Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Never intending to have kids who sat all day in front of the TV set, I made sure my 6 children were constantly exposed to as many life experiences as a large family could allow. I threw challenge after challenge at my charges as they were growing up. For example, we tried to see how long we could go feeding our entire family on a weekly budget of $100 (surprisingly long in the summer when farm stands offer squash for 50 cents), weighed all the edible food we threw away in one month (a little over 20 pounds) and decorated one son’s college dorm room using only things found at local garage sales. The kids learned how to value food dollars and that yard sales were a pretty inexpensive way to enhance one’s living space and update a wardrobe.
I started documenting what our family was learning in a few articles that then became a weekly newspaper column on living a frugal life. Even though my husband, Marc and I had good jobs, let’s face it, there was never enough money when you have half-a-dozen offspring, especially when you have kids who break legs on the soccer field by taking a kick from another player, who smash their noses during a gymnastics move gone wrong, or who develop debilitating arthritis from a chronic Lyme infection. We never really knew what was going to come down the road and so we never spent much more than we had to. Having children costs money and saving money whether it is by cutting back on the food budget or buying a winter coat for $3 at a yard sale was just a way of life for us.
As a result of my writing about our continued life experiments in my column, it was no surprise to anyone, (especially my husband, who was getting rather used to these constant challenges) when one of my readers offered me 8 newborn chicks as a way to both get thrifty eggs and put our kitchen food waste to good use. “We don’t throw any kitchen scraps out,” she told me, “we feed it all to our chickens.”
It didn’t take long for me to say yes to her offer. I mean, why not, right? It was going to be summer, the kids could keep themselves busy taking care of the chicks, and we would get farm fresh eggs on a regular basis. As far as I could tell this was nothing a win-win offer.
On a bright and sunny June afternoon, I, and a few of my kids, drove to my reader’s farm to get ourselves an instant flock. At the time we knew nothing about chicks other than that they were, in my daughter’s words “drop-dead adorable.” Once we got the babies, I did my research, asked questions and kept writing about everything that happened with our birds. In a short matter of time, we became chicken farmers.
Over the years, we’ve learned how to take care of our chickens, how to feed them, and we’ve even (painfully) discovered that if you want to remain on good terms with your physically-close neighbors, then roosters do not belong in your flock.
Chickens eventually took over our backyard and a good portion of our lives. We built a coop and then added an addition the following year. We went from the original eight chicks to a current flock of 31 hens (with one possible rooster in training.) I fully embraced our chicken life with open arms by seeking out exotic varieties (some wore outrageous head gear, some had Dalmatian spots) and by creating a hen coop that was filled with personality. Eventually I even started teaching classes instructing others on how to get started as backyard chicken owners. I was being called the “go-to chicken lady” in our town and throughout the state of New Hampshire. While teaching others about the care of chickens, I started realizing that chickens have a lot to teach us. For the past four years I’ve been writing about our experiences of living with chickens and the life lessons we have learned in my blog: Lessons Learned from the Flock.
In my blog and in articles, I not only wrote about the lessons I learned but also about how, after raising a flock of children, I was seeing similar behaviors between our chicken and children flocks. Behaviors like the pecking order, when the flock pecks at a new chicken in order to make sure she knew her place in the flock made perfect sense. I had seen that very behavior between my two daughters as they jockeyed for attention especially around a cute boy. Hen scratching in the dirt vividly explained the term “chicken scratch” that some of my sons’ teachers had used to describe their at times, indecipherable handwriting. There was so very much I could see in our chickens’ behavior that could be applied to my children’s behavior, it all seemed to make sense on a much larger cosmic scale.
Simply put, living things, who live and work together, act in similar ways.
Chickens, it turns out, have an awful lot to teach us. The trick is to be quiet long enough so you can hear what it is they are saying. Look, a flock is flock, whether it be birds, kids, or even workers at the office. All members will, at times, peck, quibble for food, and complain about the jobs they have to do, but at the end of the day, what’s most important to remember is that despite our differences, despite our disagreements, if we’re in a flock, we will all come home to roost, protecting and keeping each other safe throughout the night until morning.