Pet society

What is it like to have pet chickens?

There is an increase in those calling backyard chickens pets. (Photo: Getty Creative)

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the world to shut down in March 2020, we all changed direction. Instead of eating in restaurants, we started sourdough breads and made pasta from scratch. Instead of extracurricular activities after school, we planted gardens and started knitting. Instead of traveling and vacationing, we planted roots where we live.

As we spent this time at home, we found we had more time for the pets. More … than 23 million American households — that’s 1 in 5 nationally — have adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to a May 2021 survey by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The majority of these adopters have opted for traditionally cute and cuddly animals like dogs and cats, but some animal lovers have taken to the skies and flocked to feathered friends: namely chickens. Poultry has become the new pandemic “it” pet.

Kelly Gray is a writer who lives in Asheville, North Carolina and has kept chickens as pets for seven years. “I think the pandemic has spawned more pet chickens because word has gone around about their affectionate and playful nature,” Gray says. “Also because of egg production.”

Recalling how supply chain issues arose almost immediately as shoppers rushed to stores for supplies at the start of the pandemic, Gray says, “I think we all realized that we We needed to be more sustainable and more aware of our food sources.

Phil and Jenn Tompkins started their business, Rent the chicken, in Freeport, Penn., in 2013. The company helps people establish “yard-to-table” eating habits, providing two to four laying hens, a chicken coop, food and water dishes, and food for a rental period of five to six months – so families can enjoy chicken ownership and its rewards without the years of commitment. At any time, chicken tenants can choose to permanently adopt their flock or bring them back to the farm. What started as a small operation now expands to approximately 50 locations across the United States and Canada.

“We thought we had to close our business at the start of the pandemic,” Jenn Tompkins told Yahoo Life. “But we couldn’t be more wrong. Rent The Chicken continued to grow even after [stay-at-home] warrants, due to people deciding to leave congested areas for more scenic areas with more space.

For chicken owners, daily fresh eggs are just a bonus

Tompkins says that while the initial reason people rent chickens is for the eggs, they’re often surprised by the birds’ big personalities and how fun they are to have as pets. Their silly antics and fun sounds make them a delight to have around the house.

Another advantage: chickens are intelligent and can be trained. Radio DJ Bonnie Miller, who lives in Fredericksburg, Va. and has owned chickens for six years, says if she has peanuts in her hands, she can get her five birds to do almost anything. Tompkins says his tenants sometimes hold obstacle courses for their chickens with treats as prizes. The chickens will also come walking up to the door of their house and pecking it.

Miller says his chickens know her. When she gets home, they immediately run to the back deck to look for her. “My listeners [on the radio] I love hearing stories about my hens on the air,” she says. “During the holidays, I decorate my chicken coop with Christmas lights. I bake them a birthday cake every year. They’re my babies and they’re spoiled rotten.”

Virginia-based radio personality Bonnie Miller says she decorates her chicken coop for the holidays and bakes birthday cakes for them.  (Photo: Bonnie Miller)

Virginia-based radio personality Bonnie Miller says she decorates her chicken coop for the holidays and bakes birthday cakes for them. (Photo: Bonnie Miller)

Gray had been involved in animal rehabilitation for a long time before she started raising chickens – including her main man, Willie Pep, a rooster named after the 1920s boxer – but a friend needed to rehome his animals from poultry company and Gray stepped up.

“The funny thing about pet chickens is how friendly they can be and that they’ll cluck and snuggle into your heart if you let them,” says Gray. “These are my first chickens and before adopting them I had no idea how affectionate and intelligent they are – from the excitement of seeing their human friends to the sophisticated language they share with each other.”

Gray says many of his chickens, including his beloved hen, Betty Grable, look more like pets than livestock. They ride in the car with her, snuggle up to other animals on her farm, and become part of her family.

“I had no idea how much the chickens loved their humans until they started following me around and even though I had no food they liked to sit with me,” she says. . “That’s when I bought [a] lawn chair and I would sit in the coop with them for hours, reading, bringing my work or a glass of wine to taste, just interacting with them.”

Before you commit, do your research

Before Miller got involved with her chickens, she checked out all the books she could find on raising and caring for them in her local library. “My husband made fun of me but I wanted to learn everything,” she says. “Chickens are a lifetime commitment.”

Miller also researched online and checked with the city and county on their laws regarding chicken ownership before purchasing a coop and supplies.

“Each municipality has different ordinances and regulations,” Tompkins explains. “It can be very tricky.”

Before bringing pet chickens into your yard, it is important to know the regulations in your area regarding chicken ownership.  (Photo: Bonnie Miller)

Before bringing pet chickens into your yard, it is important to know the regulations in your area regarding chicken ownership. (Photo: Bonnie Miller)

Sometimes hens are allowed, but roosters are not – in Miller’s case, that was true. “Restrictions can also be based on size of property, distance of the barn from the property line, or square footage of the barn based on the number of chickens,” she explains, “and some ordinances use par default a nuisance code based on noise or odor at the property line.”

Tompkins advises anyone thinking about chickens to call their local municipality and ask for their chicken ordinance code information.

Gray agrees, saying chickens require as much care as a dog or other farm animal. “You have to be ready to be chicken parents,” she says. “Cleaning the coop is quite a process, and having fresh litter and a consistently fresh water supply is key to preventing disease and costly treatment,” she says.

It is also important that the chickens have room to move around, but free-range chickens are exposed to many more dangers than confined chickens. “Predators take advantage of the chickens being unprotected,” says Tompkins. “Everyone wants chicken for dinner when all we want is breakfast for our backyard flock.”

When customers receive a chicken ownership package from Rent The Chicken, they receive a portable chicken coop. Tompkins recommends moving it frequently to keep the chickens in a fresh supply of grass and insects for foraging. “Moving the coop also helps prevent dead spots or buildup of droppings, which keeps odors to a minimum,” she adds.

Gray says the thing parents of chickens should be most prepared for is loving them. “Chickens are such a joy,” she says. “I take great pleasure in watching them live their best little lives.”

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