Why Keep a Chicken as a Pet?
What a Pet Chicken can Give you
Pet chickens can be endearing and make excellent pets for families. Most pet chickens come running when free ranging and they see you, just like any dog and are friendlier than a lot of cats.
Pet chickens provide,
- Entertainment value - pet chickens do the silliest things, chasing bugs
- Fresh healthy eggs most days
- Companionship - many chickens will sit on your knee or shoulder and love to be held
- Shows children where their food comes from
- Clean up your scraps and compostables
- Manure for your vegetable garden
There are those who keep pet chickens inside the home with special pet chicken diapers now available, but you have to look at overall air quality in the home when deciding on this. You should have a back-up plan if having the pet chickens inside becomes unacceptable.
Disadvantages of having a Chicken as a Pet
- Need more than one chicken as they are happier and more productive with chicken company
- They are a dusty bird to have in the house, so need special predator proof housing outside
- They thrive outdoors with space to roam, so may need a yard to go out in
- If not enclosed, may damage your garden or neighbours gardens
- Can be noisy, even hens make some noise during and after egg laying
- Like any pet there are parasite issues - good management and care prevents a lot of trouble
- Chicken feed may be difficult to find in cities and chickens need feed as well as scraps for the best health
- They do not produce much manure but the bedding can be bulky but is great for composting
Are all Chickens Suitable Pets?
Assuming you are not planning on having any roosters or breeding, and just want the hens for company and eggs, here are some pointers. Temperaments vary a great deal between chickens, even chickens of the same breed. Some are more affectionate than others. The best chickens for family pets are
- Like attention
- Do well in confinement
Consider it an added bonus when the chickens are
- Intelligent enough to entertain
- Good foragers in the garden if you let them free range
- Vigorous and healthy
- Good layers
- Don't go broody very often (keeps the fresh egg supply up)
Chickens best avoided are
- Flighty - fly about when you approach, raising dust or harming themselves
- Aggressive - more likely to scratch or peck when cornered
- Very broody hens can peck you on egg collection
- Too friendly - pecking at fingers and toes, may be too much for small children
Which Chickens Make the Best Pets?
Some Chicken Breeds are Better than Others
Not all poultry breeds are created equal for pet chickens. Choosing a breed that is naturally docile like an Orpington will be easier to look after and work with than one that is a higher-production flighty chicken breed like a Leghorn.
The Top 10 Favourite Heritage Poultry Breeds list is based on friendly, beautiful productive, calm, cold-hardy breeds.
Friendliest standard-sized chickens include various colours of Wyandotte (Silver Pencilled and Blue Laced Red especially), and the extremely rare Euskal Oiloa Basque hen. Friendliest layers of fancy coloured dark eggs are Welsummers, Wheaten Marans and the loveliest friendly layers of green eggs are the Wheaten Ameraucana, they actually snuggle.
Miniature bantam chickens are easier for small children to handle and less intimidating. The best Bantam Breed for temperament is the Barbu D'Uccle Chicken, they have wonderful chatty personality and will often fly up onto shoulder or knee for attention. The unique and fluffy Silkies are popular with very young children as they are super docile and will take more handling. Frizzle Cochins are also popular for the same reason, docile and fluffy.
Roosters as pets
Some of the best pet chickens are roosters, so don't rule them out if you have space and privacy with no close neighbours. Pet roosters are handsome, outgoing and attentive. You don't get the side benefit of eggs, but if you have hens as well you can breed and hatch your own chicks. You will get more roosters then, so have a plan for raising them for food or finding ideal homes early on.
How to find the best pet chickens?
The best way is to talk to the breeder. Temperament is often inherited and friendly parent chickens means friendly chicks. Buying a younger point-of-lay to year or an older heritage breed hen that has been handled a lot is a great way to get started. Chickens can live a long time, over 10 years when cared for properly.
Buying chicks from a small producer means they will be unsexed and there is a risk of getting unwanted roosters. Larger hatcheries will sell sexed chicks but often the breed quality is not as good and pet chickens may not be of show quality. If you want to show your pet chickens at the fair, you may want to bear this in mind.
Getting insight from someone who has experience of lots of chicken breeds may help you choose, though cross-bred chickens or retired battery hens make excellent pet chickens too. Battery hens may need a special diet and care due to their stressful past lives and do not always live a long time. Bringing them back to health and giving them a great life is a kind, rewarding thing to do.
Getting a Pet Chicken
What are the Next Steps?
Like any pet, getting pet chickens takes some preparation and research to make sure the best fit is made and that the pet chickens are properly cared for and housed. Often people assume chickens are dumb farm animals that can be shoved in a dark coop with scraps only and 1 square foot each and stay clean, healthy, productive and live a long life. You couldn't do that with a dog or cat, chickens are no different.
Buying your birds from reputable sellers that vaccinate and practise biosecurity is a must. Buying and losing sick birds is heartbreaking for a young family and can be avoided with a little planning.
Preparing for pet chickens should take the same amount of care as looking for any other pet. Talking to people who already have pet chickens will be a great help!
If you have any questions, I would be happy to help or direct you to some amazing online chicken community forums for more advice.