Most people assume that chickens belong in a farm or in the wild, but very few ever think of turning these birds into domesticated pets. As of 2017, around one percent of households in the United States raise chickens as pets, though this is expected to rise to 4 percent by this year.
If you have a home with enough space and are willing to invest in chicken feed and other things your pet chicken will need, you too can have your own pet chicken. But keep in mind that chickens are not mammals, and the way you raise a pet dog or cat isn’t going to be the same as raising a bird. Here’s what you need to know and prepare for should you decide to get a pet chicken.
Chickens Are Not Mammals
Let’s get one thing clear: raising a pet chicken is not like raising any other mammal as a pet. Chickens are birds, so as such, they have different needs and have a different behavior compared to your furry friends.
Mammals have mammary glands to provide sustenance to their young offspring, but birds don’t. While raising a cat and her kittens can be much easier because the mother cat can guard and suckle her children until they are old enough to eat solid food. Hens, however, cannot produce milk to feed their children and instinctively find and feed worms to their young ones until they are big enough to find their own food.
Most mammals are covered in fur or hair. There are some exceptions to this such as dolphins and whales. Chickens, however, have feathers, a common trait in birds. And finally, mammals give live births, meaning that their offspring develops in their womb before being born. Chickens perform sexual reproduction, but hens lay the fertilized egg and then sit on it to incubate it so that their offspring can develop until the egg hatches.
How Long Is a Chicken’s Lifespan?
Healthy chickens can live as long as nine years, more or less depending on the type of environment you expose them to and any health conditions they may have from birth or develop later in life. Some farmers only keep a chicken for as long as they can produce eggs or mate with hens before they’re deemed unfit for use and either killed for their meat or sent away. However, if you’re looking at a chicken as a pet, you’ll have to be ready to spend around a decade caring for your chicken.
Can Chickens Live Indoors?
While chickens are generally seen as outdoor animals, it may be possible to have a chicken raised indoors, depending on many factors. There are smaller chicken breeds that require less space, assuming your home has everything it needs to thrive: food, water, sunlight, and a nesting place for hens. Roosters may reach a certain age where they become too noisy for the indoors, so if you don’t think you can tolerate the noise of crowing, it’s best to get a hen for an indoor pet.
The only problem with keeping an indoor pet is handling its waste. Chicken owners say that certain chicken breeds excreting more than others, with some releasing feces at several times in one hour. Unlike cats and dogs, you cannot train chickens to poop in a certain part of the house, and how you manage your chicken’s waste depends on many factors. If this is a turn-off for you, having to clean up after your chicken regularly, it’s best to leave it outside where the feces will be more manageable.
Do Your Research
And I’m not just talking about mating habits or what kind of breed you want for a pet. Consider that some cities do not allow you to get a pet rooster because of the noise, while other areas ban chickens as a pet altogether, but other cities may not have the same rules. To be safe, check if your area allows chickens for pets. And anyway, if it’s the eggs you’re after, a hen doesn’t need a rooster to produce eggs.
Preparing Your Home
A matured hen or rooster is much easier to take care of than baby chicks, as chicks will need extra care when they’re still young and vulnerable. Young chicks may need to be caged or placed in a box filled with straw and a safe heat source like a heat lamp. You will also need a chick feeder and water dispenser to ensure it has enough food and water. Because they are placed in one box, you will need to clean the box regularly to avoid making the box smell. This usually takes four to five weeks before they are large enough to roam outside of their box.
Whether you’re raising them indoors and outdoors, you’ll need to provide a place for them to roost as it’s their natural instinct against potential predators, especially at night. You can buy chicken coops online, or if you’re handy and good with tools, you can also build one yourself.
Make sure your coop is big enough for your chicken. If you have a fenced-in backyard, you can get a coop that doesn’t require you to open and close the cage for your chicken so that they can roam freely.
Be Patient for Your Eggs
If you’re raising a hen for its eggs, don’t expect young hens to start laying once they start roaming. If you buy a chick and raise it to maturity, it should take about six months before they start laying one egg per day. However, the number of eggs they lay could change depending on the time of the year.
Raising a pet chicken is different compared to other traditional pets. While you get the companionship many other pets can provide, you’re also getting a unique pet that provides you with daily eggs and the chance to experience raising a low-maintenance and not-so-exotic uncommon pet. For the chicken’s sake, though, make sure you are properly equipped to take care of a chicken before bringing one home.