Tuesday July 30, 2013 | 07:30 AM

This past Saturday, the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine hosted an introductory workshop led by yours truly on the basics of keeping chickens in one’s backyard. I brought along books that had been helpful to me in my early chicken rearing days (and which I still reference), a waterer, chick feeder, eggs, and the museum let me make use of their hen puppets.

I opened up with why someone would want to take on chickens – delicious eggs, they are sustainable (in addition to organic mash, I feed my chickens veggie scraps and wilted greens from the garden), enrich the compost (chicken manure is high in nitrogen), and at least in my case they have such personalities. Some of my chickens follow me around, some come when called (yes, really), and just watching them run across the field I crack up. Truth me told, my chickens are more like pets that don’t live in the house.

I talked about how to keep chickens happy and healthy. Like any other animal, chickens have basic needs: water (should be changed every other day, but might need to be refreshed daily during a heat wave), food, shelter (including shade and protection from predators), and nesting boxes (they might make a nest out of a hay bale, but chances are they’ll lay their eggs in the box if it’s built properly). Here’s a link to an article on nesting boxes from Backyard Poultry. I talked a lot about coops, both build your own (some books have plans and there are ideas/layouts online) and coop kits (I’m a fan of Roots, Coops & More in Augusta, Maine.).  An important fact I think is frequently overlooked when planning for chickens is researching breeds before purchasing chicks. Some chickens are more friendly e.g. Buff Orpingtons, of which I have five and liken to the yellow labs or golden retrievers of the dog world. There are others that might be more aggressive with people and/or not be able to coexist with other breeds.

In addition to the books I brought to show people, I also recommended several free online resources (I’m always an advocate for investing in good books, but if you are trying to figure out if keeping chickens is even for you/something you can do and/or you just want extra information, by all means don’t spend extra money). In addition to Backyard Poultry, I like Backyard Chickens and My Pet Chicken. There’s also the post I did a couple months back Raising Chickens: Basics for Beginners, here’s a link

Before and after my presentation I had an opportunity to check out some of the interactive exhibits and to “meet” the museum’s turtles Nigel, Eloise, Dill and Bizzy Bob in the Ranger Station Exhibit. One never knows, there may be turtles in my future!

The Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine welcomes around 100,000 visitors a year. They offer hands-on activities designed to inspire children to learn more even after their visit. Children can touch, play, climb and explore at the museum in a way that is tactile and interactive. A visit to the museum might be just the thing to get the kids excited about learning and heading back to school in a month.

The museum is located at 142 Free Street in the Arts District of downtown Portland, Maine. It is open 10am-5pm daily. General Admission is $9.00 per person (under 18 months free). However, on the first Friday night of each month the museum stays open late till 8pm, year round and admission is only $2 per person (members and children under 18 months free).

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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