Are chickens the new popular pet?

chicken
CC BY 2.0 David Goehring

Cuddly, gentle, and low maintenance, there's a lot to love about these feathery fowl.

Chickens are reveling in a new level of status these days. They’ve gone from being mere egg-layers, viewed as a practical part of the food chain, to beloved household pets. Pedro Moreira of the Surrey Poultry Society told The Guardian, “A lot more of our members are treating [chickens] as pets, particularly those with young children.”

People are often surprised to discover that chickens have personalities, that they can grow quite attached to humans, and are delightfully curious about the world around them. Kathy Shea Mormino, who recently published The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens, says it was a surprise to realize how pet-like chickens can be. Hen owner Lucy Deedes agrees:

“If I’m lying in the garden on a sunny day they come and flop beside me and when the dog jumps in the car to go somewhere, I’ll see the chickens standing there, thinking, ‘Shall we hop in, too?’”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, when you stop to think about how meat-eating humans compartmentalize their feelings about certain animals, classifying some as edible and others as lovable, without a lot of overlap. Chickens are beginning to challenge some of those notions, as eating a named family pet is more than a little awkward.

I’ve learned a lot since getting my first tiny flock of backyard chickens earlier this summer. Mine are a Canadian breed called Chantecler, which I chose for its resistance to cold – a necessity in this snowy, windy part of Ontario, Canada. What has been slightly disappointing, though, is how shy my hens continue to be; there is no running to meet me or the kids when we come outside bearing food scraps. The farmer told me that chickens’ personalities are almost entirely breed-driven, so if I’d understood this better, I might have gotten a more exuberant variety.

chickens© K Martinko

Still, our birds are wonderfully cuddly and their feathers silky-soft. I love the way they melt into my arms after I’ve been holding them for a few minutes, like a heavy hot-water bottle, all the while making bright-eyed observations about the world. They all have names – Popsicle, Thea, Jemima, and Hannah – although, to be honest, Hannah is the only one whose identity we’re sure of because she’s smaller than the rest.

Chickens make great pets because they’re low maintenance. They need only to be let in and out of their coop each day and fed; otherwise, they’re content to wander, forage, and dust-bathe – all while producing the most delicious eggs you’ve ever tasted.

The Guardian predicts that human-chicken relations are on the upswing and that the backyard chicken population of the UK, which has held at 500,000 since 2010, will soon pick up. If you’re interested in hen dramas, check out New Zealand’s newest “cutthroat” film, “Pecking Order.”

Tags: Animals | Birds | Pets

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