When we visited Hoover’s Hatchery before the pandemic, we noticed a sticker saying, “Yep, I talk to my CHICKENS”. Those words started us thinking. Do chickens make good pets?
Chickens are amazing and unique animals. With the possible exception of ducks and rabbits, they are the only farm animals that mesh well with suburban lives. Most American homes are built on quarter acre lots. With neighbors close and yards small families can’t keep sheep, cattle, or hogs.
Chickens are different. Needing little space, they shine as suburban food producers happy to recycle kitchen scraps as they gift a family with delicious eggs. But, can they be pets?
Well, it depends on perspective and the person. Huge commercial egg and broiler producers see chickens as, essentially, industrial animals that efficiently convert feed to eggs and meat to be sold at profit.
At the other end of the spectrum some people make pets of their chicken or chickens. We’ve heard of a woman living in a New York City apartment who takes her chicken on walks. The bird is on a leash and wears a diaper to avoid fouling the sidewalk.
That’s extreme, but chickens are intelligent, live eight to ten years, and sometimes seem affectionate to their human caretaker. If a dog, cat, bunny, guinea pig, goldfish or canary can be a pet, why not a chicken?
Our chickens at Winding Pathways fall somewhere between pets and production. We take good care of them and know they recognize us when we enter the coop. Every morning we say, “Good morning girls,” when we open the pop hole door. When we gather eggs we say, “Thanks.” Every day we toss them special treats, either a handful of sunflower seeds or mealworms. Chickens can’t smile but if they could we know ours would.
We don’t consider them pets. Our Hoover’s Hatchery contact, Kelsey Spotts, grew up on an Iowa farm and expressed our feelings. “I often liked our calves and was sad when they went to market, but our family never gave names to any animal we might eat or sell,” she said.
That’s how we feel. Our chickens are faithful companions. We like them and hope they like us. We give our birds a safe home and good food. Every few years it’s time to replace them with younger, more productive birds. It’s sad but necessary to see our faithful layers go.
We don’t give individual birds names but can identify them by breed. A dinner conversation might begin something like, “The Barred Rock did the silliest thing today….”
Chickens can be pets. Good pets. They can form a production flock of thousands of birds solely kept to produce food. Or, like our flock, they are productive and respected companions that are somewhere between pets and utility. Any of these relationships is OK.