Keeping Chickens as Pets Selection and Care of Pet Chickens
Thinking of keeping chickens as pets? Good move! Learning how to care for pet chickens is not much different from caring for regular chickens, which you can learn on other pages of this site.
But there are some important differences too.
Like… what types of chickens are most suitable? What are the most quiet chickens breeds? Which are the cutest and cuddliest? How do you best combine kids and chickens? And how do you avoid problems between dogs and chickens?
Let’s start with some tips on raising chickens to be cool pets, then finish with a few recommendations on the types of chickens suited for the job…
How to Raise Chickens as Pets
Though it is wise to start with a nice quiet breed, much of your chickens’ suitability as pets will depend on how they are raised and handled.
Start Them Young
Basically, the more regular gentle handling they get the better! And there is absolutely nothing that can take the place of raising them from day old chickens.
However, unless you buy sexed chicks (so you know they are all females by their color, for example), you may have to eventually face the prospect of having to sell, or otherwise dispose of, the many roosters that may eventuate.
At Designer Hens hatchery we sex all our chicks and guarantee them to be hens. They are available as day-olds picked up from our farm in Bullsbrook, Western Australia.
The common commercial hybrids, such as the ISA Brown and the Hyline, are also lovely quiet birds and can often be acquired as color-sexed day-olds. If you don’t want to have to deal with roosters, and don't care for pretty colors, they are a good choice. However, while they lay like steam for the first year or 2, egg production drops off very rapidly after that. They basically "burn out" fast - they were designed like that.
Salmon colored Faverolles (bantams or large) can also be sexed by color at about 2 weeks of age.
Your other option is to buy chicks that have been lovingly hand reared by someone else to an age where their sex can be determined.
Handle Them Often
Hand feed your chicks and handle them daily. Of course, be cautious about letting little people play with them unsupervised. Chicks are surprisingly tough but are no match for a toddler!
By all means, for both bonding and education, teach your children how to hold and feed your chicks and involve them in the daily care of pet chickens. Kids and chickens can be a great combination when done right.
Keep up the hand feeding and handling all through your birds’ lives.
All chickens have similar needs for great nutrition and protective shelter.
Types of Chickens as Pets
If we were writing the selection criteria for the job of being a pet chicken, they’d look like this:
• Unless you live on a farm, they must be hens!
• Must be quiet chickens.
• Pretty colors would be nice.
• Cute and cuddly a definite advantage.
• Small size preferable so the kids can pick them up.
Do You Want Your Pet Chickens to Lay Lots of Eggs Too?
Then you might be tempted to go for a pure breed with a reputation as good egg layers.
BUT the best you can expect from purebreds is for them to lay about 5 months out of the year... and quit to go broody at the drop of a hat!
Sadly, a lot of the original usefulness of purebreds has been bred out of them by continued selection - on "type" or "colour" - to win shows. Very few chicken breeders actually take the trouble to breed for good egg production these days.
And since many people who sell purebred chickens have produced them from brother-sister matings, their natural "vigour" and thus egg-laying capacity is further dampened by being inbred.
Chickens come in two main sizes – regular (large) and miniature (bantum chickens). If egg laying is not an issue, and you believe that small size is desirable in pet chickens, then the little banty chickens.
Concerning temperament, chickens also come in either nervous or quiet varieties.
Screening out all the pretty but flighty bantam breeds, of which there are many, gives us a few main candidates:
CHINESE SILKY CHICKENS
The Chinese Silkie has unusual, fur-like silky feathers with a rather becoming tuft on their head. They weigh about 1 kg full grown and are very docile. Silkies come in pure white as well as a variety of colors.
Though they are not great layers, they are fabulous mothers, and can be relied upon to go broody in spring each year. Many people use them to hatch and raise the eggs of other breeds.
Because they have black-blue skin, they look like rubber chickens when plucked. Not very appetizing as meat for western tastes, but considered highly prized delicacies in China.
These guys look a lot like Cochin chickens, but in miniature. Often likened to “walking tea-cosies” they are cute, round and squat, with feathered feet.
Pekins are cuddly little critters, with soft full plumage that comes in a wide variety of colors.
Like the Silky chickens, Pekin bantams are quiet and make great broodies and mothers. The roosters, however, can become aggressive and rather protective of their girls once mature.
Other Breeds to Consider
Other chicken breeds that are pretty and friendly, and come in both regular and small, bantam sized versions are:
• Plymouth Rock
Some of these are also useful egg layers and/or meat birds.
Combining Dogs and Chickens as Pets
Dogs and chickens as pets can be a disastrous combination if not managed thoughtfully.
This pup doesn't want to play, she wants to kill!
Don’t be fooled: when dogs want to “play” with chickens, lambs or any other animal, they are seeing how far they can get towards killing them.
Left to run its course, such “play” invariably results in death. Never let your dog stalk or chase chickens or show them any interest whatsoever.
The best situation is to start with an easily trained breed of dog that does not have a strong killing instinct.
Some dog breeds, such as the Jack Russell Terrier and the Bull Terrier, have been purposefully developed to seek and destroy other critters.
You’ll really have your work cut out for you trying to teach them not to hurt your pet chickens, particularly if they are grown up already.
In such cases, you will only be able to keep chickens as pets if they are securely housed where your dog never has the opportunity to get at them.
It is much easier to nip any inclination for your dog to hurt a chicken in the bud and NEVER give it the chance to act on it.
Once a dog successfully mauls or kills any animal, the gratification it feels is so rewarding that training it to desist is almost impossible.
So start training your dog not to harm chickens when it is just a puppy. Let it accompany you into the chicken yard or house and be ready to pounce with a harsh word if it shows too much interest.
Once mature, quiet chickens are very likely to reinforce this by delivering a sharp peck on the nose to any puppy that gets too close!
Don’t forget to reward your puppy for good behavior with a small treat and kind words.
And never leave even the most trusted dog alone with your precious chickens, as pets often revert to the wilder side of their nature when owners are not around!