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It isn't just an "Old MacDonald" thing - many Sono-Ma's are finding a way to bring a piece of farm life back into family living. Meet Sharon, artist, and mother of two little boys who and Karen, teacher, who both wrestled resources to raise coops in their backyards. Both ladies affirm having chickens is a great way to connect kids to the food chain and to ensure high quality food at the family table. Adding caring for chickens to a mother's busy to-do list may sound overwhelming, but hearing stories from these two families may leave you pining for fresh eggs and your own piece of fulfilling, country-like living.

Karen dreamed up adding a chicken coop to her backyard garden earlier this spring. This woman is dedicated to health and nutrition - she's working on a cookbook and makes all of her family's meal from scratch. Recently she participated in a 5 K "marathon" with her family. With a baby on each hip (Rowan 3 and Amy 1), she puts her heart into mothering, gardening, and finding ways to live that limit negative impacts on the planet earth. She and her husband maximized their small suburban lot by planting seven fruit trees, blueberries, artichokes and an annual veggie patch. Karen puts everything her land produces on the table or in the pantry by utilizing old-fashioned cooking, canning and freezing skills. For Karen, adding poultry seemed a natural extension of her commitment to a sustainable lifestyle.

Karen's kids get more than good food out of the deal. While finding Amy crawling in chicken poop when her chickens "free ranged" in the backyard was not part of Karen's picturesque chicken vision, teaching Rowan to harvest eggs is exactly as heartwarming as a mother could imagine. Little Rowan puffed up with pride as he showed Bryles and me how to operate the coop door, the nesting box door, and how to feed the chicks. He very matter of factly told us, "These are my chickens" - while we moms winked over the toddlers' heads. Truly, at just age three Rowan is able to make a real contribution towards caring for the chickens and will help in the important job of gathering food for his family. Amy is just steps behind at her tender age, getting to know the chickens as lovable friends and backyard companions.
Karen is thrilled to have her coop completed and to have settled in to a new family routine around supporting the chicks. The chickens must be locked in and let out in the evenings and mornings. The coop also must be raked out at least once a week. Rowan will chip in and help with the future chores of raking the coop and gathering eggs, but Karen cautions that it takes a large upfront effort to build a coop. Karen kept the kids occupied for a few full weekends, while her handy husband swung the hammer and built the chicken house. The cost of coop supplies were also substantial. This family cut some costs down by recycling old house siding, but opted for the more expensive galvanized wire to create the chicken pen.

Still Karen is glad she convinced her husband to take on this project - she's the first in her circle of friends to try raising poultry. It was a bit daunting to move the project from daydream to everyday reality. Karen's husband is a landscape architect who prides himself on maintaining a beautiful yard. This gave Karen the added task of figuring out how to make her chicken project sustainable and lovely! Of course, she also had to convince her partner to move this project to the top of the family's never ending project list. Happily her coop now stands as a living testament to beauty and utility. While working on the project, Karen's hubby has even grown to love the chickens.

Sharon is the handy woman in her family. She managed to wrangle the supplies, tools, and her two kids (Ben 5 and Phin 2) in a grand effort to build her chicken coop. A friend offered to give her an old coop in early April, and she jumped on the opportunity to start a small backyard production this spring. She had intended to spend this year collecting Freecycle items to build her coop and pen, but the free coop made her think she could muster the project a year early. While she managed to get free chicken feeders, a coop, and a few other supplies through Craigslist and Freecycle, she did have to "spring" for some costly wire. She also purchased five fuzzy yellow chicks this April. With the chicks quickly outgrowing their nesting box, she had to get the coop finished in a hurry. Her husband did have to called in (as a Mother's Day gift) to get the project completed in time.

Sharon says chicken farming runs in her blood - her mother's ancestors came to America with William Penn through a royal grant to raise chickens, and her dad's last name means "Chicken Farmer". Her girlhood memories are filled with feathers, and she wants to pass on the joy of farming to her own sons. While she doesn't live on a ranch, she makes the most of her large suburban lot, and dedicated a corner near her compost pile for a chicken coop and pen. She and her boys also installed a bench near their coop for better chicken viewing. The other evening, popsicles in hand, they all watched giggling as the chickens put on a show of what looked like dancing, singing, and "Three Stooges" calamity. Sharon and boys say their chickens are hysterical to watch.

Sharon's chickens do seem to be chalk full of personality. The chickens learned to roost by jumping to the edge of their roosting box during their early days in the garage. One particularly cheeky chick, aptly named Chicky (and whom my family adopted after reading Michele Anna Jordan's article about a chick she is raising in a friend's coop) learned this trick early on. Chicky would hear Sharon working away on her oil paintings in the garage cum studio while her boys napped, and would perch to watch the production. The other chicks took Chicky's lead and soon several birds would perch and watch her paint! It seemed perfect timing when Sharon finished her coop on Mother's Day as her chickens declared that their last day to be content with roosting on the edge of their box. When she came to collect the chicks to move them into their pen, they'd all flown out of the box. They were happy to march behind Sharon and kids into their new home - as if they knew it was moving day!

Not only do Sharon and her boys love to laugh with the chickens, Sharon says the chickens offer an invaluable lesson in demonstrating the circle of life. Her boys have grown up helping her garden, and now they get to see how chickens can also add to the family table as well as help sustain their land. They will soon gather eggs to eat and use the chicken poop as plant food. Sharon says little Ben and Phin respond well to this kind of hands on learning and living.

Oh the joys of a backyard barnyard! What inspirational mothers!


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