There’s a craze hitting homeschool families everywhere. If you haven’t already joined in on the fun, odds are you know someone who has.
What am I talking about?
Well, backyard chickens…specifically.
The craze hit our home last spring. After years of wanting our own backyard flock, we finally took the plunge and bought five adorable baby chickens at the local farm and garden. We purchased all girls (known in the chicken world as hens) and jumped in, quite blindly, with both feet. A year later, I’m happy to report it is one of the best decisions we ever made.
As I reflect on the past year raising chickens, I am amazed at how much my kids have learned in the experience. Chickens and homeschooling definitely go together. Maybe it is the Charlotte Mason fan in me, but I just love giving my kids hands-on science & nature experiences.
Here’s just a taste of what our family learned while raising our own little backyard flock of chickens…
We had to do our own research and basically learn everything on our own. We were the first in our area and in our family to take the “chicken plunge,” so we lacked mentors to help us find our way. From the internet to good books at the library, we researched about the care and feeding of our flock. We decided to raise our hens as organically as possible, so we talked about the ins and outs of antibiotics, organic feed, free ranging, and much more. We had to learn how to care for baby chicks indoors and out-of-doors, and we also had to design a space for them to live when they were full grown.
My children used their own money to purchase everything we needed for our flock to get off to a good start. They bought the chicks, the shavings, the feed, the waterer, the heat lamp, and even the box we raised the baby chicks in. It was a huge exercise in budgeting and in some cases, restraint. We couldn’t afford every thing we wanted, so we learned to do it ourselves or make our own in many cases. This chicken adventure turned out to be the greatest research project I could have ever designed… and it happened completely by accident!
Chicken Coop Design & Building:
Besides being new to the idea of chickens, we were also basically broke. We had a very small budget to work with. So the kids and I hit the books double-time to find affordable chicken coop plans. We shopped the stores and priced materials. After much research, we chose to build our own chicken tractor. We took inventory of what things we had on hand and up-cycled those materials in building our chicken tractor. We shopped for lumber – that in itself was a HUGE math lesson. We measured, re-measured, cut, sized, and priced lumber until we almost gave up. In the end, it was a fantastic lesson for my kids in budgeting. The chicken tractor you see pictured above was built for less than $100.
The children helped their dad set up the coop in the backyard. It was a wonderful experience for everyone, and a great way to get my husband involved as he works very hard most days and isn’t home during our formal school hours.
The kids learned very quickly that chickens require daily care and maintenance. But they didn’t seem to mind. They actually would argue (nicely) over who was in charge of letting the chickens out to free range, and who would gather the eggs once our girls started laying. I kept telling myself that the newness would wear off and they’d soon tire of the “farm chores” two times a day. It’s a year later and either the newness hasn’t worn off yet, or my kids just really enjoy taking care of their little pets. I think it’s the latter.
The kids have learned all about organic eggs and how to market and sell their eggs to others. We have collected egg cartons and are currently researching local rules & restrictions so that we might be able to sell our organic, free-range eggs at our small town farmers market. I’m sure when the time comes, we’ll have lots of arts and craft time designing logos and posters for our little egg business. (That’s entrepreneurship, economics, and more!)
Through trial and error, we’ve discovered many other things:
- We learned about the birds and the bees. Or, the chickens and the eggs, as the case may be. Yes, we’ve had “the talk” about how hens eggs don’t grow baby chicks without a rooster. You’d be amazed at how many ADULTS don’t understand this concept. My kids have taught a neighbor or two about fertilized & non-fertilized eggs!
- We have researched the pros and cons of having a rooster. So far, we’re not convinced we need a man in our flock. We are considering purchasing some pre-fertilized eggs for our hens to sit on from a local farmer this spring. It would be a neat way to watch chicks hatch and grow and would give our hens the opportunity to “raise their own” (even if it is a trick!)
- We have nursed an ailing chick back to health, using only pedialyte and gatorade. We have learned basic chicken first aid, mainly through necessity. We have also buried a chicken and learned how fragile and fickle chickens can be. Yes, we even held a chicken funeral.
- We learned how to clip the wing feathers and how to compost chicken poop. We learned that chickens really love strawberries and most produce – but don’t feed them orange peels! (Citrus peel is toxic to them.)
- My kids have tried many new recipes ONLY because they know the eggs are fresh and come from our flock. We have gotten our kids to try and even like quiche. We now eat eggs more regularly. And nobody has bad cholesterol either!
- All eggs are not alike. We have had some interesting shaped eggs come from our flock. We take pictures of them, catalog the unusual ones, and enjoy this new little hobby of egg collecting. We’ve even learned how to preserve an egg shell for safe keeping.
If you’ve been itching to do something “different” in your science curriculum, I would highly suggest you give backyard chicken farming a try. You might be surprised at how much you learn and how fast you fall in love with those little feathered friends. But be forewarned: we now have chickens AND … a goat. Backyard farming is addictive.
Photo Credits: Lindsey Cox