June 1, 2020

Exotic & Pocket Pets

Pet Chickens – 3 Things You Should Know

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

Have you ever thought about having chickens as pets? To some, it may sound like an unusual pet to have, but having pet chickens can be quite fun and rewarding! Some of you may know this about me already, but I have a small flock of 6 chickens at my house. And I love having them! It does take a little bit of work, but keeping chickens can be something that you may fall in love with, too!

What other pet of yours can actually help to make food for you? A chicken can! Typically, most chickens kept as pets are of the egg-laying variety. Chickens can start to lay eggs as young as 6 months of age. They may take a “vacation” day from laying now and then, but chickens can potentially produce up to one egg a day. Studies show that the average chicken produces 250-300 eggs per year. That’s a lot of omelets!

1. Do Your Research

Rhode Island Red chicken

When choosing chickens, do some research into which chicken variety is best suited for your location and lifestyle. If egg laying will be their primary job, then you will want a typically hearty layer like a Rhode Island Red who is known for laying but also has a friendly disposition. If you want fancy or pretty looking chickens, maybe a Silky chicken is more your style. And if you are looking for a particular color of the egg, look for chickens lay that colored eggs. The Ameraucanas produce beautiful blue eggs.

Even if you live in the city, you may still be able to keep chickens. Please check with your city or township to check on their specific rules of chickens. Most cities in town will allow typically 2-3 chickens as pets. Other, more rural areas may allow 6 or more depending on the zoning of your property. Check on the rules for your area before you decide to get chickens. If you are caught in violation, you may incur fines and other penalties. And, once you get your cute little chickens, you aren’t going to want to see them leave.

2. Provide Shelter for Your Pet Chickens

While most people don’t keep their pet chickens in the house, chickens do require a house of some kind. When planning your chicken coop, make sure it is secure enough to protect them from outside predators such as raccoons and dogs. You also want to make sure that it has good ventilation, and you will need a way to protect your chickens from the extreme hot and cold temperatures that may be in your area.

Make sure that there are multiple nesting boxes or nesting spaces in your coop to allow for your chickens to lay eggs. These nesting boxes, as well as the floor of the coop, can be lined with bedding which typically is wood shavings or straw hay. This allows a comfortable spot for the chickens but is also easy to clean and change. Chickens also enjoy access to an elevated roosting perch. This allows them to get off the ground and feel “protected” while in their

3. Understand Your Chickens’ Dietary Needs

Polish chick

A well-balanced diet is essential to keep your chickens happy and to keep your chickens producing eggs. There are many different brands of formulated chicken feeds available at your local farm supply stores or local feed mills. Choose the type of food that correlates with your bird’s lifestyle. For example, birds that are laying eggs will need some form of a layer diet, this diet is formulated differently from a chick diet. Hens need adequate nutrients in the egg-producing time of their lives.

Other things such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains can be used as treats for your chickens (in moderation). My chickens go crazy for strawberries and blueberries! You can also buy dried mealworm treats to provide a protein-filled snack for your birds. Chickens will also graze on grassy areas, weeds, and any bugs that they can find. Make sure that you have “chicken proofed” the area where you have your chickens living and roaming, otherwise, they may get into your favorite flower beds or eat plants that may be toxic to them.

Consider the Benefits of Pet Chickens

Chickens can be such rewarding pets. Not only are they entertaining to watch, but they also can be very friendly and they can help provide food in the form of eggs for the family. Make sure you do your research before getting chickens to make sure that you are ready for what they need to keep them happy and healthy but to also make sure what the laws are in your area. I never thought that I would have chickens and now I can’t imagine not having a small flock. I bet you will love your chicken adventure just as much as I do!

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.