4‑H Parent POV: James Builds a Coop

by Lisa Furness

james, 4-h, chicks, chicken, kid, youth, coop. parentJames was an energetic but sensitive young boy growing up the middle child of three boys. Although he struggled in school and had social difficulties, we provided him with support in school and at home. James had a hard time making and keeping friends, because of struggles with social perceptions. Most kids just didn’t understand his interests, and he found it hard to connect with them. He always felt like the kids just didn’t get him and didn’t want to be his friend. From about third grade he wasn’t invited to birthday parties and struggled in team sports. He had a lot of creative energy, so he spent a lot of alone time developing his train modeling hobby and kept busy doing projects and building things.

Since he was a little boy, James had always been fascinated with chicks and chickens. When James was in first grade, his class hatched some eggs in an incubator loaned from the local county 4‑H Extension office. The baby chicks were so soft and fuzzy, and he loved hearing their little ‘cheep cheep’ sounds.

James came home from school and asked me, “Can I have a baby chick? They are soooooo cute.” I replied, “Well what are you going to do when it grows up to be a BIG chicken and it’s not so cute anymore?”

Although I could see his eagerness, I had to refuse his pleas.

Years went by, and James would occasionally ask if he could get a chick but I still declined, telling him he would have to settle for visiting them at the farm supply store. Neither my husband nor I had any farming experience growing up, so we were hesitant to indulge him with this. It was also difficult for me knowing he was excluded from social activities with peers. It made me angry that kids didn’t include him in their invites and the parents that I was friends with did not see that he was invited. At times he would come home and say everyone in the class was invited to the party accept him. He would over dramatize the real situation because that was how he felt. It was heartbreaking, but it left him lots of alone time to develop his interests.

That summer, James worked at an organic farm during the summer program that was offered at his school. He helped out with coop chores and gardening. Then his persistence kicked in.

James: Mom can I get a chicken?
Me: Are you kidding me? What are we going to do with chickens? No!
James: Yes! They lay eggs, so they earn their keep. They even make chicken diapers so they won’t poop all over the house and they make great pets!
Me: Chickens in the house? No! I don’t think so.
James: But I really want some chickens! They are so funny and I know I can take care of them. I can even build a coop!

James didn’t understand why we wouldn’t let him have chickens. James was always very persistent with his interests. He always had to have things right when he wanted them, or a meltdown would ensue. It is hard to manage the urgency he always brought with his enthusiasm, and I thought it was me who would have to take care of those chickens. I wasn’t ready to take on anything like that.

One day after the new school year started, James came home with chicken coop plans he had designed on special blue print paper his teacher gave him. The details were amazing. It had a hen house and an enclosed chicken run to keep them safe. He had spent countless hours on the computer searching every thing he could learn about building a coop. He found out about providing roosts so they could perch to sleep, how big he should make the coop, how to secure chicken runs from predators to protect the flock. He also researched how many nesting boxes were needed for laying eggs. He would talk to anyone who knew anything about chickens. He asked so many questions that he became a chicken boy expert! Every day he would try to convince us that he could raise chickens. He drove everyone nuts with all the chicken talk! We were beginning to think that maybe getting chickens wasn’t such a bad idea.

His therapist told us that with his keen interest in chickens that perhaps joining a 4‑H club could give him a sense of community and belonging that he wasn’t able to find with peers at school. He would also be around people that had the same interests as him! This helped persuade us to believe that he could do this.

james, 4-h, youth, teen, kid, chicken, parent, coop, chicks“OK,” I finally said, “you can have some chickens, but you will need to join a 4‑H club and meet other people who have chickens. If you have any questions or problems, you can call them. But if they get sick you’ll have to give them back to the farm.”

We didn’t have the money for a vet, and I worried that James just wasn’t able to manage that because he didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with sick chickens yet. He was anxious and worried about this, so I felt it was better that he have a choice to take them back to the farm.

So James built his coop with help from his dad and big brother. He built it to look just like his drawings.

He joined a local 4‑H chicken club that had lots of kids and adults who loved chickens just as much as he did, and he made lots of new friends. He went to 4‑H meetings and school, and in his spare time, he built his coop. It took him three months, but finally, the coop was ready for chickens. We had checked out a couple of local clubs in fall of 2012 and chose the one that had some boys in it. It was called United Bantams. He was the oldest member of the club at age 13, and the other members looked up to him and offered their friendship and support almost immediately. James was also voted the president of his club because he knew so much about chickens and would answer anybody’s questions including the club leaders! For the first time in a very long time, he had friends and felt like he belonged.