I had moved to a new town just in time to begin third grade, and I could barely contain my excitement the spring we incubated a clutch of chicken eggs. When they finally hatched, I instantly fell in love with a tiny black chick. He was so fluffy and tiny!
I begged my parents to let me have him. I think they had residual guilt from denying me the first grade black bunny, “Magic,” so they eventually agreed, with the caveat that I had to first earn an ‘A’ on my upcoming president report. Obviously I chose Abe Lincoln, and I made a point of doing a great job. I got my ‘A,’ and I couldn’t even sleep from excitement, daydreaming about my new buddy and the awesome adventures we were going to have together.
The day arrived to bring my chick home. I watched in horror as the dairy farm representative gathered and removed all the chicks, loading them into a white commercial van, their chirps barely audible. I was, of course, heartbroken. My mom came to the rescue and drove me to the old Santa Paula Mill that weekend, where she paid 50 cents to bring home what would become our family pet for the next decade.
“Checkers” spent the first several months of her life living in the house with us. My mom and grandpa soon built her a large backyard hutch, and she loved to take dirt baths in the sun, retiring to her house as it dropped from the sky. One morning, we woke up to find our Malamute-Lab mix stuffed in the hutch with her. Not eating her. Sleeping with her. She would groom him, and they would often share food. She came when called, followed my mom and me everywhere, and attended many, many days of grade school with me, perched on the old wooden bookshelf in the back of the classroom. I had wonderfully supportive elementary school teachers.
When she was around a year old, Checkers began laying eggs, and they were turquoise, and two and a half dozen a month! I had never seen green eggs before, and being a kid, I was beyond thrilled. Their yolks were a rich golden yellow, and made great pancakes. She had a great diet, which included tablescraps and supplements in addition to her chicken feed, and it showed. I have to imagine that, as far as eggs go, Checkers’ were as wholesome as could be. They were happy eggs coming from a truly happy, healthy, and loved hen.
I think chickens make great pets for children, and I hope to have a few more in the future. They are intelligent, have distinct (hilarious) personalities, and are simply good company. They will also lovingly offer your family a source of nutrition. See, and here is were I differ from some of the hardcore vegan/animal ethics activists, I believe that there are friendships with animals that can be mutually beneficial (do I have to add ‘without killing them?’). We provided a loving and caring home for our hen, and she gave us eggs. Likewise, I volunteer at a stable filled with horses that are cared for by a team of knowledgeable and loving individuals. The facilities are beautifully maintained, and the horses have only one job: Saturdays, they whisk the disabled up and away from their chairs and through the forest, on a short trail running parallel to the ocean. The retired horses receive the same loving care and attention, but spend ride time lapping up extra grooming and pets. It’s a really healthy, positive place, inside and out, and everyone leaves with a boost, including the animals. The social and physical activity benefits all of us.
These do not at all seem like exploitative situations to me. On the contrary, from the way I see it, we all win. I think that we could greatly profit from exploring and developing more respectful, mutually-beneficial relationships with the animals, both on the individual level and at large. I’m not saying to go out and get yourself a flock, but hey, maybe. You could start smaller by encouraging your children to join an association like 4H, giving them hands-on projects to build their self-confidence and sense of community, while cultivating compassion and empathy for the other members of the animal kingdom. We will only improve ourselves as we pursue a more balanced relationship with our natural world, an inevitable side effect as we seek and define truth. I know that we will sleep better, too.