Jan 14, 2008

Learning a Lot from Chickens

I joined the 4-H Club when I was about 11 years old and learned to cook, sew, and raise chickens. I learned more from chickens than from the other projects.
  • First, my chicken project taught me bookkeeping. Much more important than feeding and watering chickens was finding out how much they cost to raise and the profit that could be expected. The 4-H project demanded that I keep a notebook that accounted for every cent spent and earned. Even 60 years ago, my bookkeeping showed that raising chickens is not a moneymaker unless you raise tens of thousands of chickens (or the price of eggs is very high!). [In contrast, chicken raising was quite popular in 1922 and could make lots of money for boys and girls.
  • Second, chickens gave me a wonderful appreciation of young nature. We kids looked forward to the day that the postman would bring a cardboard box with holes in the sides. The box contained baby chicks that had not eaten since being hatched. Mother had prepared a light-bulb heated brooder with a wire screen floor for the chicks when they arrived. We kids enjoyed feeding the cuddly chicks small flakes of oatmeal after taking them out of the box to play with them.
  • Third, I learned that sometimes difficult remedies were needed to prevent worse things from happening. When the chicks grew a little and started pecking at each others' tails, the tails were painted with tar.
  • Fourth, I found out where the best garden space is--in a former chicken yard where lots of high-nitrogen fertilizer has been deposited. After our land was developed into a housing edition, my mother planted a garden where the chicken house and yard had formerly been located. The rich soil produced wonderful berries, flowers, and vegetables for quite a few years.
  • Fifth, chickens taught me responsibility because I had to water and feed the fowls. Cleaning out the chicken house is an odorous job that had to be done routinely. Years later, when a high school chemistry project created the pungent smell of ammonia, I knew exactly where I had smelled it before--in the chicken house!
  • Sixth, I learned chickens are not very smart and have to be encouraged to get out of the rain, to get to food they can see on the other side of a fence, and to stop sitting on an unfertilized egg. [Some people are like that too.]
  • Seventh, I learned that chickens can be easily caught using a hook at the end of a long stiff wire. [Advertisers also use long wire hooks.]
  • Eighth, I learned hens won't lay eggs in the winter when the sun shines for less than 11 hours a day. Hens can be fooled laying eggs by turning the light on in the chicken coop at 4:30 am every winter morning.
  • Ninth, hens like to talk and make lots of racket While it's possible to stop many dogs from barking or horses from neighing, it's impossible to stop a hen from cackling.
  • Tenth, roosters can be dangerous--keep a stick with you if you have a bad rooster. Then plan when to eat him.
You too can learn more about raising chickens in your backyard. It will cost you money, but it will make your kids learn to carry eggs carefully--probably the most important lesson!

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