Like Oatmeal for Chickens!

Cookies and Cream (our chickens) eating oatmeal on a cold winter morning.

Life is funny.  Somehow I have gone from someone who was worried about salmonella (no licking the cake batter covered beaters in my house!), often grossed out by eggs (no runny yolks; eggs well done please), and unable to imagine EVER cleaning up after a pet (kids were enough, thank you!) to a devoted chicken keeper.

It started when Big Girl’s school decided to rent chickens through last Spring.  Since we live within walking distance of Big Girl’s school we decided to sign up as “chicken checkers” for a weekend.  We were charmed by the way those chickens gobbled up grass and the kale grown at the school and smitten with the delicious eggs we got to take home as a thank you for checking on them all weekend.

The girls and I ganged up on my husband and started our persuasion campaign that very weekend.  Please can we get chickens, please?!?!?!  My mother-in-law supported our case by pointing out (a couple of times) how she always wished that she had chickens.

After weeks of thinking through logistics, we decided to do it.  We initially rented our two chickens and quickly decided that we wanted to adopt.

We are all more than fond of our feathered friends now.  Big Girl delights in feeding them from her hand.  Little Girl joins my husband in the morning to feed them.  While doing so she croons to them about her birthday, their birthdays and other things on her mind.  She is especially appreciative of them as she would eat 4 eggs a day if we let her…  she even like her fried eggs with runny yolks!  The girls and I delight in giving them afternoon treats.   And, I contentedly clean up all of their poop, refill their water, refresh their bedding, bring in their eggs (and cook their eggs) and generally hang out with them.   And, it feels a bit like magic every time we collect another egg.

We’ve had our chickens for 6 months and it’s become (pretty) normal.  Our chickens have become our pets, beloved ones.  For me, this has been a real growth experience.  For the very first time in my life I understand why people have pets.  I love them.  They make me happy.  I buy them treats (they love the cackleberry ones from Happy Hens and devour corn too.  I even found myself delivering hot oatmeal to them this morning (with sunflower seeds and rehydrated raisins.  I took a bite first to taste it!)

It is more than that too.

It’s something we do together.  Yesterday, Big Girl spent 25 minutes outside on a cold winter afternoon feeding them treats from her hand and trying to get them to follow her instructions.  I cleaned out their coop and watched my kid play with her pets.

I know that for animal lovers this seems normal… kid loves pet.  But, to me this is amazing.   My kids are both afraid of almost all animals.  A year ago, neither one of them would pet any creature.  Now, they pet our chickens, and our neighbors cat, and the sheep at the farm where we go fruit picking.  Someday they might even pet a dog!

Having chickens has helped my kids not be afraid of animals.  And, not being afraid of animals helps my kids in two important ways: it makes the world less scary and unpredictable in general (no need to fear the off-leash dogs nor the creature on a hiking trail) and it helps to make them more comfortable in the natural world more generally. Caring about their pets and by extension other animals helps kids remember that humans are not the only creatures who inhabit this world.  And, that is good for both kids and the world!

Yet, we don’t have regular pets.  We have chickens.  Creatures who lay eggs that we eat for our breakfasts and dinners too.  I value the idea that by working together we are providing our own food.  Doing so helps my kids think more seriously about the ethics of food: for themselves, the environment and the animals too.

And, I have to point out that those chickens are so cute too!


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