Do Chickens Make Good Pets? – Basic Care Guide

Translated by Nick R

Taking care of a hen at home may seem a crazy idea as we are used to seeing them as country birds, and some people are even terrified at the thought of the disasters they can cause at home. However, with proper care and learning their habits, we can guarantee a good harmony, and here we will show you how to do it.

Why raise a chicken as a pet? 

It could be said that chickens are one of the most domesticated animals by humans, mainly as poultry, since historically they have served as a good source of food with their meat and eggs.

Yet interestingly enough, in some cases, chickens have become life companions for some people, just as a dog or cat might be. So what are the reasons to keep a chicken as a pet?

  • Keeping a hen is not expensive, as most things they need are inexpensive and easily accessible.
  • They have simple needs which makes them easy to care for.
  • Being a farm animal, it is more likely to find veterinary care and medications more easily compared to other species of birds raised as pets.
  • They have excellent intellectual and emotional capabilities and even develop their own personality.
  • You can have your own source of eggs, note that for this you will have to adapt a space, but I’ll show you later.

When should not you keep a hen as a pet? 

Chickens, even though they are easy to care for, will need adequate breeding conditions; let’s remember that they are still animals with instinctive needs.

  • You shouldn’t raise a hen if you don’t have enough space for it to live and roam, such as in a yard or a coop. So forget about having one if you live in an apartment.
  • Cleaning will be one thing you will have to deal with because, even if you have a yard where they can roam, spaces like their coop and cleaning their dust baths are strenuous.
  • The chickens will require you to stay at home full time, to let them out in the yard or to explore their environment and scramble things to eat, as well as to look after their well-being if you let them out.
  • If you have any medical condition such as allergies, you should be careful when raising them, as well as being alert to any type of disease, since these birds can be transmitters of avian flu or other zoonoses.

Which is a better pet, a hen or a rooster?

The breeding of a species such as hens is usually favored towards females, given the benefits that can be obtained from them, such as the laying of eggs for our consumption. However, there are differences that can influence your final decision, including the place where you are going to raise them, whether at home or in a henhouse, where I recommend you do it with more than one, taking into account their behavior.

Characteristics of RoostersCharacteristics of Hens
The main feature of roosters, as you can already imagine, is their morning crowing, the typical kikiriki of every morning that can even extend throughout the day or happen in the early morning.  Since roosters tend to carry an imposing attitude as the head of the coop, their breeding should be in the company of hens, an estimated 4 hens per rooster is suggested if you don’t have much space. However, you should constantly check the rooster’s behavior with the hens to avoid aggression or stress.  Hens are much shyer, therefore, they will have a more submissive behavior in their breeding with a rooster or in the case of being all hens, towards the oldest of the group.  A hen’s crowing will be softer and less intense depending on the situation, when she is in a group she tends to launch small songs so as not to lose sight of the others. Other situations that can lead to her crowing will be when raising her chicks and laying eggs.  Hens can be raised in groups of more hens (without roosters) or alone, as long as their basic and instinctive needs are met. 

Top 3 chicken breeds recommended as pets 

Different crossbreeding and genetic variations have led to the appearance of chicken breeds, some of which are more docile and suitable for breeding as pets. These are:

  • Japanese silky hen or silkie: They are the most popular to have at home. Their particular aspect makes them the favorite of many, and it is not for less, their feathers get to have an aspect similar to hair. They have a gentle and friendly personality, so they are suitable for any person or family.
  • Brahma: These are large hens with three varieties of aspects and color details including white, black and brown. Their personality is calm and affectionate, they are popular for being good layers, and it is estimated that they lay between 5 to 6 eggs per week.
  • Sussex: They are familiar, curious, intelligent, and love attention, and will follow you wherever you go. They are quite large so they are optimal for care away from home.

What do you need to raise a hen at home? 

Space for a hen or a group of hens will be important to avoid causing stress or aggression among them.

Hen House 

Hens in a Coop

It’s recommended that the hen coop be at least 1 square meter per hen, a 6 square meter coop will need 5 square meters.

I recommend building the coop in wood, even if you do it yourself, and take into account factors such as ventilation and safety, also including the layout of the nets inside the coop that should be buried to prevent the entry of any rodent or other animal that can easily pass under them.

It should be located above the ground, in a ventilated place and away from extreme weather conditions. It’s recommended to place the coop above the ground so that the chicken droppings can serve as fertilizer for the soil.

Leave some straw on the ground and place a shelf where your pet can rest, since hens will instinctively sleep in high places that guarantee them safety away from predators.

Remember that, if you decide to raise a single hen, the space where you place her should not be so big, but rather small and cozy; a large space can make her feel insecure.

Drinking trough for hens 

The drinker has to be at the level of the bird’s crop, located under the scruff of the neck.

There are several on the market and it will depend on the number of hens you have. If they are few, a bucket will be enough, but be cautious with the cleaning and daily water change; even if they do not drink all the water, it can be a focus of bacteria and parasites.

Make sure it is far away from rainwater and that it keeps no humidity in its base.

Feeders for hens 

There are a variety of feeders and depending on the quantity you want to keep, you will have to select one, in any case, two of them are the hoppers and the bowls.

  • The hopper will be easier to fill with feed, you can hang it somewhere dry and away from any element that contaminates the food.
  • The bowl will be much more practical, mostly used for chickens, however, if you only have one hen this will be the most optimal.
  • You must check it constantly since it is more exposed to any impurity that may fall into it.

Egg posture 

In the henhouse you should also place a box in which they can lay their eggs, the recommendation is that for every 6 hens you place one, since, if you place several, you run the risk of them adopting the space as a place to sleep and end up getting dirty.

Daily grooming and care of a hen 

Hen bathing

Chickens usually groom themselves to keep their feathers and wings clean, however, a more thorough way of cleaning them is through sand baths, where their own instinct they will roll on their tails and breasts to facilitate the sand to reach their skin.

A fine sand is the best recommendation, one option is diatomaceous earth, which should be placed in a large bowl, depending on the size of your pet.

The benefits of baths with diatomaceous earth are:

  • It’s natural.
  • It allows the cleansing of the excess grease in their feathers and skin.
  • It allows cleaning some impurities, parasites, and insects that can be found in their plumage, even killing larvae.

Cleaning their habitat 

The cleanliness of the spaces and elements used by your hen will guarantee part of her good health, so remember to clean the drinkers and feeders weekly, checking that there are no traces of humidity, excrement or food stuck to them, always using them for their original purposes.

As for the henhouse, clean it once a month, removing the straw and replacing it with a new one.

Likewise, clean everything that may accumulate excrement and feathers, so that dust, mites and perhaps some kind of insects do not accumulate, avoiding your pet from contracting some kind of skin diseases such as acariosis or lice.

Daily habits of the hen 

Like any bird, your hen’s routine will begin at sunrise, you’ll notice by the crowing of the rooster if they live with one, which directs the behavior of their flock.

The daily and primary activity of a hen, since it is not usual for them to play with toys, will be grazing, in which they will spend most of the day until the sun goes down, looking for any kind of food on the ground, crowing among themselves so as not to lose sight of each other. At the end of the day and almost by instinct, they will go to the henhouse to their nests or planks where they will sleep and rest until the next day.

Feeding a hen at home  

The feeding of your hen is a fundamental part of their welfare, remember that they are omnivorous which means that they eat all kinds of food as long as it doesn’t affect their health.

Keep in mind that it is always best to maintain a balanced diet and not abuse a single food that may not meet their nutritional needs.

The most traditional and complete hen food is feed, composed of a variety of food enriched with the necessary nutrients for your new pet.

You can supplement this diet with fruits and vegetables, equivalent to a snack with which they can vary their diet. Some of them are:

  • Vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, carrots, and chard.
  • Seeds such as corn, wheat, oats, or barley.
  • Protein such as peas or beans.

One of the activities that a hen usually does daily is to graze, that is to say, to dig the soil and eat the worms or insects that she finds. For this, you must control the space in which she can do it, away from any danger such as other pets that you have like dogs or cats.

Prohibited foods for hens 

Chickens, even if they are omnivorous, can be in danger by consuming foods that may contain toxic elements for them or simply harm their health for example by a high-fat content, these foods are:

  • Seeds of fruits such as apple or peach.
  • Avocado, due to its high-fat content.
  • Garlic and onions
  • Milk (remember that the only thing your hen should drink is water).
  • Coffee
  • Raw meat

Health care and zoonosis in hens 

Chickens may seem like very easy birds to take care of because of their independence, but be very careful with their habits and care since neglecting any warning signs may result in a disease that may endanger their health and/or the health of other chickens, pets and even the people they live with.

You should know that chickens, being a bird that is in constant contact with humans, have developed the ability to transmit diseases such as avian flu. These diseases are called zoonosis, which is when an animal transmits a disease of its own species to a human.

Hen vaccination

That’s right, to avoid disease outbreaks, hens must be vaccinated, even if they are not raised with many other hens. The vaccines you should apply are the following:

VaccineWeek of application
Marek1 day of life
Coccidia1 day of life
Newcastle – bronchitisWeeks 1 – 2
GumboroWeek 3-4
Newcastle – bronchitisWeek 5-6
GumboroWeek 5-6
Newcastle – bronchitisWeek 8-10
Encefalomielitis – smallpoxWeek 10-12
MycoplasmaWeek 8 o 10
PneumovirusWeek 10 – 12
Coryza – PasteurellaWeek 10 – 12
LaringoWeek 10 -12
HepatitisWeek 10 – 14
SalmonellaWeek 10 -14
Coryza – PasteurellaWeek 10 – 14
MetapneumovirusWeek 10 -14
Newcastle – bronchitis -sbpWeek 10 -15

Remember to mention to your veterinarian that you intend to care for your hen as a pet and not as poultry, because some vaccinations may not be necessary if you are raising her alone or with a few other birds.

Also keep in mind that the above table is only a recommended schedule, not an exact schedule of vaccines, since depending on the place where you are, there may be variations between doses or applications.

Diseases and warning signs in chickens 

Like any other animal, you need to be alert to strange signs in your hen, changes in her habits or appearance will be of importance to react in time and avoid complications, some frequent symptoms of disease in hens are:

If your hen’s behavior becomes lethargic in her roosting place, make sure she is not hatching and pay attention to any other signs of illness.

If her eyes have any discharge.

The beak and nostrils should be dry; you should be alert if you notice any discharge or abnormal breathing or whistling.

Now, some common diseases in hens are:

Bronchitis☐ Fatigue☐ Cough ☐ Runny nose ☐ Watery eyesThere is no exact treatment for this disease, however, it can be prevented or immunity can be built up through vaccination.
NewcastleSymptoms are similar to those of bronchitis, therefore a veterinarian diagnosis is necessary. Some symptoms are sneezing, fatigue, coughing, and hoarse singing.Like bronchitis, the only known treatment is the prevention of the disease through vaccination.
Coccidiosis (parasite)The most common cause is through ingestion of the parasite from other sick animals. Common symptoms are bloody diarrhea or mucoid feces. Unkempt appearance and lethargy.Commercially there are specific dewormers for this type of parasite; you can even provide it as a preventive measure.

Where to adopt a hen? 

Since they are poultry, it is not usual to see them for sale in common pet stores, unless you adopt a colorful chicken, as is common in some countries.

The best place to adopt one will be from a farm or rural area where the sale of hens and roosters is more generalized, although there are stores that specialize in the sale of this type of bird and the treatment of poultry.

It’s important that you check the condition of the coop where your new pet is, because if it is taken from a place where hens are massively raised, there is a risk that it has been more exposed to diseases and infections. Likewise, you should be attentive to any sign of alarm in the bird to avoid taking any sick specimen home.

3 things you didn’t know about chickens 

  • Chickens have shown to be quite intelligent and emotional, getting to know their roles within the coop and responding with empathy to the emotions of others, comparable to the brain of a child or primate.
  • It is among the most abundant birds in the world as of 2017 its population was 22 billion, located especially in Asia.
  • 1,600 chicken breeds have been recognized, all of them the product of domestication, natural selection, and random crossbreeding in poultry houses.