Some might view chickens as strictly farm animals. But it’s relatively common for homes in the suburbs and cities to have pet chickens as well, as long as local ordinances permit them. There are many chicken breeds to choose from, including Silkies, Rhode Island Reds, Easter Eggers, and Brahmas. The breeds range in coloring and size. Chickens make for fairly quiet and low-maintenance pets. They do need some space for their housing, but their diet is pretty straightforward. And they typically offer you fresh eggs in return for your care.
Common Name: Chicken
Scientific Name: Gallus gallus domesticus
Adult Size: Up to roughly 2 feet in length (varies by breed)
Lifespan: 5 to 10 years on average (varies by breed)
Chicken Behavior and Temperament
Chickens are social flock animals, so you will need to get more than one. They can learn to be comfortable around humans, especially if they're gently handled from a young age. Many come to enjoy petting and being around the people who care for them. Some are comfortable with being picked up while others prefer not to be contained.
They typically aren't aggressive but might peck or scratch if they feel threatened or uncomfortable. Moreover, because they are prey animals, they typically should be kept away from other household pets, such as dogs and cats, that can cause undue stress or injury.
Expect to spend at least a couple hours per day with your chickens on feeding, cleaning, and interaction. They are largely quiet pets, though they do make several soft vocalizations.
The size of chickens can widely vary by breed. In general, they are less than 2 feet long and weigh around 5 pounds on average.
Chickens need space to roam and cannot be housebroken. This is why people commonly keep them in outdoor coops (small structures with solid walls and a roof) with attached runs (secure areas that allow chickens access to grass and dirt where they can forage). It's recommended to have at least 3 to 5 square feet of space per chicken.
Coops should be insulated from extreme weather but still have ventilation. And both coops and runs must have protection from predators. Fencing and walls must be free of holes that predators could access, and fencing should be buried down into the ground to prevent predators from digging under it. Chicken runs also should have roofs made of wire or netting to protect from hawks and other predators.
Inside the coop, there should be a roosting spot off the ground, as well as at least one nest box per every four hens. Depending on your climate, you might need a heat lamp in cold weather. Also, always have feeders and waterers accessible.
Specific Substrate Needs
On the floor of the coop, add a couple inches of straw for bedding. This will cushion the floor and add some warm in the winter. Spot-check your chickens' enclosure on a daily basis. And roughly once a month, remove all the bedding in the coop, scrub the floor and walls, wait for it to dry, and then add fresh bedding.
What Do Chickens Eat & Drink?
Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. In general, that consists of grains, fruits, veggies, herbs, and insects.
Offer a balanced commercial chicken feed to meet your chickens' nutritional needs. Consult your vet for the proper amount, as this can vary based on age and other factors. Chickens tend to graze throughout the day, so most owners add a daily serving each morning to a specialized hopper feeder that goes in the enclosure. Feed should always be available.
You also can offer a variety of fruits and vegetables—as well as a limited amount of grains, such as cracked corn and oats—each day. Again, discuss the proper feeding amounts with your vet. Fresh foods should go in a separate feeding dish from the pelleted diet.
Finally, make sure your chickens always have access to clean water. There are waterers similar to the feeders that go on the floor of your chickens' enclosure. You also can use a water trough. Refresh the water daily.
Common Health Problems
Backyard chickens are typically hardy animals, but they are prone to some common health issues, including:
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Fungal infections
- Injury from predators
Sufficient exercise is important to keep chickens in good body condition for egg laying and to generally prevent health issues, such as obesity. As long as you provide your chickens with a large enough space to roam and don't overcrowd them, they should get the exercise they need. There also are chicken toys, such as treat dispensers, that can get your pets up and moving.
Chickens mostly groom themselves via preening and what's known as a dust bath. Dust baths help to absorb excess oils on a chicken's feathers and skin, and they can dislodge debris and even parasites. Furthermore, some chickens might not naturally wear down their nails enough and occasionally require you or a vet to trim them. A vet can typically teach you how to do this at home if you're willing.
Your primary ongoing costs for chickens will be their food and bedding. Expect to pay around $15 to $30 per chicken each month. You'll also occasionally have to replace worn items in the coop, costing around $10 to $30 on average. Plus, make sure to budget for routine veterinary checkups and emergency care.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Chicken as a Pet
Chickens can make for fairly low-maintenance and quiet pets. Plus, they'll typically provide you with an abundance of eggs, and you'll have the benefit of knowing the eggs are coming from a well-treated animal. However, chickens do need a specialized housing setup and some space to roam. And they must be protected from predators and the elements.
Similar Exotic Pets to the Chicken
If you're interested in pet chickens, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Purchasing or Adopting Your Chicken
You can find chickens via reputable breeders and rescue groups. Sometimes even traditional animal shelters have chickens for adoption. Expect to pay around $10 to $30 on average, though this can vary depending on factors such as the animal's age and breed.
Local exotic animal veterinarians might be able to direct you to a good chicken breeder or rescue group. Check with area farm animal sanctuaries as well. The main benefit of going to a breeder is you'll typically have a wider selection of various breeds and younger animals. Rescues often take in chickens from factory farms that otherwise would be slaughtered.
Chickens can't always be properly sexed when they're young. So to ensure you're getting a female bird, you might want to opt for an older chicken. That way, you won't have any unwanted breeding or other issues with having roosters.
Does a chicken make a good pet for kids?
Chickens can be good pets for children who are able to be gentle around them.
Are chickens hard to take care of?
Chickens are fairly easy to maintain once you get their housing set up, requiring daily feedings and regular cleanings.
Does a chicken like to be held?
Some chickens can learn to be comfortable with handling when tamed from a young age. But in general they are not cuddly pets.
Raising Chickens for Eggs. University of Minnesota Extension.
Raising Chickens for Eggs. University of Minnesota Extension.