Monday, April 4, 2011

Sue Weaver: House Chickens

Chickens in the house? Yes, indeed. Or so say a legion of happy chicken keepers at the free, fun, and charming housechickens e-mail group at YahooGroups. Not all of the group’s 535 subscribers keep house chickens, but a high percentage do. Their charges range from teensy Seramas to Silkies (a favorite with house-chicken keepers) to barnyard roosters and rescued battery hens.

If the thought of house chickens seems bizarre, consider this: As one avid house-chicken keeper told me, “The only difference between a chicken and a parrot is $3,000,” and it’s true. We’re used to thinking of chickens in terms of meat and eggs, but chickens are intelligent, ultrapersonable, and friendly; they’re no bigger or messier than large parrots or cockatoos; and you needn’t break the bank to buy or keep them.

Sam (a Blue Silkie) and L. C. (Little Cat) of Brown Egg Blue Egg
© Alan Rassillon

A major difference is that few house chickens are caged, though some have cages or airline kennels for overnight use and for standby when their humans are away from home or can’t watch them. They needn’t be caged, thanks to chicken diapers: neat, pouchlike contraptions designed to catch their droppings. Ruth Haldeman, founder of of Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been custom-crafting them since 2002. Ruth, who calls her website “a clean place for chickens and their humans to sit” (don’t miss the five-page house-chicken photo gallery), is a longtime member of the housechickens Yahoo group.

Benjamin Byrd, a.k.a. Benji, models a chicken diaper.
© Kevin Tschida

Another housechickens member and avid house-chicken booster is Alan Rassillon, PhD, of Brown Egg Blue Egg, one of the most useful chicken information websites online. A breeder of Bearded Silkies and Bantam Aracaunas, he invites you to read the real-life house-chicken stories archived at his site; then you’ll see why house-chicken keepers adore their avian friends.

Adult chickens raised with other chickens are easily tamed and can make good pets; many house chickens move indoors as ill or injured members of backyard flocks and stay. However, starting with a baby chick or two usually works best. You can buy small numbers of chicks from breeders and at farm-store chick days, but an ideal place to purchase a few healthy peeps, particularly of rare and heritage breeds, is My Pet Chicken, where you can also order everything, including diapers and poultry panties (diapers have disposable liners, panties don’t), needed to raise and keep them.

Sam and L. C. pose with their friend Yoshiko
© Alan Rassillon

However, check your local zoning laws before committing to a chicken; laws vary greatly from place to place. Some municipalities that allow a few backyard hens forbid keeping them indoors or as household pets. If you live in town, choose a pullet instead of a cockerel. Neighbors frown on crowing roosters, even if they're kept indoors.

Once you have your future house chicken, take her out of her brooder often and spend time holding her and stroking her head and chest. When she gets older, gently stroke her wattles; this is a surefire way to a pet chicken’s heart.

Flower gazes at the camera while Benji shows off his cool camo diaper.
© Kevin Tschida

Plan to diaper your bird. Any chicken with stiff tail feathers can wear a diaper. Stiff, diaper-securing tail feathers usually form by the time a chick is four weeks old. It’s hard to beat Ruth’s diapers for adjustability and quality, but if you prefer you can make your own.

House chickens aren’t for everyone, but if the thought appeals to you, join the housechickens YahooGroup to see what it’s all about. Then try it! You’re sure to fall in love with a smart, cuddly house chicken, and your chicken is sure to fall in love with you.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

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