Chickens aren't just for farmers any more. As pet chickens increase in popularity, especially for people interested in living naturally, they are now commonly living in suburban and urban areas. Is this migration okay for chickens? Must they live in the country, or is this urban sprawl a good thing?
Modern chickens would ideally live in a forest clearing, if in the wild. They are woodland birds that originated in Southeast Asia. That being said, they can live almost anywhere in most climates. As long as you can provide a few basic needs, these hardy birds can live on a farm or on a fifth-floor balcony. What do chickens need?
• Shade from the sun. Though chickens have a high body temperature, they still need shade to keep cool when it's hot. A poultry house that provides a sheltered area underneath is a great way to achieve this.
• Shelter from the rain. The phrase "madder than a wet hen" didn't come about for no reason. Chickens hate to be wet, so they need shelter from the rain. The raised poultry house can provide for this, as well.
• Shelter from the wind. Chickens don't tolerate wind very well, but a chicken run or area with a wind break will solve this problem.
• Plenty of fresh feed and water. Chickens like to peck and forage–if you will–for food, so providing a feeder and also scattering feed will keep your chickens fed and stimulated. Chickens are notorious for spilling or contaminating their own water, so providing various means by which they can drink is essential. You can use "on-demand" systems, bowls, troughs, or self-waterers. Water should be checked at least a couple of times a day for supply and contamination.
• A dust bath. Chickens rid themselves of parasites naturally by taking a dust bath, and they also seem to take great pleasure in it. This dust bath might be a dry piece of earth or it might be contained in a box.
• A "pecking order" referee. Chickens typically have delightful personalities and get along well with humans and other animals, but occasionally they will pick on–literally, peck–one of their own that they feel is weaker. The larger your group of chickens, the more likely this is to happen. It's important to keep a close eye out for these behaviors, especially when introducing new chickens to a flock. If the problem is ongoing, you may need a "penalty box" for either the offender or the victim. Time-outs sometimes work.
If you can provide these basic requirements, you can keep chickens as pets. And they make excellent pets, especially for individuals and families moving toward a more natural lifestyle.
Unless you live in a deep state of denial, you know there is something wrong with the way commercial egg-laying chickens are kept. "Free-range" isn't as glamorous as it sounds. I'll spare you the gory details, but if you'd like to be better informed, you can read about the atrocities done to egg-laying hens in Bruce Friedrich's article, The Crulest of all Factory Farm Products: Eggs From Caged Hens. Yet, still, we like our eggs. There is no better, fresher, more natural way to enjoy your eggs than from your own chickens. By keeping egg-laying chickens as pets, you no longer support factory farm eggs, and you're also ensuring that you and your family are eating antibiotic and hormone-free eggs. Win-win.
Aside from the eggs, what good are chickens to have around? Every chicken has it's own personality, but most are sweet and friendly. Once they get to know you, you can easily pet them and pick them up. They might even hop into your lap. They follow you around and genuinely seem to feel some sort of affection for their care givers. They get excited to start their day each morning. They may not greet you with a wagging tail or purr-filled nudge, but their coos and antics will keep you coming back for more. Children love them and can easily help care for them. Plus, they're a hoot. They always seem to be doing something funny, whether it be knocking something over or playing "tag," all feathers flying. You'll be entertained.
Chickens can be messy, but there's an upside. Their droppings make some of the best garden fertilizer. When fresh and in large quantities, chicken droppings can be too strong for immature plants, so it's a good idea to mix it with straw or sawdust and allow it to age for a bit.
So, what concerns might you have about keeping chickens?
• Predators. Chickens don't prey on much but their feed. They are prey for most other animals. Typically the family pets will get to know chickens and love them like you do, but neighborhood dogs and cats that are roaming free are a threat. Danger can also come from coyotes and hawks. This danger increases at night, so it is important to follow the natural clock of the chickens, guiding them into their roost at sunset and letting them out to roam at sunrise.
• Health. Chickens can carry disease, though, typically, if properly cared-for, they will be disease-free. It is good to take precautions, however. Shoes designated for wearing during chicken care that don't come into the house are a good idea, and frequent cleaning of the poultry house and areas your chickens frequent helps considerably.
Before diving in, it's best to check your local regulations, because they vary widely. Some areas allow any and all chickens, while some prohibit them altogether. Some areas allow hens but not roosters (the crowing is the problem), and some will allow hens only, except for "conjugal visits" from roosters for those who wish to raise a brood of chicks (chicks require special care).
If you're looking for a unique, fun pet that will help you on the path to a more natural lifestyle, chickens are definitely worth a consideration.
This article, written by me, originally appeared on Hybrid Rasta Mama, for whom I write original content. It has been reposted here with permission.