Raising chickens to overcome fear of animals

Nate has always been skittish around animals, especially dogs. Unfortunately, there have been a few times over the years that playful but quite large dogs have jumped on Nate, scaring him and reinforcing the fear he already had. It had gotten to the point that, if we were playing at a playground, he would want to leave if someone came with a dog. He would also hide or want to go to the other side of the street if someone was walking a dog near us. He would scream if a dog came too close–and I don’t just mean when he was little; he still did this at 8 and 9 years old. We taught him how to tell dog owners that he was afraid, and usually that was enough for people not to bring their dogs near him.

Once we started on the GAPS diet/nourishing nutrition journey and started eating dozens and dozens of eggs a week, I got an idea. What if we could raise chickens? This could kill two birds with one stone: we would be able to eat the eggs the chickens produced (and we’d control what those chickens would be eating, which we learned yesterday is important), and maybe this would help Nate with his fear. Not even Nate was afraid of cute little teeny tiny baby chicks. And if he held and played with those baby chicks each day, they’d eventually get “big and scary,” but he would still be used to them because he’d be so familiar with them.

I  researched our city’s laws and found we could have up to four hens, no roosters. But I still had to convince Jon this was a good idea, even in our tightly packed suburban back yard. When I told him my ideas, he was pretty much on board. But when I brought up the disaster preparedness factor (if something were to happen and we were stuck at home without utilities or access to groceries for a time, we’d still have eggs!–and eventually, of course, chicken–but let’s not talk about that), he gave me the green light.

I ordered our four baby chicks from My Pet Chicken, which has a sexing guarantee (I needed females only) and also has a fun find-your-favorite-breed tool to figure out which breeds to order. I picked our date (April 2014) to be at the beginning of the kids’ spring break from school, so that we could have a full week of full days with our new chicks. Then, on April 9, our one-day-old Delaware (1), Australorp (1), and Easter Eggers (2) arrived in the mail!

Nate with "his" chicken, Star
Nate with “his” chicken, Star–an Easter Egger
Levi with Dottie
Levi with Dottie, our Australorp

These little gals were the cutest fluff balls ever. They fell asleep in our hands, made sweet little chirping noises, and were fun just to watch. They would take chick power naps: one would be walking around, then slow down, then stop, then face-plant right into the wood shavings for about 10 seconds. Then she’d wake up, get up, and keep going.

They grew quickly! Look at them after just three weeks:

Chicks at 3 weeks old
Chicks at three weeks old. L to R: Star (Easter Egger), Minion (Easter Egger), Joy (Delaware), Dottie (Australorp)

Do you see how Nate is comfortable and happy? Below, he is holding Minion (named by Levi) when she was five weeks old. Pre-pet-chicken, Nate would have been afraid of an unpredictable animal this size. As they grew each week, though, he continued to run with them, pick them up, dance with them, catch the skittish one (Joy), and hold them.

Nate with Minion at 5 weeks (huge, right?)
Nate with Minion at five weeks (huge, right?)

Now our chickens are almost six months old and nearly full grown. They’re pretty huge, sometimes flighty (flapping their wings if you’re holding them and they want to get down), and definitely scary to kids not used to being around animals. But Nate isn’t phased a bit. He’s still the best at catching Joy, who doesn’t like to be held. (For anyone interested, our Easter Eggers, Star and Minion, are by far the friendliest, quietest, gentlest, sweetest, and easiest chickens!)

Minion at five months, wanting to join the fun inside the house
Minion at five months, wanting to come inside (not happenin’)
Joy, five months. A little bit scary, right?
Joy, five months. A little bit scary, right?

We have noticed a marked difference now in Nate’s comfortability around all animals. He is calmer, more adaptable, and less worried about animals’ unpredictable movements. I saw him petting our neighbor’s friendly old black lab the other day (what?!). Nate still wouldn’t want an unfamiliar dog to run up at him, but many people wouldn’t want that! Overall, I consider this chickens-to-help-overcome-fear experiment a big success!

The coop the kids and I built for the girls
The coop the kids and I built for the girls

And just a few weeks ago, we found our first eggs. Yay girls–you did it!

First two eggs, found in September
First two eggs, found in September

This post is part of the 31 Days writing challenge, during which I’m detailing our family’s journey through autism as it relates to the one lifestyle change we made that had the greatest impact on our son’s recovery: nutrition. Click here for a list of all this month’s entries as they are posted.

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