Children And Chickens
In the beginning, my chickening was very much a solo operation. It wasn’t that my family wasn’t interested in the chickens or anything, but it was my thing, and so it fell on me to do it all. (Also when it was time to build the coop, I think everyone knew to steer clear of me. That would have been like filling your pockets with steak and standing next to a hungry tiger – very dangerous indeed!) I certainly don’t mind taking it on by myself, but at the same time, I always thought that it might be very interesting for my son to see what went into taking care of chickens. He likes animals, and it’s good to see where your food comes from (even though he doesn’t eat the eggs because they’re not made of pizza). However, it was tough to get him to spend much time with the chickens that wasn’t just being out in the yard at the same time as them. In some ways, this makes sense. When he was smaller, and Boss Chicken was more mobile and angry, she had been known to charge him any time he was outside, and so he was rightfully spooked by it. But she hasn’t been that chicken for years now, and I don’t think he’s at all afraid of them anymore. But at best, I could only occasionally get him to help me collect the eggs, and that was usually when he was complaining about being bored and I was being mildly coercive.
However, things have changed lately. It’s not that he somehow has realized that it’s nice to help daddy, or that chickens are fascinating, though. It’s much more utilitarian than that. We got a video game system for Christmas, and the game that is his favorite was basically created by an evil, money-making genius. I’m not going to speak its name here, lest that seem an endorsement. He loves the game, and that’s fine. However, in order to get past certain levels, you need to purchase new accessories, and that adds up very fast, because there seems to be no end to how many you need. Some are also very hard to find, and/or expensive. The discussion about “they make them hard to get on purpose, so you’re eager to spend a lot of money on them when they make more” isn’t really going anywhere, so to deflect the constant “will you buy me another accessory” questions, we decided it was time to give him an allowance. Then he could spend his own money on it. Of course, no one rides for free, so one of his chores is to help me with the chickens at night. (I was a little tempted to make him get up with me at 5 to help in the morning, but I don’t want to be that dad, and frankly, I don’t wish early awakenings on anyone.)
The timing of this has worked out well. We started when it got dark early, so we could just take care of the chickens after I picked him up from school. He now gets pretty excited to turn off the electric fence, and even to occasionally shock himself on purpose (it’s super low power, so it’s no worse than some bad static – hence the enjoyment of it). He also really likes being the one to open the coop and check for eggs. He brings the egg basket out and yells to me how many there are, and then gently picks up each one. What started as a way to satisfy childhood avarice has turned into something that he really enjoys, even if he does complain about the cold some days. I don’t like the cold either, but warmer days are coming soon.
Recently, he had a friend come over to visit, and after a round of the videogame that started it all, we went out to show the chickens to his friend. My son totally took charge and pointed out the electric fence, turned it off for everyone’s safety, and then introduced all the chickens. Then he and his friend opened the coop and looked for eggs, and there were a couple. They got very excited, and ran back into the house, each gently holding an egg or two. I’m not sure he would have been so excited to share this experience if he wasn’t feeling more invested in the chickens. When the weather gets nicer, I’m hoping that this carries over into helping me rustle them back into the run after free-range time. The n00bs like to rebel a little, and avoid going back in whenever they can. With two of us on the scene, we may be able to corral them more easily, or at least I won’t be alone while looking like an idiot chasing a bunch of chickens around the yard.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Merry Go Slower – Distressed by Kevin MacLeod, Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)