There is something about chickens which just fascinate children. Whenever we have children visiting, it is always the chickens and chicken coop they want to venture to first. Maybe, it is because they don't have the opportunity to see chickens, other then in a book, or at the zoo. Maybe it is because chickens are relatively small in size, generally not aggressive, communicate in "coos and clucks", can be hand-fed treats, and often are as curious about children as children are about them.
If you have children, and you are thinking of getting chickens, I would encourage you. First, make sure you are zoned correctly for chickens. Second, research what breeds of chickens make the best pets. Third, know your children would treat your new hens as pets and with loving care.
When I say chickens, I really mean hens, and not roosters. Roosters can be aggressive, and are not for children, or some adults for that matter. Although roosters can be quite beautiful and magnificent in plumage, there is their daybreak cockle-doddle-do, sharp leg spurs, and aggressive territorial nature. Generally speaking, roosters are not for children.
I think chickens and children are a natural mix, because chickens can introduce them to, and teach them many beginning life lessons.
1) Hens can teach children about discipline and routine. Hens are living creatures, and must be cared for every morning and night. Hens must have feed and clean water every day. Their manure must be cleaned out and properly managed. In winter, and in bad weather, they must be protected from the cold, wet, drafts, and dampness. Chickens entertain themselves easily, and can thrive in a safe protected environment. They can not however, be neglected.
2) Hens can teach children beginnings about where their food comes from. They might actually observe a hen laying an egg, and what she goes through to lay that egg for them. Children may have the experience of holding a just-laid egg, still warm from a hen's body. A child might have the duty of collecting eggs every day as one of their chores.
3) Hens can teach children love. Hens if handled kindly from an early age can easily bond and become very tame and affectionate with whomever they see all the time, and who takes care of them. If allowed to roam out in your garden, chances are they will follow your children around in your yard, wanting to be close to them, too.
4) Hens can teach children about distinct personalities and traits, that become more pronounced over time. Let your children name their hens, and follow their personalities and observe their traits. We as people are not all the same, and neither are chickens.
5) Hens can teach enterprising children the basics of business. Children can catch on to how much it costs to keep their hens, deducting those costs from their egg sales. Who wouldn't want to buy fresh, oh-so-tasty organic eggs from your entrepreneurial son or daughter in the neighborhood.
6) Hens can be a special time that you and your children share and spend together taking care of them. Watch how your children interact with the hens. Hens are so entertaining and fun. Hens are more entertaining than TV or video games.
Show your children the best way to pick up your hens, and practice this till your children are comfortable. Never pick up a hen from her neck, wings, feet, or legs. Bend down, put both hands firmly, but not squeezing, over the side of her main body, keeping her wings close to her body and unable to flap. Pick her up gently, and hold her close to your body, and under your arm. When putting her down, keep her wings still against her body, and gently lower her to the ground. Never drop her. Hens are hardy, but also fragile. If unsure how your child or children will react with hens, always supervise them.
Depending on the age of your children, you might want to start out simply with letting your children pet your hens, feel their soft feathers, and possibly hand-feed treats of lettuce. Let your children visit them everyday. Gradually as your children get a little older, and more comfortable with your hens, introduce other aspects of taking care of them.
Generally speaking the smaller simple-feathered Bantam breeds are a nice size for small children. I always have enjoyed the Buff Orpington, Wyndotte breeds, which fall under the heavy-weight homesteader breeds. Although docile and easy going, these breeds might be too heavy for children to pick up. Some of the fancier designer chicken breeds are more skittish, and have more upkeep with keeping their feathers and plumage clean. Read up on chicken breeds with detailed descriptions of life spans, general traits, and you will find the best breed for you and your children. It is a personal preference.
Do you have chickens for your children now? What breed of hens do you have? Do you think having hens has been a valuable experience for your children?