Unusual Pets: Chickens

Not everyone wants a cat or a dog. Some people want a little something different, how about a fluffy chicken or one that lays blue eggs?

You may not have considered the possibility of keeping a chicken as a pet, but they can make wonderful additions to your family. If you live on an acreage there is probably no problem with keeping a pet chicken but if you live in a city, or sub-division, you will need to check your local by-laws regarding ownership of livestock. Some cities allow chickens as pets, others do not. If your city does allow chickens, find out if they have any restrictions regarding numbers, or other restrictions. They very likely will not allow roosters because of the loud crowing.

Chickens can live for many years, although often slaughtered young when egg production declines, you should plan on a pet chicken living for ten years.

One of the advantages to owning chickens as pets is that every day or two they will provide you with an egg. They usually go through a moult in the fall, they shed their feathers and regrow new ones, and afterwards slow down their laying process for the winter. Age and breed will determine how many eggs you get. A hen will lay eggs even when no rooster is present, however these eggs will not hatch.

Selecting a Pet Chicken

Female chickens are called hens, these are usually the best pets. Bantam, or Banty, chickens are smaller sized birds, they are often kept as pets because of the smaller space requirements. I would suggest getting two or more birds rather than just one.

Although you can buy fertile eggs and hatch them yourself, this is not always a successful venture. I would not suggest buying chicks under a few weeks of age, although,you can purchase young birds from a commercial hatchery. The problem with buying young chicks is generally they wont be sexed so you may get a rooster or two. Some commercial hatcheries will sell adult birds, particularly later in the season. If you are a first time owner you might be better off buying adult birds. A livestock feed store will have information regarding commercial hatcheries or you may find them on-line. In some places you can purchase birds at livestock auctions. Phone your local auction marts or ask at livestock supply stores if they know of any bird auctions. Many areas have specialty bird auctions several times a year.

If you are selecting adult birds, pick birds who are bright and alert, preferably of similar size and age. Ideally buy your birds from the same seller.

Another good place to buy chickens from is a petting zoo. Many will have surplus birds for sale. The advantage is that these birds will have been handled extensively and will be more friendly. You might even find chickens for adoption at your local SPCA or Animal shelter.

The breed is important as some breeds are more friendly than others. Leghorns, for example are not known to be friendly. Silkies are probably one of the favorites for pets because of their fluffy appearance, and they often like to be held. Araucanas are very interesting because they lay blue eggs. As some breeds are more common in some areas you will want to research those available to you. Decide what traits are important to you, size, color, egg laying, or friendliness.

Housing and Care

Your chickens will need a safe run and house. The house is where they will sleep at night and where they will lay their eggs in the day. It needs to have a place for them to roost, a wooden broom handle or branch will work well, They need a nest, which can be on the ground but is better if slightly raised. Three to four hens can share the same nest. The house will need a heat source in the winter if you plan on keeping them year round where temperatures drop below freezing. A protected light bulb will serve this purpose quite well. If you put cardboard on the floor of the hen house and lightly cover the cardboard with straw, then when its time to clean the hen house (four times a year is fine if your hen house is large and not over crowded) all you need to do is remove the straw and cardboard and you may not have to scrub the floor itself.  Smaller coops will need more frequent cleaning.

As with all animals they require fresh water. There are many watering systems available for birds from your local livestock supply store. They can be fed chicken scratch or laying ration, with scratch offered as a treat. Chickens love chicken scratch, it can be a good way to befriend a shy chicken. They also love dandelions, tomatoes, strawberries, and especially bananas. You can offer them treats daily and they will often talk to you to encourage you to bring them more treats. Make sure anything offered is free of chemicals, in other words if you do not pick it from your garden, make sure you wash it.

They need a safe enclosure, one that keeps them safe from predators and stops them from wandering off. Make sure they have a roosting place in the house as well as one out in their run, or yard. You will want to check once or twice a day for eggs, usually in the mid morning.  You will become familiar with your birds laying habits.

I have a large coop for my birds and it is in a secure area fenced off with stucco wire (chicken wire is okay but not as strong).  I shut the door to this at night and open it in the day so the birds can free range around the yard.  They enjoy eating grasshoppers!  Then every night they return to the coop, usually on their own but sometimes I have to chase them back, and shut the door so they are safe at night from predators.

Pet Chicken by Sadie Elise.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sadicat/477231242/

Other Information

If you have never had chickens before you will be amazed at how personable they really are. You can not walk by without them softly clucking, calling you over to give them some dandelions, or chicken scratch. We have a garden and offer our pet chickens fruits and vegetables, which they enjoy. They also eat bugs, so do not use pesticides.

Tame chickens are easy to catch but if you must catch a nervous one, the best time is at night when they are a sleep and easy to sneak up on. Or have somebody help you to corner it. Most chickens are not mean however you may find some roosters are very aggressive and either demand food or act to protect their space, other than noise concerns, this is why I have not suggested you get a rooster.

I have not covered diseases because you could literally be living anywhere in the world and disease threats are different in different areas, very likely you will get the needed information at the time of purchase or from a vet in your area. Your birds will be healthiest if not kept over crowded.

Related Reading

Which Breeds of Chickens Make the Best Pets

The Birds and the Bees

The Advantages of Free Range Eggs

An Egg is Not a Chickens Abortion

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User Comments
  1. Cindy

    On April 19, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Three years ago 3 baby chickens found their way to my yard (or should I say my outside cat bowls) and they are now part of our family, along with 10 others ones. They are fun to watch, and certainly have their own personlities. Thanks for the article.

  2. B Nelson

    On June 27, 2008 at 9:05 am

    We have 4 hens they are in a large pen for their safety (against coyotes and hawks) they have a shed. They sometimes lay more than 4 eggs a day, enough for us and extras for friends. They are really neat pets, clucking as we go by… asking for treats. We let them out when we are around.

  3. Erbie

    On July 12, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I like your info….Am building a coop and 10by 20 run. this is my first time to have my own chickens.
    erbie

  4. Deanda

    On July 13, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    as the world becomes more environmentally friendly I hope more cities allow people to keep chickens as pets, to help them produce their own food, and save on cruelty in the egg business.

  5. Saca

    On July 21, 2008 at 7:26 am

    For the quality, and health, free range eggs are vastly superior. PLUS less cruel.

  6. Kimmer

    On September 5, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    I have three Aracaunas (one a year old, 2 are 8 months ), and want to add a 3 months old. All hens. the 3 month old is shy & sweet. How do I add her to th coop and the run, the least tramatic for her & them. Thanks,Kimmer

  7. Mark Gordon Brown

    On September 6, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Best to do this at the least stressful time, she will get picked on because she is new, make sure you have more than one place for them to eat and drink. so she gets the food too.. not much you can do otherwise, make sure your coop is roomy and she has places to get away, they have to work it out for themselves

  8. Chicken fanatic!

    On December 13, 2008 at 11:57 am

    This is a great article apart from one thing:
    ‘time to clean the hen house (twice a year is fine if your hen house is large and not over crowded)’

    Cleaning them only twice a year is awful! I clean my hens out once a week and clear the poop out everyday throughout the week. You can leave it for 3 weeks maximum, else you will definately get disease! You should also disinfect everything at least 3 times a year, I prefer to disinfect every 3 weeks.

    So, apart from that little problem, this is a great article.

  9. Chicken fanatic!

    On December 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Kimmer: Once you have quarantined your new hens, just place them in the coop (on a perch) in the middle of the night.

    http://www.downthelane.net/newchicken.html

    Here’s a link to a fantastic website.

  10. Mark Gordon Brown

    On December 13, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    thanks Chicken fanatic in response to comment #8
    my hen house is huge and only has 4 hens so we dont clean it throughly out except twice a year, spot cleaning is more regular, I will try to edit this later. thanks

  11. julio

    On December 25, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    my rooseters fight too much and they can’t live without each other please help

  12. Kansasn

    On February 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I have three white leghorns pet chickens, Pumpkins, Larry and Mo. They are two years old. They are very smart, smarter than you think … We have lots of tornadoes in Kansas. Last year one of the tornado was VERY close to our property. The wind was so strong, one of the chicken coop doors was blown away. Our chicken coops was NOT too close to our house. We did not notice that one of the doors was gone. We were inside the house. My husband was working at the computer room. He turned round and saw Larry (the most talkative one) standing on the steps and making nosie outside the windows. My husband thought, “what’s she doing there? And how can she get out of the coop?” SO he rushed outside the door. Larry was wet (soaked). When she saw my husband coming out of the door, she started walking down the hill, towards the coops. Then my husband instantly realised that one of the chicken coop doors was on the ground. And he found the other two chickens were hidden at the corner of the coop. … That’s just one of the examples of how smart our pet chickens are!!!

  13. Sharon

    On February 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I am really excited because I’m getting three or four Dominique hens in the spring. (chicks actually). I’ve been doing alot of research & my husband is building me a coop. I can’t wait! Anyone have Dominiques? I love the way they look!

  14. waldeneffect

    On September 30, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    We really enjoy having chickens as part of our lives. If you live in a suburban or urban environment, I’d strongly recommend building a chicken tractor — it’s a great way to keep your chickens healthy and happy rather than having them subsist solely on chicken feed after their first couple of weeks tearing up all of the grass in their run. You should also look into a nipple-based homemade chicken waterer that will keep your chickens’ water clean — fowls sure know how to foul traditional waterers quickly!

  15. LeslieW

    On October 10, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    It is interesting that even large cities like New York and Chicago allow residents to raise backyard chickens. Roosters are not allowed, but fortunately they are not need for egg production.

    Chickens make great pets. They have personalities and are friendly and entertaining to watch.

  16. Lisa

    On October 14, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Hi
    My partner went to check on the chickens this morning and found one of our girls caught by her leg upside down on her branch perch. She is inside by the gas heater now,and cannot put any weight on her leg,she has tried to when my partner got her down. She may have been caught there for a number of ours. We feel terrible and would like to know what else we should do for her besides keeping her watered, fed and warm? It does not appear to be broken.

    Thank you,
    Lisa

  17. Mark Gordon Brown

    On October 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Hi Lisa
    Beleive it or not but you can take the bird to the vet ! If it is not putting any weight on it, therie may be a fracture.

  18. brandi

    On October 24, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I loved the comment on how smart they are. We actually had to nail our cat door shut because of one of my Rhode Island hens. She was quite a character. Mine are all free to roam our 5 acres, which is fenced in. It started with her coming to the glass door and she would peck on it to be let in for a stroll about. She would come in, walk around, peck a few crumbs my 4 yr old boy would have dropped and I hadn’t vaccumed yet. Then she’d go back out, 2 mins, tops. When winter came and I didn’t leave the door open for the glass, she learned to use the cat door. Imagine my suprise, when I came out of the bedroom and into the kitchen and there stood my chicken! My hubby wasn’t too happy she could come and go, he was afraid she’d start sneeking in at night :-) She’d come in the cat door, peck around, and back out it, just like the glass door, always 2 mins tops inside.

  19. Bailey Thompson

    On January 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Great article! I’ve been considering getting a couple hens to add to my family since my yard is quite large, it would offer more than enough space. The only problem, is that I am in the city!

  20. michaela

    On March 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    hi everyone! i need help…my chicken has some kinda respiratory problem! it sounds like she has water in her lungs or something because she is constantly coughing and making very unusual noises! she is also sneezing and making gurgling noises!! i didnt know if there was something we could do to help her because she sounds terrible and is rather restless!! i would appreciate your advice!! thank you lots! -michaela

  21. Brenda Nelson

    On March 31, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    michaela.. you need to call the vet for your hen. People on the internet cannot diagnosis a sick animal, even a vet would need to see her, or at least talk to you to find out more info. good luck.

  22. Justme

    On April 8, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for a great little article. Chickens make great pets! We have had urban chickens for the last 20 years and have enjoyed every moment of them.

    We keep our hens in a City Biddy Hen house which we built ourselves from plans. It is really cute and easy to use and keeps my hens healthy no matter the weather. I got the plans from this site. http://www.ubuilderplans.com

    I wish more people would try having their own hens for eggs and as pets. They are so much easier to care for that a dog even.

  23. Anita Dekker

    On April 20, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Can anyone help me with my problematic young Orpington girl? She is only four months. I got her and two sisters a few months ago and put them with my two ex battery hens. The battery hens are definitely at the top of the pecking order! The little ones have learnt their place in society! But the little black orpington is forever getting out of the enclosure. The other two stay, but the black one just wants to get out. I clipped her wing, but still she gets out. I am at wits end. I do not want to lock her up every time I go out for fear that she will end up with a dog! Any ideas?????? It is not practical to put wire over the entire enclosure. I thought Orpingtons were poor flyers? Will she get over this if she gets a bit bigger and heavier? What age are they fully grown?

  24. DIYSeattle

    On September 17, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Chickens are great pets, make eggs for breakfast, and eat the bugs and weeds out of your grass. They earn their keep.

  25. Mary Ann

    On November 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Great article. I’ve had my flock, that keeps growing and expanding, for 2 years now. Backyard chickens do make wonderful pets and the eggs are so much better than storebought. This quote; “The breed is important as some breeds are more friendly than others” is very true. Careful selection for breeds that meet your needs is important. I work for My Pet Chicken and we have a great Chicken Breed Selector tool here:
    http://www.mypetchicken.com/chicken-breeds/which-breed-is-right-for-me.aspx Besides choosing chickens for their temperament, which is my biggest criteria for my own flock, it also lets you choose breeds that are winter hardy or good egg layers, etc.

  26. Wilda A Lahmann

    On February 28, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I enjoyed reading your article. I too, have a pet chicken. Chickens are great! Plus they lay eggs!

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