Every Easter, I see at least a half a dozen advertisements that include some sort of adorable baby chick. These cute little fuzzballs have incredible appeal to young and old alike. It’s completely understandable why an adult would want to purchase one as a gift for their child. But are they really ideal as pets?
While a few chickens can make a wonderful and rewarding addition to your backyard, they are not the same as a puppy or a kitten. Understanding the difference will help you decide as whether or not you should purchase one as a ‘pet’.
Arguably, the most defining feature of having a pet is the actual physical contact. Pets owners love to snuggle with their friend. In this regard, a chicken is not ideal as ‘cuddling them’ can put you at risk of salmonella.
But that’s not to say chickens aren’t rewarding. In fact, I have found raising these birds to be incredibly gratifying. Each one of them has their own personality and, when raised properly, will interact with you every bit as much as say a guinea pig or farm cat. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are on the same level as your loyal Labrador, but with the right breed and a little patience, hand-feeding them treats will certainly brighten your day.
Are Chickens Good Pets For Children?
Nothing teaches responsibility like the caring for a living creature…and chickens are no exception. These birds not only need to be fed and watered everyday, but they need to be ‘let out’ in the mornings, as well as, ‘put to bed’ every night. This is a good deal of accountability for a child. The following are a list of pros and cons for you to consider.
- Resilience – Chickens, if cared for properly are not overly prone to sickness. They definitely are needy as chicks (specifically with heat requirements), but once fully feathered, the right breed of chicken is capable of withstanding pretty much any kind of weather.
- Hand’s off – Generally, once a chick is past the 8 week mark, your ‘rearing duties’ are pretty much done. You will let your birds out of their coop in the morning and probably won’t worry about them too much until dark. With my flock, the girls usually put themselves to bed, so there’s no need for me to go rounding everybody up. They eat and drink as they feel the need, so my daily obligation is probably less than 25 minutes of effort everyday.
- Hand’s on – While the daily responsibility for an adult chicken is fairly light, it is still daily. Personally, I think that repetition is good for children. Understanding that if you forget to lock the coop at night, your ‘pet’ may not be there in the morning as predators are always looking to eat them.
- Reward – It’s a real treat for my son to go out and check the nesting box for eggs. These ‘pets’ provide us with food (and delicious food at that). This food is also easily shared, and sometimes bartered, which provides yet another boost to the positive. It’s also fun to have company hand feed your flock of birds. The smiles gained from this experience can add appreciation to your child’s daily responsibilities.
- Understanding – Having a chicken can expose your child to the cycle of life much more so than say a cat or dog. And studies have shown that children who raise pets tend to be more compassionate and empathetic than children who have never had the opportunity to care for another living thing.
- Limited interaction – There is absolutely no comparison to the happy excitement a dog will show upon seeing you. That frantic barking and tail wagging that is so fierce it looks to knock them over, is guaranteed to warm your heart. A chicken will never do this. Depending on your reasoning for obtaining a friend for your child, a chicken might not be your best choice.
Do Chickens Make Good House Pets?
With the rise in popularity of household poultry comes a parallel rise in questionable antics by their owners. I recently looked an advertisement for chicken harnesses. Apparently, there are those who would like to walk their chickens now. I even saw on article on diapers made specifically for chickens.
I confess, there may be a bit of bias on my part, but diapers for a chicken is not a line I plan on crossing anywhere in the near future.
It is my opinion that chickens should not be kept indoors in the same manner as your dog or cat. First of all, chickens are a flock animal and operate best in the company of their feathered friends. So having just one in your house wouldn’t be good for your bird.
Also, I have my doubts as to whether or not you would ever be able to successfully liter train them. And considering how much a chicken will poo over the course of a day, even with diapers, the waste could quickly become an issue for you and your family.
There are countless other reasons as to why they shouldn’t be inside your home, such as flying, feather loss, mites, ect. But to me, the biggest reason why chickens shouldn’t be house pets is because, it’s not fair to them.
Chicks will scratch and peck within a day after hatching. Keeping them in any environment that does not provide this opportunity, is, in my opinion, mean.
My respect for this amazing world grows by the day. Honestly, it has grown significantly since I started working with animals. The more I learn, the more I feel a sense of obligation towards doing things that work with the natural process. Forcing a chicken to wear a diaper and live indoors, does not match what I know of the natural process. And for this reason, I do not recommend having a chicken as a house pet.
Do Chickens Like To Be Petted?
Our current flock of 13 is a hodgepodge of birds. It’s an eclectic collection meant to replace a smaller flock which hadn’t lived up to the ‘hype’. FYI, that does happen sometimes. Once in a while you will get a batch of chicks that just don’t conform to the general characteristics of their breed. And while it’s easy to think, ‘that’s just my luck,’ it probably has more to do with the bird than with you… (probably – lol).
Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to chickens. And this is the same with chickens enjoying physical contact. Some chickens will truly enjoy a gentle stroke of their chest or shoulders, but it’s been my experience that most prefer to stay at a distance.
With our current flock, I would say three of the birds have shown signs that they might learn to enjoy being petted. That’s 3 out of the 13 and ‘might’ learn to like it. As it stands right now, they are all still hesitant to take food from our hands. But, gentle persistent effort on our parts could result in a chicken that likes to be petted.
Clearly this does not compare to your typical domesticated canine.
### Important Note ###
If you are pining to pet a chicken, please remember to thoroughly wash your hands afterward as chickens and Salmonella are a thing.
Do Chickens Show Affection To Humans?
Ask anyone whose house is ‘graced’ by the presence of a cat and they’ll tell you there is nothing better than a warm feline on your lap. The gentle purring and kneading of the paws are two guaranteed indicators that your friend is enjoying the moment. Affection from a cat is as obvious as it is enjoyable.
Talking in general terms, chickens will not show affection as much as they will show a sense of comfort around people they trust.
For example, I was messing around in the garden yesterday evening, bemoaning the poor yield this summer, when I happen to notice some moment behind me. It was Two Toes – a 12 week old Orpington. She was nonchalantly scratching at the ground as she shadowed me in the garden.
Two Toes story is unique. Due to a lack of foresight on my part, Two Toes suffered from a predator attack (along with 11 of her sisters). The poor girl lost one front toe on each foot. Consequently, recovery for her took a little longer than most of her sisters.
Being responsible for her well-being, I spent quite a bit of time caring for her. Chickens are remarkably resilient, but with her being crippled and smaller than the rest of her sisters, I couldn’t really allow her to be with the rest of the flock right away – meaning she spent a lot of time with me.
Now full recovered, Two Toes is still just as reluctant to be touched as her sisters, but she is much more comfortable with my presence than the other hens who didn’t spend as much time with me being ‘handled’ and cared for. Any time I call out to her, she always looks and quite often will come over to see me. I’m not sure you would call that affection, but there is definitely a connection.
How To Encourage Chickens To Be Comfortable With You
Ask anyone with a new flock and they’ll tell you just how hard it can be to corral a rogue chicken. Those little feather balls can run really fast and just when you think you’ve got one cornered, it’ll fly half way across the yard! What’s worse is the more you chase them, the more panicked and uncooperative they get.
For this reason, it’s a good habit to get your chicks acquainted with you as much and as soon as possible. Holding them is okay, but I’ve found that talking to them and hand-feeding them treats is a much more productive way to have them be comfortable with you. It’s beneficial for you, and for them, to see you as a tall, two-legged creature of positive interest.
So how do you accomplish this?
When chicks are first hatched, their immediate response is run away from ‘the hand’. Reach into the brooder to do anything and they’re going to freak out! But, if that hand remains still for a time and has something interesting in its grasp, say a plastic spoon filled with water, then curiosity will win out and they’ll come over to give it a peck. If you can accomplish this, then you have made a fantastic first step.
At some point in time, the chicks will loose interest in the spoon and you’ll have to migrate to dropping treats in the brooder (my son loves to catch grasshoppers and toss them in). We always do this to a ‘clucking sound’. The type of sound is not really all that important, only that you make the same sound every time you give a treat. This will be your call, so pick a good one : )
### Important Note ###
There are those who recommend holding your birds as often as possible. Admittedly, there may be some benefit to this, but it is not a practice I personally recommend. Ignoring the risk of Salmonella to yourself, there is also risk to the birds.
It’s not actually a bad thing for your flock to be a little skittish. While they are domesticated birds, outdoor predators are definitely going to see them as a viable option for food. It’s been our experience that the nervous birds tend to live a lot longer than the friendly ones.
What’s The Friendliest Breed Of Chicken?
This is a common question that always makes me smile. Not because I love talking about chickens, but because I know just how unpredictable these birds can be. Each and every member of your flock will have its own personality. So while it’s good to know the general behavior of your specific breed, understand that no purchase is guaranteed. Be prepared for the wild card!
With this in mind, I can recommend three breeds of chicken that have reliably displayed a sense of friendly interaction with me.
Barred Rock: This breed of chicken is arguably one of the best! Barred Rock chicks have consistently proved to be quicker to learn the ‘treat call’ than all of our other breeds. Our friendliest bird of all time was a Barred Rock named Flopsy (because of her floppy comb). She was an absolute sweetheart. Unfortunately, a predator got her before her first winter.
Orpington: With the exception of one rooster, all of our Orpingtons have been friendly, albeit in a timid and reserved sort of way. While other breed of chickens might run right up to you, our Orpingtons will approach with caution. However, we have found that they will often hang around you longer than the other breeds.
Australorp: This is another breed of chicken that we have had great luck with. It’s every bit as friendly as say the Barred Rock, but…just a little bit feisty. I’ve never had one get testy with me or anyone else. But I have seen them grab one another by the comb and flip the unfortunate over. This generally only happens when it gets really hot and everyone is grumpy. You might think this is a bad trait to have, but in reality it helps them survive against predators.
Chickens can be a really great addition to your back yard. They are always doing something and will quite often follow you around, curious as to what you’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times visitors have remarked on ‘the company’ our flock provides when trying to get something done outside (including the poor UPS driver). I find that having a flock in the backyard adds a whole level of life to things.
However, chickens are not in the same class of companions as dogs. If you need a dog, then get a dog. If however, you’re looking for something fun and unique that can provide you with delicious eggs, then I totally recommend your backyard chicken!