Friday, November 6, 2020

Raising chickens, raising children


The early days of the pandemic saw a run on toilet paper.


It also saw a run on chicks.


Hatcheries and retailers like Tractor Supply and Runnings that sell baby chickens couldn’t keep up with the demand. As soon as they arrived at the store they were gone.


So-called panic buying (something I would prefer to call “preparedness buying”) for these creatures had set in for two reasons.


First, there were fears of food insecurity. There were concerns that retailers could be shutdown as governments chased COVID. And, there was the very real issue of an egg shortage, one that didn’t last too long, when the distribution networks had to make the sudden change from restaurants, schools, and food processors to consumers suddenly finding themselves homebound and egg-hungry.   


Secondly, there was a strong desire to be self-sufficient, just in case. As the lockdowns deepened and COVID hospitalizations spiked, breadwinners were concerned that they might not see work again for months if it was repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic.


So, with free time on their hands and a whole bunch of unknowns before them, it made sense for homeowners to build a backyard farm that could provide eggs and meat.


Mine was one of those families that went all-in with chickens.


It was a long time coming. My daughter had been asking for years. We knew that we’d get chickens, whether it was this year or next. 2020 became it. I figured that I would be out of the office for at least a month because of the state shutdown so there was no better time to grow the chicks to adulthood and then put them outback in a little home.


Since then, I’ve come to the realization, as most newfound chicken raisers have, that we’re not in it to come out ahead. When you tally-up the costs of erecting coops and buying feed for a small flock of chickens (we’re just short of a dozen), the payback won’t occur for a few years, if it does at all.


But, it’s not about the costs.


It’s about the kids.


The lessons being taught my daughter now, and later her siblings as they get a little older, are priceless.


This hobby farm has added complexity and responsibility to her day-to-day life. Once, her chores might have mirrored those of her peers – pick-up after yourself, help with the dishes, give daddy a hand raking the leaves. Now, she has living, breathing animals depending on her.  


She has to put them in their coops at night so the coyotes don’t get them. She has to let them out in the morning. She has to keep them fed and watered. She has to clean out their nesting boxes and runs a few times a week. She has to harvest and clean the eggs.


You might be thinking that’s a lot of work for adult, let alone a kid.


She’s nine. So, it is a lot.


But, she loves it.


Oh, she might complain when digging up the soiled saw dust shavings, but she adores those birds, the breakfasts and her little farm. As a matter of fact, she’s been accumulating chicken do-dads – stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, books and more. You don’t do that when you’re burned out. You do that when you enjoy what you’re doing.


Those chickens have become part of her identity…in more ways than one.


These old-school lessons masquerading as mostly fun and rewarding experiences have taught her plenty about life and death, animal husbandry, scheduling, farming, health and safety, inventory management, biology, budgeting, food preparation, work ethic, love and sacrifice among other things. It’s a great way to supplement what she’s learning in her remote classroom.


So, fellow chicken farmers, don’t second guess what 2020 made you do. Our hobby farms are doing more than serving up breakfast. They are serving a higher purpose: Not only are we raising chickens, we’re also raising capable and loving human beings.     



From the 09 November 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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