We've never had pets previously. We just started raising chickens this spring, and my six and three year old handle the chickens too roughly. The three year old handles the chickens fine by himself, but when his older sister handles them as well, they become too wild. I want to free range my chickens, and I want the chickens to acclimate to children, but other than constant supervision, I wonder if that's possible with young children. We've talked a lot about how to properly handle the chickens, but they seem unable to resist. Help!
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Abusing the Chickenspost #1 of 86/3/13 at 3:00pmThread Starterpost #2 of 86/3/13 at 9:49pm
Hmm. I would probably limit the length of the sessions between the children and the chickens, but not the number. It'd be nice to end sessions before things get rough as much as possible, but definitely end them when/if they do get rough. No need to be grumpy about it. A simple, "oh, looks like the chickens need a break, and I have finger paints inside!" would probably suffice. At least at first. But the trick is that you'd have to be intentional about it. "Alright. Time for me to go help the kids learn about handling the chickens. AGAIN." At least for a while. But hopefully enough of this sort of thing would reset their inner barometers to a better understanding of what the chickens should take from them.post #3 of 86/3/13 at 11:51pmSmall animals and children are rarely a good combination ime. Your older DD may be old enough for a 4h club with a chicken emphasis and that may help though.
Separating the chicken's range from the children's range with a fence may be a nice way to avoid this issue. If you don't designate areas you may also find that you are able to avoid the issue because you most likely don't want your kids playing out where the chickens are. Chicken poop very quickly accumulates EVERYWHERE, there is no escaping it and it gets to be really gross really fast. My parents have found that the chickens are just as happy with half the yard as they were with all of it and they are happy to be able to go out on their porch and let my DD play in the yard again.post #4 of 86/11/13 at 4:14pm
Honestly I think that three and six are old enough to understand kindness toward animals. In addition to limiting the time spent (as mentioned in a PP), I would simply explain that the chickens are the family's investment in food and also living creatures deserving respect - and that if the children won't treat them as such they are not allowed to handle them until they have matured in this regard.
If the children want to handle and care for the chickens, which it seems they do, they may regulate their behavior in order to be able to participate.
I assume that you are also setting an example. You may want to exaggerate your example so that they learn gentleness and compassion from watching you. You can also talk up your personal regard and attachment for the chickens to enforce your example.
Best of luck to you and the flock!post #5 of 86/11/13 at 4:46pm
It takes a great deal of practice and patience for any combination of little kids and pets.
We have had chickens for 4 years, this year is our 3rd set of chicks, the girls are 6 and 8 and I am just now seeing better control. I flip out when children handle animals-- visiting my sister with her daughter and their endless supply of kittens was more than my nerves could handle! Free ranging should be OK as far as the issue of handling, as long as you have very clear rules-- like no picking up the chickens unless they sit down with them and you are there to supervise. Hard rule, yes. Fences are good things sometimes! Then they could feed treats like overripe peas from the garden through the fence, then you go in to the coop together with buckets to sit on (turned upside down) and you fetch the chickens (NO grabbing tails!) and they sit and feed them frozen corn and raisins until they get pooped on and the session is done. This sounds all nice, but inevitably they will be begging you to go in to the coop constantly! Not necessarily great either.
You do need to warn them that if the chickens get handled roughly, some of the chickens will get ornery. We had this happen with our first flock, when the girls were the roughest. One hen decided to be the protector and would peck at the girls' legs until they dropped the other hen and left the coop. She didn't become Psycho Hen, so we kept her. This upset the girls, but I let them know exactly why this happened and that it was too late. Anyway, it could have been much worse-- a chicken and a 3yo are a dubious combination even at the best of times--one curious peck at the eye, and you are on your way to the doctor's.
Mostly, the girls have done remarkable well. We did have one death due to rough handling (pushed against the chicken wire just hard enough). "Luckily" it was a cockerel, but the point was made. Chickens otherwise are surprisingly resilient, physically.post #6 of 86/11/13 at 6:31pmI am just really strict about handling the chickens. If my girls (7 and 4 when we had chicks) were too rough, they weren't allowed to handle them, period. Chicken handling was supervised for weeks, until we were confident that they would treat them appropriately. I also made/make them actively help with the chores associated with brooding and having chickens. We wanted a tame flock that we could handle as needed, so we made efforts to handle them all (12 shared between two families with 4 kids and two babies all together) daily. We let the girls touch the birds, their beaks, their feet, spread their wings, etc. I think that helped give them a better handle on how to appropriately touch them and got a lot of the curiousity out of the way. Even my toddler is really good about touching small animals gently, because her sisters model it so well now. It just takes time and repetition for kids to get used to how to be around animals.
TBH, between the fact they are required to help care for them, and the mandatory hand washing after touching them, the novelty wore off pretty fast. My kids really only touch the hens when they have to, or when they occasionally feel some sort of affection for a specific one.post #7 of 86/14/13 at 1:18pmpost #8 of 87/7/13 at 3:42pm
My spring chicks won't let the kids (age 5 & 7) near them, nor do my older hens. (there are a few that do, but not really). I free range, so the chickens have plently of space to run away and hide if anyone tries to harrass them.
My son had an issue when he was 3-4 yrs with our bunnies. Actually injured a few of them, nearly killed them. He was not allowed to hold them at all for months. and when he was finally allowed, we were right next to him holding them with him. Now- he is nearly 6 and is able to hold them on his own, but we still always have a watchful eye on him, as he can just be careless with them. My daughter, however is completely wonderful with the animals.
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