Some might view chickens as strictly farm animals. But it’s relatively common for homes in the suburbs and cities to have pet chickens as well. There are many chicken breeds to choose from, including ISA Browns, Wyandottes, Silkies, Rhode Island Reds, and Brahmas. These breeds range in colouring, size, and egg production.
They do need appropriate care and attention though, like any other pet. Chickens need space for their housing, a healthy diet, safety, and security. They are social flock animals, so you will need to get more than one. They usually aren’t aggressive but might peck or scratch if they feel threatened or uncomfortable. Because they are prey animals, they typically should be kept away from other household pets, such as dogs and cats, that can cause them stress or injury.
They will need room to move around, getting some exercise and allowing them to explore their living area and live a relatively normal life, including being able to do the things chickens enjoy like dust bathing, scratching, foraging, and perching. They need shelter against the weather, predators, and somewhere comfortable to sleep.
Local council regulations might restrict the number and type of chickens you can keep, and where you can keep them, and specific rules around noise, odour, and pest control. For example, many councils ban the keeping of roosters, peacocks, and guinea fowl in suburban areas.
So, what do you get in return?
Well, firstly, they will give you fresh eggs in return for your care. A flock of four hens can give you as many as 20 eggs a week (depending on the type, health, and age of the hens): two more chickens, and that’s nearly 30 eggs each week!
Next, they can learn to be comfortable around humans, especially if they’re gently handled from a young age. Many come to enjoy petting and being around the people who care for them. Some are comfortable with being picked up while others prefer not to be contained.
Chickens are great at recycling vegetable food scraps, love foraging and eating insects in your yard, and can help with turning over compost for your veggie patch.
They are fun and educational companions for young families with kids, and they provide great company for gardeners doing their rounds.
Chickens can live a relatively long time. While most chickens live 4-7 years, it’s common for a hen in a backyard setting with good care to live 8-10 years. However, some hens may live even longer than this! (High egg producing breeds such as ISA Browns and Hybrid lines often have a shorter lifespan of between 3-5 years.)
So, are chickens the right pet for you? If so, what sort of chicken is right for you?
Ekarius C (2007) Storeys Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds. Storey Pub