I moved to Twin Oaks about 12 years ago, and about four years in, it became apparent to me that I was going to be a parent (the rapidly swelling midsection of my partner helped to tip me off). So I figured, as long as I was going to be raising a kid or two on the farm, they might as well be farm kids. In my mind, I had visions of old fashioned rural existence, with all the little ones pitching in to slop the hogs and weed the ‘tater patch.
A few months passed, and I found myself the father of a son. A few more years passed, and I found myself the father of a second son. A few more years passed, and I realized that it can be easier to envision having the kids help out on the farm than it is to actualize that vision. For one, Twin Oaks can be a daunting place for child agricultural labor. The garden is not in fact a particularly child-friendly area. Our “farm” area is full of scary machinery and whirring blades, the cows are enormous and stompy, and the milking area is also full of intimidating machinery. Plus, in order to get the kids involved with these areas, I would also have to be involved in the areas, which (aside from the occasional garden shift) wasn’t the way my work scene seemed to be working out.
Then, I had a revelation– chickens! Chickens are far less intimidating than cows, far more durable than tender seedlings. They’re cute (if you’re into that sort of thing), tasty, and provide eggs (which have provided roughly half of my kids’ total caloric intake over the course of their lives). Plus, taking care of the chickens worked well with my childcare schedule– I’d have the kids on my “chicken chore” days, and chicken chores on my “me & the kids” days. And what could be more ideal farm-childhood-picturesque than hardworking children feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, and generally making themselves useful?
So I signed up for chicken crew and made the pitch to the boys. At first, both of them were willing, if somewhat skeptical, participants. The chicken yard was covered with gross poop, and the chickens– especially the roosters– were kind of scary (you’d have to imagine you’re their size; the hens are about waist height and the roosters are nearly the same size as the lads!) Over time, my older boy lost interest in the chickens altogether, choosing to entertain himself rather than go down and hunt for eggs with ol’ pops. For the most part, he’s a great kid with many redeeming characteristics, but that boy just is not into chickens.
Ah, but the younger boy, kid #2…that’s my chicken boy! Although he’s still afraid of the roosters (with good reason– those things are mean!), he’s mostly willing to stand his ground, he enjoys pouring out the grain for the birds, and he’s really into gathering eggs, a task in which he is growing increasingly skilled. Plus, he really enjoys coming home after gathering eggs and frying up one (or two or three) of the eggs that he gathered himself. Here’s a few pix of Sami, age 4, living out his father’s vision of rural childhood chores (taken between 12/12 and 5/13):
And a story, from just this afternoon…
At present, our chickens have divided into two flocks. They spent the winter down by the compost pile, and over the course of the winter, they grew increasingly fond of the hay barn, which was both closer to the compost than their henhouse, and provided a prodigious quantity of comfy nesting material. In fact, as winter progressed and turned to spring, they hardly bothered to return to the henhouse to lay their eggs, instead scooping out several nests in the bales of hay themselves. So collecting eggs was less a matter of checking the nesting boxes in the henhouse, and more a matter of clambering around the barn searching for nests in hidden crevices.
This spring, we attempted to move the chickens to a fenced enclosure near the pastures and orchards, where they would have more fresh grass but, alas, less compost. A rogue band of chickens has steadfastly refused this move, evading capture and moving more or less permanently into the hay barn, and finding ever more obscure places to hide their eggs. Having Sami along for egg collecting has been quite a boon for this; he has an uncanny ability to discover the chickens’ secret nesting sites, and he’s small enough to squeeze into cracks between the hay, into spots where cumbersome adults could never fit. This very afternoon, he discovered an enormous trove of eggs–nearly two dozen–by dropping down into a gap between two bales and crawling into the cave made by another bale stacked on top. We made sure to keep those eggs separate from the rest, so as to stock our kitchen with them, knowing that for the next few days our breakfast will consist of eggs from the secret nest that Sami discovered!