Keeping Pet Chickens

Caring for Chickens as Pets

Pet chickens. Photo © Flickr user sermoa

Pet chickens may be thought of more as farm animals but many suburban homes are opting for pets that provide them with fresh eggs to eat. Chickens are fairly low maintenance, don’t make much noise, and can add a little country to your home, even if you’re within city limits.

Chickens Basics

  • Name: Popular pet chicken breeds include Plymouth Rocks (also known as Barred Rocks), Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Jersey Giants, Americaunas, Wyandottes (Silver Laced), Australorps, Orpingtons, Brahmas, Silkies, Welsumers (Welsummers)
  • Size: Sizes vary by the breed of chicken but typically range between 8 pounds and as small as 1.3 pounds for the bantam varieties.
  • Lifespan: Bantams typically only live 1-3 years but larger varieties have been reported to live into their teens and sometimes up to 20 years old.

What Do I Need To Keep Chickens?

Pet chickens should be housed outdoors in a secure coop with an area to run around during the day. In order to keep your chickens from roaming the neighborhood, you’ll need secure fencing (they call it chicken wire for a reason) that is buried two feet into the ground to prevent predators such as raccoons and foxes from getting under it. Bird netting can be spread taut over the enclosure if hawks and eagles are a problem in your area. A secure, wooden coop (or larger areas will use sheds or barns with fenced indoor areas) with a ramp into the fenced-in yard should be available for the chickens to retreat into during the day and then used to lock the chickens into overnight.

A shallow water trough and a feed dish should be available at all times during the day. Chicken feed can be purchased at farm supply stores or online. Bedding is typically straw and there should be more of it available during the colder weather. Lights may be used during the shorter days in the winter if your egg production decreases too much or for heat for your chickens.

How Many Chickens Should I Get?

The number of chickens you should get will depend on how much space you have available for them. Crowding chickens will lead to disease, unsanitary conditions, and decreased egg laying along with depressed chickens (just think about how unhappy chickens on factory farms are with all the crowding). If you don't have much space consider a bantam hen variety but the basic rule of thumb is 3 square feet per bird. For help on choosing what kind of chicken to get based on size and other characteristics check out Choosing Chickens: How to Select Chickens for the Small Farm or Homestead.

Can I Keep Chickens Indoors?

Chickens need space to roam and cannot be housebroken, therefore they are very messy, especially when kept indoors. Their feather dander and excrement alone will make you regret ever choosing to keep a chicken as a pet inside your house.

Can I Own a Chicken Where I Live?

You may be surprised to find out that you are legally allowed to own chickens in your city. Chickens aren’t just for farms and many major cities and suburbs allow you to own pet chickens. Cleveland, Ohio and many surrounding cities, for example, allow pet chickens. To find out if you can own chickens in your city check your zoning ordinance (most cities have theirs posted online and are easily searchable using keywords).

Do Chickens Need Vaccines?

Typically pet chickens do not need vaccines but some countries may recommend specific avian immunizations depending on what diseases are more prevalent in those areas. Your exotics vet (find an exotics vet near you) will be able to tell you for sure if your chicken needs any vaccinations.

Pet Chicken Diseases

Common health problems with pet chickens include respiratory diseases, wing, leg, and foot injuries, feather mites and lice, and intestinal parasites. Annual check-ups are recommended for pet chickens but many vets will give you medication for your entire flock if one of your chickens has an illness to avoid making you bring in all of your chickens (or they may even make a house call).

Pet chickens are a great way to teach children about pet care, working outside, and how to raise animals for food. Many families even sell the extra eggs they get to cover the cost of chicken feed making it very inexpensive to keep pet chickens. For an excellent chart comparing breeds, egg facts, behavior, and more check out Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart.