Joel Pringle


Joel Pringle

Words Karen Locke   Photos Honey Atkinson


There’s barely a day goes by that I don’t dream of packing up our house and moving to a small farm, where my kids could run wild and free. Maybe one day soon it will happen, but right now (for a great many reasons) that’s just not possible. Thankfully though, it doesn’t mean that I can’t teach my children important life lessons about growing their own food and raising animals, albeit on a much smaller scale.

We are very lucky to live on a large town block which means we have ample room for vegetable gardens, fruit trees and a small flock of chickens. When we moved here just over two years ago one of the first things we did, even before putting a door on the bathroom, was build a comfortable home for our six week old chicks. Priorities people, priorities.

Our little fluffy butt brigade are very much a part of our family now, and I just love watching them waddle, scratch and forage their way around the garden in the afternoons. I find it encouraging to see the trend towards keeping backyard chickens. Not only is it something that the whole family can play a part in, the act of feeding, caring for, and protecting an actual living creature can teach our children so many things…


Collecting fresh eggs from the hen house helps children to understand that a lot of the food on our plate comes from animals. It also opens up all sorts of discussions about where their dinner came from, and what it means to be meat eaters. For us, this has helped our kids to further understand why it’s so important to treat animals humanely and with a great deal of respect.


Keeping chickens provides so many opportunities for kids to practice responsibility. In caring for our girls our two kids must collect eggs daily, refill feeders and water trays and assist with mucking out the coop. We also spend a lot of time discussing with them how best to care for our girls and why we need to ensure they have enough shade in summer, have access to quality feed and fresh foraging areas, and other actions we can take to ensure they are kept healthy and happy.


Something I hadn’t anticipated when we first started keeping chickens was how much the kids would learn about the cycle of nature and how everything is connected. We grow food in our garden, our kitchen scraps are gobbled up by the chickens, we get eggs in return, we eat the eggs, the eggshells and chicken manure go into the compost and release their minerals into the soil, we use the soil in our vegetable garden and the glorious cycle continues, around and around.


The industrialisation of food is so cruel and so horrific in it’s treatment of animals. Factory farming is people treating animals with absolute disregard, as if they are not even living creatures. As Joel Salatin points out, the way you treat animals is often a reflection of the way you will go on to treat human beings. So if you want to raise caring, kind, empathetic children, teach them to respect and love animals.


Last year we lost one of our beloved hens for an unknown reason. The kids were devastated. An extravagant funeral service was held, and Thelma was buried in pomp and ceremony in a special place in the backyard. As difficult as it is to watch your kids grieving for a lost animal, they learn that life is a cycle and that life indeed does go on.