Raising an Indoor Pet Chicken
Think Outside the Coop When Raising Chickens
By Wendy E.N. Thomas – We never had any intentions of raising an indoor pet chicken, but it’s funny how life goes sometimes. Our indoor pet chicken experience started when I brought to our home in New Hampshire, a newly hatched Black Copper Marans chick found at a Poultry Congress — in January. The chick had deformed feet, a genetic condition, and she was destined to be culled by her breeder.
Wanting to give her a chance, I took her home and performed surgery to separate her toes. Our chick, whom we named “Charlie” in anticipation of her breed’s gorgeous chocolate colored eggs, recovered well from the surgery. With a little bit of physical therapy, she was walking and roosting with no problems. She was, however, far too young to be released into our coop and with the temperatures below zero, she was woefully underprepared to be outdoors. In all of our years owning chickens, we never imagined that she would become such an important part of our family.
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As a result, Charlie ended up living in our house as a pet for the next six months.
As it would happen, the previous fall two of our three Maltese dogs had unexpectedly died leaving our remaining pup, Pippin, confused and lost. Pippin welcomed Charlie and the two of them soon became the best of friends. Following each other around the house and taking naps together, Charlie would tuck in while Pippin curled around her before they slept.
Charlie soon learned to navigate the house. If the TV were on, she’d come running in to perch on our shoulders to watch the show. The banging of pots and pans that heralded dinner was a signal for her to race into the kitchen in hopes that a piece of lettuce or maybe a scrap of cheese would have fallen to the floor. And when she knew I was working, she’d sit in an improvised nest made from a drawer set by my computer, content to be near and watching as I wrote.
An indoor pet chicken in the house soothed my mama hen worries about my sick child away from home, a dog missing his mates, and some children who after having grown up with older brothers around, were now feeling the loss of balance that rocks even the sturdiest of houses when the chicks start leaving the nest. If it weren’t for the constant poop and dander from her feathers, Charlie would have made a perfect pet.
Our indoor pet chicken was unexpected and I kept her in the house longer than necessary for several reasons that ended up bringing out the protective mama hen in me. I was willing to put up with a house chicken a lot longer than my husband was, but as marriage is a series of compromises, at six months, I started the transition of Charlie to our outdoor chicken coop.
Are you thinking about having an indoor pet chicken? If you are, there are some things you need to consider (just as you would before getting any kind of pet) before you get one.
Why Do You Want an Indoor Pet Chicken?
If you think having a house chicken would make you “cool” in the chicken world, then forget about it. A house chicken is a pet and could easily become a family member; don’t take that responsibility lightly.
For those who raise chickens, house chickens usually start as an injured bird. That’s exactly what happened to Jonica Bradley of Clarendon, Texas. She tells the story of finding a rooster that had just shown up in her yard. When she caught the rooster, she discovered that his leg was cut and he had a lot of feathers missing. “In that neighborhood (at the time, she was living in California) it was a strong possibility that he was used as a fighting rooster. His spurs had been clipped and there were scars where it looked like blades had been tied on.”
She explained. The rooster, whom she named Chaunteleer, lived in the bottom drawer of her dresser for two weeks. “I had him in my bedroom (where the best light was) and opened the drawer to get a towel. He climbed right in. As soon as he was recovered, I put him in the yard, but he would get back in the house (maybe the bathroom window?) and just lie down in front of the dresser. I started keeping the drawer open for him.” Bradley solved the problem of her rooster wanting to come back by finally getting some hens for him.
“He liked living outside after that.”
How Long Are You Prepared to Keep the Chicken?
A well cared for chicken can live seven to nine years. While most people have house chickens for only a while, usually long enough for the bird to recover from an injury or illness, and when strong and old enough, they are transitioned to an existing flock, others see house chickens as long-standing pets, and have no desire or inclination to “kick them out of the house.”
For Stephanie Murdock in Central Point, who raises show Silkies, it all started with a chick named Harley, who couldn’t walk. She figured if he could eat, drink, and talk, he should live. She bought him into the house and put him in a plastic tub, hand-feeding him four to five times a day. Now that the bird is older, he cuddles with her on a towel and they watch TV together. “He talks to me, I brush him with a flea comb, scratch the places he can’t reach, and looks around at everyone else in the room like, “Look at me I am so spoiled and you are not”.”
That was the beginning of her house chickens. “I loved cuddling with them and listening to them chatter and cluck. I also have a hen named Henny in the house. She is diapered and follows me all around the house clucking and chattering to me as we go. Both Henny and Harley have been babysitters for chicks and other injured animals. There have also been special show birds diapered in the house to grow out their feet feathering and keep them bright white.”
What are the Benefits of Having an Indoor Pet Chicken?
Charlie was an unexpected calming presence in a whirlwind storm of my chicks leaving the nest, death of family dogs, and a son who was desperately ill.
With Josephine Howland, Albany New Hampshire, her house chicken, Lil’ Chick who came into the house when predators attacked the flock and she got injured, provides the benefits of not only routinely delivered eggs right inside the bathtub, but also of cooing to “delight the soul.” Howland also found that the daily interactions between her dog, cat, and chicken were “amusing to watch.”
And then there is the undisputed therapeutic value of chickens as pets. Murdock told of her situation: “I have Fibromyalgia and spend a lot of time in bed or on the couch, all of my chickens are therapy. The house chickens are like miracle medicine for my pain. They cuddle in my lap and talk to me sweetly; it helps me relax and forget how much pain I am in.” Murdock also explained that because her chickens need her it motivates her to keep moving when she might feel like giving up. “They are also a great source of entertainment for the whole family. Their little personalities are so much fun.”
Raising an Indoor Pet Chicken: Where Will A Chicken Stay?
Our chicken, Charlie, had a full range of our first (uncarpeted) floor. At night we fixed a cage for her with a roosting bar and we’d put her to bed before we went up for the night. Some people restrict their chickens to certain rooms, others don’t seem to care.
Howland’s Lil’ Chick had full access to her house, but the chicken mainly stayed in the bathroom, where she liked to perch on the shower curtain. And of course, Murdock, who diapers her chickens, lets them have free range of the house. “They will wander around and visit everyone as they see fit. They are just like cats: curious, aloof sometimes, cuddly, sweet, and easy to care for.”
How Are You Going to Handle Poop Management With Your Indoor Pet Chicken?
Chickens poop — a lot. Some breeds can poop up to every 30 minutes. When we had Charlie in the house, I tried clicker training, treat training, and even used chicken diapers, but nothing worked for us other than following her around and cleaning the mess as it came.
Others deal with poop management differently. Howland let her chicken roost in the bathroom on the shower curtain bar, which according to her made poop clean up easy as most of it fell into the bathtub, which was covered with newspaper. Others like Murdock have successfully used chicken diapers. She states that diapers for chickens work perfectly. They come with liners and are easy to clean. She changes the liner regularly. “My home does not smell like chicken poop and most people do not even know I have chickens in the house until they see them.”
What About Vacations When You’re Raising an Indoor Pet Chicken?
Just like any other pet, you’ll have to make plans for your house chicken when you go on vacation. There aren’t many hosts who are willing to accept a chicken in their houses. If you’ve raised a chicken in the house, you can’t just put her in the coop for a few days while you’re gone; she would be pecked mercilessly by the other chickens. Instead, you’ll either need to hire a chicken sitter or take them with you and in the case of Howland, run the risk of being stopped by the police for speeding and hoping that the officer doesn’t look to see a dog, a cat and a chicken in the back seat of your car.
We loved having our chicken Charlie in our house and letting her be a part of our lives. She still lives in our coop with the rest of the flock, and to this day we find her inside — popping in for a chat if a door has been left open. While she was a guest in our house, Charlie was a valuable addition to our family. I have absolutely no regrets and although I’m not looking for one, if circumstances presented themselves, I would gladly have another indoor pet chicken in our home.
An indoor pet chicken can be a wonderful pet who can bring entertainment, joy, and calm to your family. If you are prepared to do the maintenance, you just might find that a house chicken is a fine feathered friend indeed.
Do you have any experience with keeping an indoor pet chicken? Leave a comment here and share your stories with us! (We want ’em all – the good, the bad, the feathery.)
Originally published in the October/November 2013 issue of Backyard Poultry.