Youth Engagement in Backyard Chicken Projects

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Last Tuesday, twenty-two enthusiastic young participants from ages five to thirteen gathered to embark on a journey into the world of backyard chicken farming. This initiative, spearheaded by Lee County 4-H and sponsored by Pilgrim’s, aims to introduce the basics of poultry care and instill important life skills through active and hands-on participation. You can meet these young farmers and their chickens at the Lee Regional Fair and 4-H Poultry Show this September.
In a time where many youths, even in our rural county, are becoming increasingly disconnected from the fundamentals of our food systems, initiatives like this project can go a long way toward bridging the gap. Extracurricular programs, such as the 4-H poultry project, serve as invaluable platforms for reconnecting young minds with the essence of agriculture.

This project has already begun, but you can still work with your children to “learn by doing” with your own backyard flock, and that’s egg-citing news! Keeping chickens can be a rewarding and fun experience, but it’s important to know the basics before you dive in.

First things first, let’s talk about the stars of the show: the chickens themselves! There are many different breeds, each with its own personality, egg-laying capabilities, and even number of toes! Some popular choices for backyard flocks include Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons. Do some research to find out which breeds might be the best fit for your space, climate, and preferences. If you live within the city limits, you must only choose female chicks, and be sure to notify the town of Sanford via a permit before you start a backyard flock. If you live outside the city limits, you can have roosters, too. Since roosters are loud, please be a good neighbor and honor your neighborhood’s policies on backyard flocks.

Once home with your tiny feathered friends, you should keep them in a space free from drafts and not in direct sunlight. Provide a heat source, plenty of fresh, dry bedding, constant high-protein crumbles and a fresh and clean water source. Once outside temperatures stay above fifty degrees and the chicks have adult feathers, you can move them to a coop.

Your chicken coop should provide shelter from the elements, protection from predators, and plenty of space for your chickens to roam and roost. Make sure to include nesting boxes for egg-laying and perches for nighttime roosting. And don’t forget to keep their space clean, as regular coop maintenance is key to keeping your chickens healthy and happy.

Like other pets, chickens need to eat and drink to stay healthy. A balanced diet is essential for egg production and overall well-being. We recommend feeding your chickens a commercial poultry feed, which is available at a number of local agricultural supply retailers in the area. Don’t forget to always provide fresh water. Chickens can’t resist a cool drink, especially on hot days.

One of the best parts of keeping chickens is enjoying the fruits of their labor: delicious, fresh eggs! Most chickens will start laying eggs around six months, although it can vary depending on the breed. Collecting eggs is like a daily treasure hunt. You never know what you’ll find! Children can sell the extra eggs as a reward for all their hard work.

Starting your backyard chicken flock is a fun and rewarding adventure that can teach your children valuable lessons about responsibility, work ethic, animal care, and where food comes from. Hands-on learning experiences can have a profound and lasting impact on young people and interactive engagement with a project like backyard poultry can enhance knowledge retention and facilitate the development of critical skills essential for navigating real-world challenges. So get ready to spread your wings, and let the backyard chicken adventure begin!

Pam Kerley is the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center, to learn more. 4-H is a Positive Youth Development Program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.

As we look towards the future, programs like the 4-H poultry project empower the next generation with the knowledge, skills, and appreciation for agriculture. Through active engagement in such endeavors, young people can reconnect with our food systems and emerge as conscientious stewards of the environment and advocates for sustainable living. For more information check out the resource for this article or contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office, Lee County Center.

This article first ran in the Sanford Herald, May 18, 2024 edition.