The Chickens at Zachariah’s Acres
Zachariah’s Acres in Oconomowoc, WI, connects children and young adults with special needs to nature. They have accessible vegetable gardens with wheelchair height planting boxes, an orchard with pavement for easy wheelchair access, even a treehouse with an American with Disabilities Act compliant ramp system. Their most popular attractions are the custom-built, accessible chicken coops. The coops, one of which was funded by Nutrena, are accessible to anyone. The chickens are cared for by the visitors of Zachariah’s Acres, and the guests get more out of it than just caring for chickens.
Emily, Anna, and Elsa
Emily is a member of the Service Without Boundaries program at the YMCA in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Once a week, she and the group from the local YMCA visit Zachariah’s Acres to help, and Emily always looks forward to seeing the chickens. She even has a couple of favorite birds.
Maya, Holly, and the Chickens
Maya and her mother, Holly, were two of the first guests to visit Zachariah’s Acres. They had been regular visitors since the first event in 2015, and they were there when the chickens were added as a part of the facilities. When the birds were added, Maya was immediately in love with them. Holly, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic.
“I was hesitant. But seeing her—I would do anything for Maya—seeing her love and passion for these birds, you have to get over your own fear.”
Maya was all she had. So it’s only natural that Holly was a little protective of her, and chickens usually aren’t great to have around someone who has IV lines in. But as the two came out more and more, Holly saw how much her daughter loved being with the birds. She got more comfortable being around them, and with Maya being around them without her direct supervision.
“We have pictures of her in her wheelchair holding this huge chicken that took up her whole lap, and she’d show her doctor. And I’d cringe, because they’re not big fans of chickens with someone who has IV lines in. But it didn’t matter, and her doctors knew that.”
When Maya was at Zachariah’s Acres, and at the coops, she was able to experience a little bit of independence. She was able to go directly up to nesting boxes in her wheelchair and gather eggs herself. It gave her a sense of accomplishment and independence that she didn’t have in other spaces.
“She had to try to get it all in in three hours, because she had to try it all. It was a place where she wasn’t sick. She was just Maya. That’s all she wanted.”
Maya passed in the fall of 2017, and Holly has been dealing with that. She still goes to the places she went with Maya. She still goes to Zachariah’s Acres. She still visits the chicken coops. She still shares that with her daughter.
“It’s been really great for grieving to be able to come out here. Now I honestly will sit at the picnic tables because I love to listen to the chickens talk. Sometimes I record them so I can go home and listen to them. There’s something in hearing them.”
Maya had many different medical problems throughout her life, and she was confined to a wheelchair for most of that life. But despite those difficulties, she still made it a life worth living. And even though she had to leave Holly early, Maya still taught her mom so much. We’re proud to have helped Zachariah’s Acres give them the chickens to share with each other.
Andrew and the Flock
The flock at Zachariah’s Acres has helped thousands of guests with special needs build confidence and life skills. For the members of the YMCA Service Without Boundaries program in Oconomowoc, WI, seeing the flock of picking, pecking, egg-laying chickens is the highlight of their week. Especially for Andrew, a member of the YMCA program who lives with Down syndrome.
Andrew has been visiting the chickens at Zachariah’s Acres for a few years now. In that time he’s become an expert at egg gathering, and caring for the birds. For Andrew, like most people, caring for a flock of chickens is something he wouldn’t normally do. He gets to bond with animals and build his confidence with nature in a way that most young adults like him don’t ever get to experience.
“You can feel that he wants to be here. He wants to be with the chickens. He’s feeling that positive energy the chickens bring to us all. He’s doing something that he can’t do at home.”
-Lorrie, Volunteer with the YMCA
To Andrew and the many other guests who visit Zachariah’s Acres every day, it’s more than just “feeding birds.” He has a chance to get excited about a job well done, and to grow a little with every visit to the coop. That’s something the volunteers who work with Zachariah’s Acres or the YMCA have noticed as well.
“Andrew has learned to step out of his comfort zone. [He’s learned] to try something different, instead of just being passive, and sitting around, or letting other people do work for him. He’ll initiate that work…And that’s just come with time and comfort out here.”
-Emily, Head of Community Outreach at Zachariah’s Acres
Because of his time at Zachariah’s Acres, Andrew has built confidence, he’s developed valuable life skills, and he’s grown. That was given to him by a flock of chickens. That shows that any animal can have an amazing impact on a person’s life. That is why we’re so happy to support amazing places like Zachariah’s Acres.