Keeping Pet Chickens
It might surprise some people to know that chickens make excellent pets. Certain breeds are very friendly, and hens will lay eggs. If let loose in your yard they will also make a point of eating bugs. Learn more about keeping chickens as pets.
If you live on an acreage there is usually no problem with keeping a pet chicken, but, if you live in a city, or sub-division, you will need to check your local by-laws regarding ownership of livestock. Some cities allow chickens as pets, others do not. If your city does allow chickens, find out if they have any restrictions regarding numbers, or other restrictions. Most do not allow roosters because of the loud crowing.
Hens start laying at about 5 months of age and will lay an egg every day or two depending on breed. Chickens can live for many years, although they are often slaughtered young, when egg production declines, you can plan on a pet chicken living for ten years, but egg production will slow after the first two years.
They usually go through a moult in the fall, they shed their feathers and regrow new ones, and most breeds slow down their laying process for the winter. Age and breed will determine how many eggs you get. A hen will lay eggs even when no rooster is present, however these eggs will not hatch.
Female chickens are called hens, these are usually the best pets. Bantam, or Banty, chickens are smaller sized birds, they are often kept as pets because of the smaller space requirements. I would suggest getting two, or more, birds rather than just one.
Although you can buy fertile eggs and hatch them yourself, this is not always a successful venture. For first time owners, I would not suggest buying chicks under a few weeks of age, although, you can purchase young birds from a commercial hatchery, or livestock feed store, in the spring and summer ( or year round depending where you live).
The problem with buying young chicks is generally they wont be sexed so you may get a rooster or two. Some commercial hatcheries will sell adult birds, particularly later in the season. If you are a first time owner you might be better off buying adult birds, or birds that are at least four months old.
A livestock feed store will have information regarding commercial hatcheries or you may find them on-line. In some places you can purchase birds at livestock auctions. Phone your local auction marts or ask at livestock supply stores if they know of any bird auctions. Many areas have specialty bird auctions several times a year.
If you are selecting adult birds, pick birds who are bright and alert. Ideally buy all your birds from the same seller, for health reasons.
Another good place to buy chickens from is a petting zoo. Many will have surplus birds for sale. The advantage is that these birds will have been handled extensively and will be more friendly. You might even find chickens for adoption at your local SPCA or Animal shelter.
The breed is important as some breeds are more friendly than others. Leghorns, for example are not known to be friendly. Silkies are probably one of the favorites for pets because of their fluffy appearance, and they often like to be held. Araucanas are very interesting because they lay blue eggs. As some breeds are more common in some areas you will want to research those available to you. Decide what traits are important to you, size, color, egg laying, or friendliness.
Care and Housing of Your Birds
Your chickens will need a safe run and coop. The coop is where they will sleep at night and where they will lay their eggs in the day. It needs to have a place for them to roost, a horizontal wooden broom handle, wooden ladder, or branch will work well, They need a nest, which can be on the ground but is better if slightly raised. Three to four hens can share the same nesting area. I like a coop that has at least 6 square feet of floor space per 2 birds, and have a coop that is 12 ft x 8 ft for only 4 birds, and I allow them out to free range in the day - this means less cleaning up! However smaller coops are fine, but may result in more fighting between birds if they are not allowed to free range in the day.
The coop will need a heat source in the winter if you plan on keeping them year round where temperatures drop below freezing. A protected light bulb will serve this purpose quite well. If you put cardboard on the floor of the hen house and lightly cover the cardboard with straw, then when its time to clean the hen house (four times a year is fine if your hen house is large and not over crowded) all you need to do is remove the straw and cardboard and you may not have to scrub the floor itself. If you have many birds, or a small coop, you may have to clean more often.
As with all animals pet chickens require fresh water. There are many watering systems available for birds from your local livestock supply store. They can be fed chicken scratch or laying ration, with scratch offered as a treat. Chickens love chicken scratch, it can be a good way to befriend a shy chicken. They also love dandelions, tomatoes, watermellon, strawberries, and especially bananas. You can offer them treats daily and they will often talk to you to encourage you to bring them more treats. Make sure anything offered is free of chemicals, in other words, if you do not pick it from your garden, make sure you wash it.
When you first get your birds (assuming they are big/old enough to be put in the coop) they should be left in the coop for a few days, if there is an attached, but closed in, run that is fine. Do not let them out of the run (to free range in the yard) until you have gotten to know your birds better, and always put them in the coop at night.
Pet Chickens need a safe enclosure, one that keeps them safe from predators and stops them from wandering off. Make sure they have a roosting place in the coop as well as one out in their run, or yard. You will want to check once or twice a day for eggs, usually around noon and later in the afternoon. You will get to know your birds laying pattern.
Chickens should have grit and oyster shell, both of which can be purchased from a livestock feed store, along with their ration and scratch.
*All of this is assuming you have birds that are at least a few months old. Young birds should not be out in a coop without heat, and may need to be in a brooder.
If you have never had chickens before you will be amazed at how personable they really are. You can not walk by without them softly clucking, calling you over to give them some dandelions. We have a garden and offer our pet chickens fruits and vegetables, which they enjoy. Chickens eat slugs and insects, so do not use pesticides.
Tame chickens are easy to catch but if you must catch a nervous one, the best time is at night when they are a sleep and easy to sneak up on. Most chickens are not mean however you may find some roosters are very aggressive and either demand food or act to protect their space, other than noise concerns, this is why I have not suggested you get a rooster as a pet.
I have not covered diseases because you could literally be living anywhere in the world and disease threats are different in different areas, very likely you will get the needed information at the time of purchase or from a vet in your area. Your birds will be healthiest if not kept over crowded.
Bantam Chicken Breeds
What Breeds of Chickens make the Best Pets
The Cutest Chicks, Silkie Chickens
The Advantages of Keeping Chickens as Pets
Pros and Cons of Keeping Pet Chickens
Why People should Eat Free Range Eggs
This article has been republished to Full of Knowledge.
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