Let me introduce our gorgeous city chickens: Princess, Singapore and Sunflower. Singapore is the black one, still occasionally called “he” although reliably proving the opposite every morning. Sunflower (on the left) has brown feathers, lays the biggest eggs and is first in the pecking order – meaning she is the boss! Princess is our daughter’s darling, brown too, but laced with more white feathers than Singapore. If you consider keeping pet chickens in your backyard, here is our story:
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Why Keep Pet Backyard Chickens?
For quite a while, our kids were asking if they could have a pet, as most kids do. We’ve tried to settle for a fish, but “we can’t play with a fish!” was the answer. Fair enough. For a dog or a cat, we neither have time nor space. Children usually promise to help and take care of pets, but as soon the novelty wears out, they become parents’ full time responsibility. So we needed an easy-care pet that stays outside and can be left on its own for a few days when we are away.
After months of thinking and debating it dawned on me: pet chickens! On our last year’s trip to Europe, the kids really enjoyed playing with little chickens at their grandparent’s home. Feeding the big ones and collecting the eggs was fun too. And the eggs were excellent.
Keeping pet chickens has many benefits:
- Fresh and tasty eggs with a deep yellowy–orange colored yolk
- Cheap to keep
- Simple to care for
- Eat kitchen scraps and leftovers – best composting system
- Produce top manure for the veggie garden (needs to be composted first)
- Chickens are sustainable pets
- Kids love to feed them and to collect the eggs
- Numerous psychological benefits for kids as with any other pet
- If everything is properly set up at the beginning, need only 10-15 min of your time daily
- Pet backyard chickens are a lot of fun!
Our chickens came from the kinder our daughter attends. Just as I started searching for a place to buy them, they had a chicken hatching program: the eggs that are about to hatch are delivered in the incubator and kids care for the chickens for the next ten days. Afterward, they are either given away for free or taken back to the farm. Good intentions, but would be even better if the program has the mother hen sitting on the eggs. It would be a great deal more natural.
Keeping Chickens as Pets: Some Points To Consider
If the idea of pet chickens appeals to you, there are a few things to think about before getting them into your backyard. For the start check the following:
- The first thing if living in a city is to confirm your city council allows chickens. Our council’s rule is six chickens maximum and no rooster.
- Do you have enough space: allow a minimum of one square meter per chicken and at least two chickens (they are social beings and don’t like to be alone).
- As with any other pet, there is the responsibility for your pet chickens’ wellbeing: protecting them from the elements and predators, feeding them, keeping the area clean, etc. After all, you want happy and healthy chickens.
- Will the chickens be close to the neighbors, would they object?
Have a tick for all the above? Great! The next step is research. Read a book or two on chicken keeping and search the Internet. Without going into too many details, you need to decide what breed to buy, where to buy, do you want day old chickens or point of lay (when they are about to begin laying, 5-6 months old) chickens, etc. A book or a comprehensive website will give you an idea about the info you need.
I didn’t have any experience with keeping chickens other than feeding them and collecting the eggs as a little girl while on weekends at my grandparent’s place. All that is written here is coming from our experience and let me tell you, having chickens is really fun and rewarding! I meant to write about them earlier, but was waiting to see if they survive us :-)! There will be more about our city chickens in the future, meanwhile enjoy our chickens’ pictures: our city girls are mad about sunflower seeds!
I didn’t really write a lot about our pet chickens in the past three years. They’ve deserved more space on this blog, however.
Update on Our Pet Chickens
I didn’t really write a lot about our pet chickens in the past three years. There has been a major change, and thus the update.
We got three chickens in October 2008. They are wonderful pets, and very useful, too. It was fun playing with them when they were tiny, and very exciting when they laid their first eggs and made great companions while gardening.
Sunflower, the boss, was sick several times but pulled through. Singapore, the black one, and Princess (last in the pecking order) were always healthy. About this time last year, Sunflower stopped laying after a few months of a steady decline. The other two were still laying pretty regularly. At that time, I thought it was her age and was happy to keep her. She has deserved a decent retirement.
How The Pecking Order Affects Your Chicken
After stopping with the laying, Sunflower was looking the most beautiful of the three. Singapore and Princess had molted and compared to Sunflower, they looked like poor stepsisters. Still, everything was fine in our backyard. Till one very early summer morning. We were woken up by a terrible noise coming from the chicken coop. The first thought was something has attacked our chickens! I ran out only to find that they are fighting each other. To be precise, Sunflower and Princess were attacking Singapore. I had to rescue the poor thing.
In the days (and months) to come, we tried everything to solve the problem. The noise was unbearable some mornings. We (and our neighbors) were at our wits’ end. Each time we tried to get them together, the same thing happened. Singapore slept in at the time empty compost bin. She was so distressed, she stopped laying altogether, but started again after being separated for about a month. We couldn’t figure out what is the cause until we found out more about the pecking order:
Pecking order positions are formed when a flock member confronts another, or if they confront a group. Whoever backs down falls in the pecking order.
If a chicken is sick or injured, other chickens will likely take advantage of their diminished health to gain status, sometimes en masse, sometimes through violent or even deadly means.
Sunflower not feeling well
It was the end of March when we noticed that Sunflower isn’t feeling herself. We were still trying to get the girls together occasionally, but she wasn’t up to any attacks anymore (Princess still was!). She was losing weight. Her health deteriorated slowly but surely. Mid-April she hardly walked. I had to feed her and give her water. We could see that her end is near and prepared the kids for what was coming.
Sunflower died on Easter Monday. It was sad, especially for the kids, but it’s a normal part of life and they have witnessed the whole life cycle. She is buried in our garden.
The attacks continue…
Being left with two chickens, we were hoping they would get along better. It was a long process of gradual supervised socialization, which worked sometimes, but sometimes was not. For a few days, it would be peace, but we never knew when would we need to jump at 6 am to separate them.
As the reconciliation didn’t quite work and we couldn’t figure out what has poor Singapore done to deserve this treatment, we needed plan B. Plan A was to keep our city chickens well into their old age. The only acceptable option was to find them a new home. After a few months of searching, a friend offered to take them to the family farm.
The tree change…
When the day came for their move, I packed our two chickens in cardboard boxes with some soft hay and plenty of food for their one-hour drive. The kids said goodbye to them earlier and I tried to sneak them out. But when our daughter spotted me, she broke into tears that lasted…long. Another life lesson. It took a while to get used to the empty coop.
Pet Chickens Retirement
Our chickens arrived safe and sound to their new home. Both integrated well into the flock and have been introduced to a rooster for the first time. They love to spend the day in the paddock with the cows and have adapted well to country life.
We still miss them: the fresh eggs, jumping on the window sill to watch us at breakfast, polishing all the fruit and veggie scraps and the compost with extra manure boost… Whenever I throw their favourite food into the compost like watermelon rinds, tomato seeds, corn cobs, etc, I wish they are closer so I can take it to them.
For now, there are no plans to have new chicks due to plans in the near future. Although we had all this trouble, we would love to keep chickens again as they are truly wonderful pets.