Caring for Pet Chickens

Close-up of chickens
Pet chickens can make great additions to backyard. Photo © Flickr user sermoa

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

About Pet Chickens

There are many different chicken breeds that are kept as pets. Some of the most popular 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)

Sizes of chickens will vary depending on what breed they are but they will typically weigh in between 8 pounds and as small as 1.3 pounds for the bantam varieties. Bantams also typically only live 1-3 years but larger chicken varieties have been reported to live into their teens and sometimes up to 20 years old.

What Do You Need To House Chickens?

Pet chickens should be housed outdoors in a secure coop with an area to run around during the day. In order to keep pet chickens from roaming the neighborhood, one will need secure fencing called chicken wire 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 the area. A secure, wooden coop or shed with a ramp out into the fenced-in chicken yard should be available for the chickens. This enclosure will give them somewhere to retreat into during the day and is also where they are locked into at night for protection.

Supplies for Pet Chickens

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 to provide extra warmth to the chickens. Lights may be used during the days with fewer hours of daylight in the winter if the egg production decreases as well as to keep the chickens warm.

How Many Chickens Should You 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, decreased egg laying, egg-laying problems and even depressed chickens. If you don't have much space consider a bantam hen variety but the basic rule of thumb is 3 square feet per bird. This means if you have 9 aquare feet of space available for your chicken yard you can have 3 chickens.

Can You Keep Chickens Indoors?

Chickens need space to roam and cannot be housebroken, therefore they are very messy, especially when kept indoors. Like any large pet bird, their feather dander and excrement alone is a bother so they are best kept outdoors.

Can You Own a Chicken Where You Live?

You may be surprised if you 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. As an example, Cleveland, Ohio and many surrounding cities allow pet chickens. To find out if you can own chickens in your city check your zoning ordinance. Most cities have these posted online and are easily searchable.

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 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. They may even make a house call.

Benefits of Pet Chickens for Children

Pet chickens are a great way to teach children about pet care, working outside, and how to raise animals for food if you choose to use chickens for eggs or meat. Many families even sell the extra eggs they get to cover the cost of chicken feed making it very inexpensive to keep pet chickens.