Pets, pets, pets. We love them from the tops of their pointy ears all the way down to the tips of their swishy tails. Dogs, cats, and hamsters being the most typical—perhaps a snake, hedgehog, or parrot if you're rather adventurous in your love for animals. I've even known a few to tell lengthy stories of their adorable tarantulas and cockroaches. Yikes!
Whilst we adopt this expansive selection of animals into our homes and families, we often overlook one of the sweetest, softest, and funniest of all the pets: chickens.
Madness, right? Who would have a pet chicken? Surely they belong in your burger or your Friday night selection bucket, not in your garden or, heaven forbid, your house! What do these fluffy farm animals have to offer aside from their meat and eggs? Well, let me tell you, as a long time chicken enthusiast, chickens are some of the most loyal, loving, and luxurious pets to grace our homes; and unlike cats and dogs, they pay rent! Freshly laid eggs for breakfast from your feathered friends—what's not to love?
Initially domesticated in India for cock fighting, chickens have since become the most domesticated bird in the world today. Often regarded as farm animals, their hardy nature allows them to grow and function even in the most horrific conditions. Sadly, these horrific conditions aren't uncommon; large companies monopolising on battery hen farms, even selling their eggs and meat with the class of "free range" when they're not kept in tiny cages. Their version of free range means hundreds, even thousands of chickens being stuffed into barns to trample each other to death. But as information regarding these conditions becomes accessible to the public, charities such as British Hen Welfare Trust and Fresh Start For Hens have emerged, offering hens that are no longer considered prime layers that are destined for the chop a new lease on life.
But what's the point in having chickens for eggs if they don't lay any eggs, you say!? How're they paying rent?
Well, the chickens that these companies no longer want haven't stopped laying, they just don't lay as many eggs as they desire for profit. They usually last a year of laying day in and day out, living in constant horror and abuse, just to be chopped up and thrown out when their bodies can no longer keep up with these unrealistic demands to be put into baby foods, pet food, and processed foods. Not cool, right?
But why should you care? They're just birds. But surely that could be said for any animal. It's "just" a parrot, it's "just" a dog, except we know each individual animal is different. In incidences where a dog attacks a child, we know it's all down to how the dog was raised; although some people would sooner account it to the specific breed, the breed only determines certain attributes.
The same goes with chickens. Whenever you've met a chicken that lacks personality or affection, it's generally due to how they're raised. A chicken that's shown love and affection will show it you in turn, even ex battery farm chickens have a massive capacity for affection. People often underestimate how soft and cuddly chickens can be.
On top of this, chickens are excellent pest control for your flowerbeds! Eating all the unwanted insects without the need for harsh chemicals. They're also excellent recycling companions! Eating scraps and otherwise wasted food and converting it into effective fertilizer for your garden. This helps prevent landfill waste, chemical use, and even reducing battery hen farms and effectively assisting in the reduction of atmosphere pollution created by the egg and meat industry to date.
In fact, one city in Belgium is giving three chickens to over 2,000 homes in efforts to reduce landfill costs. The city expects to regain a majority of the costs saved by reduced household waste thanks to these fluffy friends, easily subsidizing their food costs with scraps from the house that would otherwise take up space in landfills. Chickens can help reduce house hold waste by seven pounds a month.
Even in an urban environment, chickens can greatly improve your life; both mentally and physically. They're excellent, low cost garden maintenance, not only consuming unwanted insects and weeds, but also eating the soft tips of the grass. Because, let's face it, who has time to mow the lawn anymore? Fertilizing the soil to improve desirable plant growth.
Furthermore, chickens have been known to assist as therapy animals for those experiencing Alzheimer's, dementia, psychiatric illness, depression, and autism. Just the simple act of watching chickens has been known to reduce effects of social frustration, anxiety, and emotional distress. There has been increasing campaigns in recent times to bring chickens into care and rest homes for therapeutic purposes. Often chickens will scratch around the garden, take dirt baths and forage, something that's both calming and relaxing to watch, it's assured that if you need to go off and do something else, when you return they'll still be doing the same activities.
The simple act of holding a chicken can also bring calm to those experiencing emotional distress. Their feathers, depending on breed, are usually silky, soft, or fluffy; a purring bundle of warm, fluffy joy. Chickens have even been shown to reduce depression and loneliness amongst the elderly and increasing calming effect on children on the autistic spectrum. Chickens have even been shown to enhance social abilities, play skills, conversation skills, promote self care, and living skills. The act of simply getting up in the morning to let the chickens out, collecting the eggs, and monitoring their progress, helping to bring people out of their enclosed mental states and back out into the physical world.
Considering the stresses of today, with technology and social media taking priority in many people's minds, the simple act of physically taking care of a chicken can help ease distress and depression amongst people of all ages and walks of life.
As someone who personally suffers with mental health issues, I can vouch for the therapeutic benefits of chickens. Their unique personalities and vast variety of breeds and fluffy little butts bring me joy on a daily basis.
Ophelia the Diva
My Araucana hen, Ophelia, would often come up to me in the garden and pull on my trousers for attention, wanting to be picked up and held. Quickly, she would nestle into my arms and make a delicate purring sound as she fell asleep.
Wednesday Snuggling Into the Sofa
My Rhode Island Red rooster, Wednesday, having been hand raised from a day old chick, would often come running when he heard his name called, shadowing me in the garden and around the house, happily nestling into my lap to snooze the day away as I sat watching the TV.
Styx, the Model
Currently, I have Ayam Cemani cockerel called Styx, uniquely named due to his breed, specifically known for its hyperpigmentation that gives him black feathers, black skin, black bones, and black insides. He's an incredibly talkative chicken, often clucking throughout the house, known for his laugh like a crow. With the help of chicken diapers, he's able to roam free—sold on all sorts of websites, even Etsy!
So whether you want a new kind of soft companion to help your mind, an assistant gardener, a helpful waste disposal, an egg maker, or just some characters to watch as you relax about the house, chickens can help in so many different ways.
Peridot, the Silkie
If rehoming battery hens is a far stretch for you at current, incubators are easily accessible (particularly Brinsea) and eggs available on eBay for hatching in a large selection of different breeds. I recently hatched a batch of Silkie Frizzle chickens, a cross between the fluffy Silkie and the rare mutation Frizzle, meaning their feathers grow upwards and out like a pom pom rather than flat and sleek like a usual chicken.
Lapis, the Silkie Frizzle
With the use of a technique called "Candling," it's possible to shine a bright light onto the egg throughout the formation process and watch them grow. This creates a connection to the birds who are no longer simple eggs, but rather growing babies, dependent on your love and care in order to become strong enough to survive the hatching process.
Hatching day is always an invigorating experience; watching new life emerge into the world, delicate and sensitive. Once they dry off into little fluffy chicks, the house is filled with their adorable peeping and every day feels like Easter. It's so much easier to bound out of bed in the mornings knowing that adorable cotton ball babies are waiting for you.
So whether you want to rehome an innocent hen destined for the slaughter, or to bring new, beautiful life into the world, chickens allow you to do both. They're so much more than food, and so much more intelligent and loving than the meat industry would have you believe. Next time you're considering getting a new pet, perhaps consider these versatile and helpful birds as a new addition to your family.