A family friend had some chickens on his farm and offered to give four to James. One, in particular, was getting hen-pecked by the other chickens in the flock. Her name was Goldie. The friend said that he was rescuing her by giving her to James. When she arrived, she was missing feathers and looked pretty rough, but like the other chickens, she warmed up nicely to James.One of the chickens started getting sick after a month, so James and his dad took her back to the farm so that the other chickens wouldn’t get sick. I could see how hard it was for James to leave her there but he knew it was the right decision. He was very sad, mostly because he couldn’t care for that chicken like he did the others. As a result, James began to lose sleep and worry about behaviors in them that he didn’t recognize.“What if they are sick and end up dying?” he would ask. “What if one of them keeps coughing or one of them has diarrhea?”
I reminded him, “You can call your 4-H leader or the friend who gave you the chickens. You can also call the farm supply store. They will be able to answer your questions, and then you will know what to do.”
So he would call them for advice – a lot – and learned a lot in the process. When the chickens got mites, he learned to give them a dust bath with a special powder. When they were losing their feathers and not laying eggs, he discovered the chickens were molting. He learned to put apple cider vinegar in their water to keep away respiratory illnesses. He fed them crushed oyster shells to make their egg shells stronger. James learned to their personalities and noticed when one was acting “broody” or trying to lay an egg. He also learned the different “calls” they would make to each other. James enjoyed watching their daily routine of eating grubs and grass, scratching and dust bathing in the dirt and laying eggs. He took care of them. He played with them and talked to them. They were his pets; he loved them.
James decided to add to his flock and ordered six chicks at the farm supply store. He set them up in the basement in a brooder with a heat lamp to keep them warm. He finally had chickens in the house! However, after two weeks, he found one of the chicks lying motionless. The chick had died. It just wasn’t strong enough to survive, and it was very upsetting to James. The other five chicks thrived in the basement for three months, while James worked to expand his handmade coop, hoping to make room for the new chicks.
Quickly, the baby chicks grew, and by the summer there were eight chickens in the coop. It took some time, but eventually, the older girls accepted sharing the coop with the chicks. That, however, was the least of James’ worries, as a coyote scare threatened the lives of the chickens. One day, a coyote came around the coop stirring up the chickens. It even tried to attack one of them through the wire. James worried about them getting hurt or even worse – killed! His worry and fear for the safety of his chicks fueled his determination to make the coop safer and more secure, working tirelessly with his dad.
Suddenly, fall arrived and they stopped laying eggs. Winter soon followed and was even colder than the last, and it seemed like spring would never come. But at last, they started to lay eggs once again. James sold his eggs to his teachers at school and earned enough money to pay for their feed.
Goldie was no longer laying eggs, but she was fun to have around and always up to some mischief in the coop. One day James went out into the coop with a bag of treats and Goldie jumped up at the bag of meal worms he was holding, and she grabbed them right out of his hands! She ate it all, leaving nothing for the others.
“Silly Goldie!” James laughed.
Once summer arrived, James was able to participate in the local agricultural fair with his 4-H group and show his Bantam chicken, Lily Bell. He placed third in Showmanship and Knowledge among dozens of kids. James was the only kid in his club to place, judged by the toughest judge to ever be invited to the fair – so the organizers told us! James has this confidence whenever he can talk about his interests, so this came naturally to him. All his time researching chickens had earned him a third place ribbon at the fair. We were so proud of him, and it was nice that the kids from his club were all happy for him, too.