I got started on chickens about twenty years ago, when I first moved to Jay. When I was a kid, I cut my teeth on a bobwhite quail named Cuddles. Quail are similar to chickens, and are in the same order of birds. They are galliforms, and in the pheasant family. So having this quail and a few others, I had always wanted to try chickens. But, living in an apartment and in a town that had ordinances against them, I had to wait to try enjoying chicken keeping as a hobby.
I got my opportunity when I moved to Jay. Jay allows chickens of both sexes to be kept within the city limits. If there is an ordinance, it is one that’s not enforced, as many people here have them. For starters, Simmons Industries is right next to the school and many times, people will rescue the strays that escape from the chicken plant, or fall off of chicken trucks and take them home with them to live out their days as pets, or backyard decorations. And it seems like our little town allowed this years before it became a trend.
I have had many different kinds of chickens off and on through the years. I’ve had silkies, (who look like they have hair instead of feathers), mixed breeds, a white Jersey Giant rooster (my first chicken), barred rocks, white rocks, chicken plant escapees of an unknown breed (likely either Jersey Giant, or a cross between a white rock and Cornish), cherry eggers, BB reds, Rhode Island Reds, Americaunas (who lay green shelled eggs), black Australorps and more. My current backyard flock consists of six birds. Three roosters named Smurf (a white leghorn of American type), Leprechaun (a large, gentle guy who is a golden comet. He’s mostly white with buttery highlights and lacing on his feathers.), and Mike. (A buff Orpington.) My three hens are Noodle (a barred Plymouth Rock), Bindi (a black Australorp), and Rhoda. (a Rhode Island Red.)
I had not had any chickens for a while, until this past spring my ten year old son, who already had a muscovy duck, wanted to try raising chickens too. I let him go to the feed store and pick out eight. (We had another barred rock and another black Australorp until recently, but unfortunately they died due to injuries after being attacked by a dog.)
I had not had any in a while because my former neighborhood had a raccoon problem and no matter how I tried to keep the enclosure they were in secure, a raccoon or possum would almost always get in and kill them. I got tired of going out and finding dead chickens after a raccoon had passed through. I was bound and determined not to provide these as a food source for them anymore, because I hadn’t even gotten the chickens as a food source for myself. I simply wanted them because I like them and enjoy them. I’ve had many kinds of birds over the years, ranging from parakeets, to finches, to guinea fowl. They are all great but chickens are my favorite. It is actually quite relaxing to sit in a lawn chair and watch them laze around and peck at bugs and taking a dirt bath.
This time however when my son brought these birds home, I had forgotten how pleasurable the really could be. I even learned some new things about them that I never knew. This time, with our pet flock, I had joined many forums and groups dedicated to these wonderful birds and made new friends on Facebook who have chickens as HOUSE pets.
Many people don’t know that chickens are actually very intelligent creatures. They have about twenty six or more distinct vocal sounds, and can even be taught tricks if given mealworms as a reward. They can be leash trained, and even wear diapers. Many enjoy sitting in their owner’s laps like a dog and having their feathers stroked.
So you are probably wondering where you can get yourself some chickens. There are many hatcheries and chicken clubs throughout the world one can contact. One can also check the papers for poultry swaps, or people who are selling off some of theirs. There are many books on the subject. There are internet groups and Facebook groups, and many helpful people.
Before you get chickens or ANY animal, it would be best however to research first. Not all chickens are created equal. There are many different breeds and temperaments, some are harder to keep and are more high strung than others. Different breeds have different food requirements. (The Cornish cross for example have issues with their legs and congestive heart failure problems if they are allowed to grow too fast. So they have to be fed a special diet.) Depending on where you live and what size of bird you are getting, they have different housing requirements too. So do your homework.
Roosters get an undeserved bad rap too. Yes, more than one can tend to fight with one another, but there are ways to diminish or eliminate this altogether, if you research the breeds you have in mind first and then read on sections on housing roosters together. I know a lady who has twenty six roosters and never has a problem with fighting. I have three and rarely have a squabble at all. Nobody who has visited my place yet has been flogged. It all boils down to the way they are kept. Not all roosters are mean. My Leprechaun (who got his name because when he came to us as a chick, he had been dyed bright green.) is a cuddle bug. He will sidle up to me and act like he’s going to flog me. But this little dance is a vie for my attention and he’s doing a little dance to impress me. When he does this, I pick him up and he clucks with pleasure as I hug and pet him. He can’t get enough of this affection!
The weather in your area might be a factor too. If you have extremely cold winters, it would be wise to research the types of birds that fare well in cold weather in your area, and to research into winterizing a coop. If you live in a very hot climate, likewise, heat hardy birds should be looked into, and research should be done regarding proper ventilation of their sleeping quarters.
Most importantly, ahead of time, find out if your town allows chickens in the first place before getting any. Many towns OK a certain number of hens, but disallow roosters entirely.
Some towns don’t allow chickens because people complain about odors, noise and mice who get into feed. Well, for starters, the average rooster is much quieter than rush hour traffic. And the only way you’re going to have a problem with odors is if you get more birds than you are able to handle and you aren’t meticulous about cleanliness of their living area. Ditto with the feed. Chickens don’t make mice. Mice can be attracted just as much by a backyard bird feeder. So the way the bird’s food is stored should definitely be a consideration. This is why I cannot stress enough for one to do ample research on chicken keeping before engaging in this very rewarding hobby.
Since there are as many or more breeds of chickens than there are dogs in the world, I would recommend researching the different breeds first. Many of the more reputable hatcheries out there will now list these kinds of things next to a picture of the birds in their catalogs. If you want a house pet, you’d probably be served best by one of the larger gentle breeds, or small bantams. They really aren’t any more or less messy than any other type of bird like a parrot. In fact, chickens are probably cleaner than a small parakeet. But chickens do like to take a dirt bath and some fresh dirt should be provided for them. Keep in mind that chickens are flock animals and if you keep a lone chicken, be prepared to have a bird that is fully and completely committed to YOU.
You can buy birds of all ages and can even buy fertile eggs. But there are pros and cons to each of these. If you want to try to hatch eggs, you must follow incubation instructions CAREFULLY to be successful with it, and a good incubator can be expensive. Even still, it’s difficult to get every egg to hatch under the best of circumstances.
The best option for most people is to purchase young chicks or “teenage” birds who still have down on them, but aren’t quite fully feathered. One doesn’t have to go through the meticulous and sometimes difficult incubation process. But again, if you want this option, a little planning ahead can go a long way and you should have their brooder set up and ready before you go to pick them up. If you’re a responsible pet owner to begin with, this is common sense. (Aquarium keepers will make sure their aquarium is optimal before adding fish: the same could be said of adding chickens to the household.) If these chicks are handled with gentle care, you may end up with some very loyal pets.
Adopting birds that have already achieved adulthood work for some folks but there are pros and cons to that too. One may eliminate all the work of incubating and brooding chicks, but if you want the bird to be a loyal pet, it must be trained to trust you. And you run the risk of never getting the bird to fully take to you. This option works however if you don’t mind that and just want to enjoy the bird as the beautiful creature it is.
In general chickens are not difficult to take care of, but there is work involved, as with any pet. If you don’t take the time to carefully research their diseases, find a vet who has experience with birds, and find out proper brooding, housing and quarantine procedures (for adding new birds to an established flock) and assess their needs, then having pet chickens is not for you. The average chicken can live between three and twenty years, so just be aware that this is a commitment for which one must be fully prepared.
Chicken keeping can be a very rewarding and enjoyable hobby. If you feel confident enough to try to hatch eggs, let hens brood and set eggs (be sure you have a “broody” breed first), try raising more delicate and difficult breeds, or enter them in poultry shows, there are people all over the world who would be willing to help you get started. It has been my experience that chicken owners and admirers are some of the friendliest folks you will ever meet online. They all have one thing in common and that is that they admire their birds and appreciate them for reasons that don’t include what they taste like. It has been my personal experience that chickens make good pets. I have known this since before it became a trend and before Kate Gosselin (who recently obtained a backyard flock) and Martha Stewart’s names were ever known. (Yes, Martha has a flock too.)