Chickens as Pets
Chickens really can make wonderful pets, they are intelligent and entertaining, quick to make friends with their human carers and the vast majority of hens are very gentle.
Not only do they make rewarding companions but they come with the added bonus of providing eggs for the family!
What Breed of Chicken Should I Choose?
There are many varieties of chicken to choose from, starting with breeds such as the tiny Dutch Bantams all the way up to the massive breeds such as the Jersey Giant.
Whether one keeps hybrids or a pure breed is entirely down to personal preference. It is also worth bearing living conditions in mind – some pure varieties are not so hardy when it comes to free ranging in the garden. The lifespan also varies between breeds, average life expectancy for a chicken is anywhere from 6 to 12 years, generally speaking the smaller the breed the longer it lives.
The most common varieties for the backyard layer are the hybrids, non-show varieties created by crossing particular breeds of chicken, such as the Black Rock which is produced from a Rhode Island Red cock and a Barred Plymouth Rock hen. Hybrids tend to be much better layers, some continuing to lay every day even throughout Winter so producing 250-300 eggs yearly. These varieties do not breed true.
Pure Breed Chickens
Pure breed chickens will breed true and can be used for exhibition, however they will not lay every day and do have more of a tendency to “go broody” – i.e. stop laying and refuse to leave the nest. Typically they will lay 100-250 eggs per year but this varies greatly from one individual to the next.
Where to Source your Chickens
Ideally one should obtain chickens directly from a breeder or from a rescue centre (e.g. the British Hen Welfare Trust). A few hybrids are generally the best start for a beginner.
Pet shops are probably best avoided, as the conditions in which the birds were bred cannot be seen. Auctions should certainly be avoided unless you are very experienced and know exactly what you are looking at (for instance it is not unknown for cocks to be auctioned as hens), even then they are hazardous as the risk of spread of disease at such events is quite high.
The safest option is usually to find a producer of the breed/hybrid that you want and visit them to meet the birds and see the environment. The breeder should also be able to show you how to clip the feathers on a wing to reduce the risk of free range birds escaping, should you wish to do so.
The age of chickens when they are sold varies, as a beginner it is usually best to get point of lay (POL) hens, or hens that are just coming up to POL. POL is usually around sixteen to twenty weeks in hybrids, but will be later in pure breeds.
While it is possible to buy chicks, these have special care requirements and are not suitable for beginners. Rescue hens such as those from British Hen Welfare Trust are obviously older.