s been nice to spread the costs and care around a half-dozen households, especially when by even optimistic estimates we won’t recoup our costs for a couple years. But it’s about more than money for us – it really is about knowing where our food comes from!

  11. Did you know we just got a similar ordinance passed up here? It was having a difficult time being passed, and almost got tabled, but we worked hard and it was passed in September!

    Here’s the blog that Dan Brown, who started the movement kept up; it doesn’t have a lot of information, but might have resources for you:

    If you’d like, I could find the videos of the 2nd presentation where there were many, many different reasons given for allowing hens, and a couple for not allowing them. I nervously spoke at the end, while my family watched at home online. 😀

    Your post reminds me that I never wrote my planned celebratory post, but you can see some pictures of my kids with their hens, which are kept at a “chicken co-op” at a friend’s house. We won’t be bringing them here because our yard is too small, but we still get to experience the joy and work and sadness (hens turning out to be roosters and needing to be gotten rid of) somewhat.

    Good luck! By the way, did you know that Denver citizens can have backyard hens?!!

  12. I grew up with chickens. They lived in a barn and were perfectly happy. We never once had a problem with lice or mites, so perhaps that is a mid west/lower elevation problem, as other bugs, like fleas, are also less of a problem in Colorado.

    I do admit that it would be a different mindset to have chickens next door, but they really are like pets. And, if you leave the roosters out of the equation they are MUCH quieter than my neighbor hood full of barking dogs.

    Also, chicken poo is acidic; however we in Longmont are cursed with alkaline clay soil, so chicken poo is the PERFECT fertilizer. If you are concerned about the acidity, mix it with compost (or lyme) first, but honestly, I have never heard of someone having problems with chicken poo fertilizer being too acidic when used with clay (alkaline) soil. At present I buy “chickipoo” and add it to my garden every year in hopes of increasing the acidity of my soil, so that it is better for growing berries!

    Furthermore, I have a compost pail, but I can’t put bread, or anything cooked with oil or fat in the compost bin. However, if I had a few hens they would eat my organic leftovers with gusto and that would be one more bit of trash or garbage disposal waste going to a good use!

    Kids and chickens — never been a problem in my experience. I was about 2 or 3 when we first got chickens and the only poultry I ever had a problem with was our mallard male duck, and a big mean gander of my grandmothers!

    Speaking of grandmothers, mine is also 89 and she laments the fact that the last of her hens was eaten by a fox last year. And, she is now too frail to properly raise a batch. However, for the previous 88 years of her life, her diet was supplemented daily by eggs raised by her family. My grandmother always dotted on her chickens and I think she would laugh up a storm at all these naysayers. (I may just have to call her for her opinion!)

    As for needing more space to wonder around. Seriously. Any back yard chicken is going to have more space than even the “free range” grocery store eggs. I’ve met many many broods of hens over the years that lived in 6×6 or 10×10 enclosures and they were plenty happy. If you had only 2 to 4 hens they’d be fine with less space and the occasional full run of your yard.

    Yes we Hen!

  13. A neighborhood north of me figured out how to get it passed.

    You are allowed a certain number of pets. The hens just happened to be pets. Couldn’t have too many, but you wouldn’t need to many.

    I’ll be interested to follow this.

    Good luck. I think it’s important to hear all sides of this issues and you seem to be doing that!

  14. I love the idea of it being Easter every day! Our yard is like that too – we just started raising chickens and ducks along with our three children. Somedays it is harder than others to find the chicken eggs!!

    Love your blog,
    Cori, a poultry farming homebirth mamma of 3

  15. I would love to have fresh eggs whenever I wanted them but alas… no chickens allowed in this suburb! 🙂 But you have never truly tasted an egg like a fresh organic egg! YUM! My mother-in-law’s friend has a few chickens and sometimes we get lucky enough to receive a little delivery!

  16. Our yard would be big enough but I’d have to get it fenced because there are dogs in our neighbourhood that can wander in an out too easily. Also I’m not sure about the large number of cats but maybe if the chickies were big enough, they’d take on the cat! LOL! I like the idea of the eggs, the chickens cleaning up bugs etc from my garden, and the free chicken poop for my garden. But I’ve heard that the cost of keeping them fed, housed etc can negate any economic benefit from keeping them for “saving money” purposes.

    I’m lucky – I have easy access to truly free range eggs that can be delivered to my door.

    My husband grew up on a farm and his job was to collect the eggs. He tells me about “pocket eggs” which were the ones he put in his pocket and then managed to squash when he fell down/forgot about them! LOL!

  17. our town allows up to 3 hens per household as pets. after that or to have roosters you need to be zoned agricultural. in the next town over a kid actually led the petition to be allowed to have i think up to 5 hens. municipalities may be more amenable to changing laws given the current economic climate and the interest in local food. we had our city approve us putting a coop shared among several households on our common land owned by our condo association for our cohousing neighborhood. so we can have a flock larger than 3, we’re thinking up to 20!

  18. we live with city limits and have a backyard flock of 17. We have raised them since they were a few days old and thus far it’s been an amazing and fun adventure. I cant wait until they start laying in a few weeks!

  19. Just found you via a link from smallnotebook. I live in Kansas and I happen to know a Jennifer (used to attend our church) that has a large family — any chance it’s Tom & Jennifer Lane?

  20. thanks for your great post
    I am completely in love with chickens . But I realize that marriage between man and chickens is considered weird, so I will just keep
    raising them on my backyard 🙂

  21. Enjoyed this post and the photos of your kids with the chickens. I believe children need to be taught at young age to respect and care about animals along with love, compassion and understanding. These photos surely reflect that! Do you eat meat at all? I’m assuming you don’t but.. As far as factory farming goes, do you and/or your kids know what happens to spent hens and male chicks? I know they are very young so maybe you can make them aware of this in a few years. It’s sad and grotesque – the whole business of factory farms. It’s a real shame. I am a vegetarian and try to live a green and cruelty free lifestyle but I’m not perfect. I made a website to help educate others about animal abuse/cruelty and green living. Feel free to check it out sometime. Thanks for your time.

  22. Your article has proven useful to me. It’s very informative and you are obviously very knowledgeable in this area. You have opened my eyes to varying views on this topic with interesting and solid content.

  23. I love my chickens even when like this morning I woke up around 5:00 a.m. and heard a very strange sound.  I looked out the window to see if anyone was getting mugged but decided the noise must be coming from the chicken pen.  I pulled on some pants and hustled out there only to breathlessly find the black hen standing tall and proud trying to crow.  What an awful sound she was making!  It sounded like someone was choking her.  I scolded her and went back to bed.  5:15 a.m. is tooooo early for me!

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