Backyard Chickens Launch Careers

Many parents build a backyard coop and stock it with a few hens as an interesting way to help their children learn responsibility by caring for animals and where food really comes from.

These are important lessons, but chickens offer children much more.  A small flock can spark curiosity and imagination that gels into a rewarding career or lifelong hobby. 

That may sound far-fetched but ask successful people what sparked their interest and led toward a career or meaningful hobbies and often they’ll say: “When I was only four or five years old Dad and I made a birdhouse and ever since I’ve been fascinated with building things…..so I became an engineer.” Or, “When I was only a few years old I spotted a brilliant red bird out our kitchen window. Mom and I looked in her bird book and identified a Scarlet Tanager. Birding’s been my passion ever since.”

Parents never know what might ignite a child’s interest, so even brief exposure to a diversity of positive experiences can spark a lifelong passion. Master teachers recognize that curiosity is a powerful precursor to learning. Rather than doling out facts, gifted teachers create an environment that stimulates curiosity. Students eagerly take it from there.

Jane Goodall, famous for observing and documenting chimpanzee behavior in Africa, began her naturalist career as a young child carefully watching how chickens lay eggs in her grandmother’s chicken coop.

Chickens are fascinating creatures, and a small flock can begin a child’s adventure in science. A few hen’s ability to teach out values the eggs they might contribute to the family. Children who joyfully interact with their chickens are poised for a satisfying career in animal care and agriculture. 

According to Dr. Susan Lamont, Distinguished Professor of Agriculture at Iowa State University, many career opportunities are open in poultry and other areas of agriculture. More will be available when today’s youth hit the job market in 10 – 15 years. “Even children growing up in urban or suburban neighborhoods can find a rewarding career in agriculture.  Lessons learned caring for a chicken flock can nudge a youngster in that direction,” Lamont says.  

“There are many careers of various types open for students at all levels of education. Some have PhD degrees but others work as research associates or lab technicians with lesser degrees. Some openings require a high school diploma and further technical training in robotics, electronics, and other areas if they are doing maintenance or facility services on larger farms. Some farms hire engineering graduates. It depends on the situation. Then there are jobs in food safety that may require a certification. There certainly are jobs open in poultry and salaries are competitive,” says Lesa Vold, Communications Specialist at the Egg Industry Center. 

Do some experimenting

Parents can help pique kids’ curiosity by encouraging simple chicken experiments. These help kids learn the scientific method while letting the hens be teachers. Here are a few simple examples:

Do chickens prefer sleeping with certain flock mates?

It helps to have five or six hens that are easy to identify as individuals. Perhaps they have different feather colors, patterns or physiques. Each evening take the child to the coop and photograph roosting birds. This is data collection. After taking photos for a week analyze them. Is there a pattern?  Does the Rhode Island Red always or usually sleep next to the Black Australorp? This is data analysis. If a clear pattern emerges then the child has learned that hens like sleeping by a certain flock mate……or not.    This is drawing conclusions based on observation and analysis.

 Do chickens have food preferences?

Put a cup or two of chicken scratch or wild bird seed mix in a bowl. Take a picture of the contents. Let the chickens access it. They’ll usually crowd right in and start pecking. Observe carefully. Do hens prefer certain seeds over others?  If yes, which ones?  Do they shun some seeds? What does this mean? Can chickens distinguish one type of seed from another? How do they do this?

These are basic and simple experiments that can be done with very young children. They sharpen observation skill, spark curiosity, and introduce kids to the scientific method used by researchers in dozens of areas to advance human knowledge.

A fulfilling career just might be hatched in the backyard coop. 

Kids and Chickens: At the show!

In previous articles, we’ve covered selecting chickens for kids as well as preparing your children and chickens to go to a poultry show, including how to wash your birds.

At this point my two girls (ages 5 and 7),  were as ready as they would ever be to show a chicken. The birds were somewhat trained, the kids were fairly well prepared, and we hit the road.

We arrived at the fairgrounds the evening before the show and took the birds to the waiting area.

A vet check is required at our fair for all incoming animals. The vet looks to make sure that the bird has no nasty communicable diseases that could spread to the rest of the birds.

Once we were cleared to unload, we took the birds into the barn and got directions from the barn manager as to which pens were ours.

Then we put the birds in and immediately filled the waterers and feeders to make them feel a bit more at home.

The girlKids and Chickens Show Day Sadie and Peachs were hesitant to leave their birds in a strange place all alone that first night, but eventually we decided they were in good hands and headed for home.

The next day was the big one – show day!  We began by getting the birds fed, watered and checked up on.

They were in good shape – more so than my girls who needed clean shirts and hair done and new jeans, etc. etc. The first rule when showing is to always look professional.

A collared and nicely pressed long sleeve shirt is a great idea. Tuck your shirt in and make sure your hair is off your face.

We talked about smiling and keeping their eyes on the judge while they were showing and – most important of all – don’t let your chicken get away!

The time for their class finally arrived and I have to admit, they did great! We had lots of adults on hand to help, but those kids had their birds in control (well, mostly).

Each one did great and showed off their birds as well as answered questions from the judge. They all learned valuable skills and experience and earned beautiful ribbons!

They were proud of themselves when the show was over and really enjoyed showing all their friends at the fair their birds.

All in all our chicken showing experience was a great one – and I have a feeling that we won’t be strangers to the poultry barn in the future!

Kids & Chickens: Getting ready for a chicken show

Our family started on a unique adventure this spring when my two girls (ages 4 and 7) decided that they wanted to show chickens at our fair, which lands yearly on Labor Day weekend. With this in mind, we headed for the feed store at the end of April to check out their selection of baby chicks. Since this was the girls’ first year showing and they are both rather small, I thought a bantam breed would work well. Bantams are about 1/4 the size of a regular chicken and would be easier for my little girls to handle. However, when we got the store we saw that the tubs of bantams were straight run only – meaning we did not know if we would be getting males or females. We knew we did not want to have roosters, and so we moved to plan B and decided to go with a standard breed chicken for each of them. These birds had been sexed at the hatchery and so we were fairly confident that they were, in fact, females (pullets). We picked up four chicks – a Buff Orpington, a Golden Sexlink, a Barred Rock, and an Easter Egger.

Thebaby chick girls were very excited with their new chicks! We set them up in a warm brooder and let them settle in. We gave them several days to acclimate, and then “show training” began. The girls started to handle each chick for 5 – 10 minutes each day (turns out baby chicks and small children have similar attention spans). At this time, it really helped that each chick was a different color – so we could tell who had already had their turn being held and petted! SAFETY NOTE: We kept a jug of hand sanitizer right next to the brooder. As soon as the girls were done holding the chicks, feeding, watering and cleaning, they each got a squirt until we got into the house where they would wash their hands thoroughly with soap.

Sadie and chickAs the chicks grew, the girls continued to try and handle them on a daily basis. I learned it is best to get them into this habit when the chicks are very small. We were out of town for two weeks and had someone else taking care of the birds for us. During that time, they grew significantly and the girls were a bit intimidated by their larger size when it came time to start handling them again. The tamer you can get the birds when they are still small, the better.

We moved the chicks out of the brooder and into a large pen inside our barn towards the end of June. While this was a much needed change from the chicken’s perspective (they had outgrown the brooder), it was no longer simple for the kids to scoop one out of the tub to pick them up. The kids now had to learn how to calmly and quietly move around the birds, get them into a corner and pick them up without causing widespread panic. This was definitely a trial and error period – at times my kids can make way more noise trying to be quiet than they do at normal volume.

Once we hit August, real show training had to commence. Up to this point, the girls had simply been catching and holding their birds. Now, though, we realized that more would be required of them at the show. Our next installment will cover Advanced Show Prep (Hint – chicken bathing is involved – you don’t want to miss it!).