Yellow Chicken House

Chicken Keeping – The good, the bad and the egg-ly!

The Anxiety of Keeping Pet Chickens

on January 14, 2016

I am a huge advocate of keeping pet chickens particularly given the extensive (and growing) range of products on the market for giving hens the home and life they deserve. I have kept chickens for almost 3 years now and can honestly say that they have enriched and benefited my life in a number of ways. Firstly, and most obviously, they have given me fresh eggs which is a huge novelty in the early stages as well as being a great talking point when you have visitors over. But more importantly, they have helped me to develop a renewed appreciation for the simpler things in life. I have sat on the lawn and watched my girls painstakingly examining every grain of dirt at their feet in the hope of finding a worm or some minuscule insect which makes all the hard work worthwhile. I can call out “CHICKENS” and watch them half running/half flying towards me in anticipation of some treat. I have sat in the garden, sketchbook in hand, and tried to capture their playfulness, curiosity and calming influence which has ultimately led to the creation of greetings cards and gifts featuring my chicken-inspired artwork.

However, there is a darker side to chicken-keeping which is easy to overlook in the early stages. For those of us who see their hens as pets rather than just feathery egg-machines, chicken-keeping can be a huge source of worry and anxiety. It is an unpleasant reality that chickens can and do get ill, particularly as they age. I am finding it harder and harder to overlook the fact that my girls are getting older and consequently slower.

Cookie is currently showing signs of an unknown illness for which I intend to consult a vet tomorrow.

cuddling a chicken

Cookie has never been much of a ‘lap chicken’ but illness seems to have changed her

Buffy just experienced her most serious and painful looking moult yet.

Shelley spends more and more time resting and takes the steps down to the lawn rather than attempting the steep jump that she used to.

I have also come to realise how valuable it is to have trusted friends who will care for your hens when you need to go away. My hens are as important to me as my much-loved pet cat so it is hard for me to comprehend when I am asked what I will ‘do’ with my chickens when they stop laying. I will ‘do’ as I have always done – love them and care for them in the best way I can. I am woken in the night by the slightest noise…the clatter of a branch against the fence…the scraping of an empty plant pot grazing the ground as it is carried around by the wind… My mind immediately spins into action – are the chickens okay? I have an Eglu Go from Omlet which is reassuringly fox proof but still, the worry of predators is a constant presence in my mind. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much and therefore restricting my girls freedom? These are questions which I have found to be open to fierce debate amongst chicken keepers.

In my small flock of three, I have experienced respiratory illness, scaly leg mite, problematic laying, blood

speckledy chicken moulting

The worst moult yet…Buffy bares all.

on egg shells, violence, bullying, worms, lash eggs/pus, severe moults, abnormal stools, persistent broodiness and soft-shelled eggs…problems which have arisen from 3 hens in the space of less than 3 years! I have found magazines such as ‘Your Chickens’, ‘Practical Poultry’ and online bloggers such as The Chicken Chick to be a valuable source of information when dealing with these issues and would never give up on my girls no matter what the issue – but the sense of worry is inevitable from such things.

I am not writing with the intention of putting anyone off keeping chickens – quite the opposite. I would urge anyone who is considering welcoming chickens into their life to understand the emotional impact that hens will have. If shown kindness and and compassion, they will welcome you into their flock with a level of affection you may not have thought possible. If you grow to love them in the way they deserve to be loved, they will worry you on a daily basis. You will close their little door at dusk and commit yourself without resentment to waking at sunrise to give them their day. You will fret about the muddiness of their coop and question how it is possible that they can muddy-up their water within minutes of all your careful sanitising and refilling – but you will refill yet again and enjoy watching them drinking appreciatively. You will get to know their little personalities and feel a sense of concern when the hen at the bottom of the pecking order gets a peck to the face simply for trying to get her share of the feed. Perhaps you will be like me and sit in their coop to get a ‘real’ perspective on their environment in order to make improvements – or perhaps that’s a step too far (crazy chicken lady alert!).

Cuddling a chicken

Shelley loves a good cuddle in front of the TV

Keeping chickens as pets is a huge commitment if you are an animal lover. Hens may be ‘disposable’ in the farming industry but as pets they are fragile creatures who need us more than we may realise. I would urge anyone considering chickens as pets to be prepared for the challenges you may face when keeping these beautiful animals, but also be prepared to never look back! They will likely capture your heart – just as they have mine.

 

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2 responses to “The Anxiety of Keeping Pet Chickens

  1. Megan says:

    I love this. It is so true. We became chicken owners by chance rather than by choice. When an 8-week old Production red showed up in our yard on our busy street, the plan was to catchy her so she wouldn’t get hurt, then call animal control. However, catching her was easier said than done. In the end, I opened the front door and sat in the hallway. She shimmied on in and jumped on my shoulder. She was there for the rest of the night. She choose us for a family, who were we to deny her of that.

    2 months later we got Marty because we thought out girl needed a friend. However, I think she was perfectly happy being spoiled to death by us. She was dominant over Marty (who was supposed to be Martha) for quite some time.

    Our chickens sleep in our bedroom on a cats scratcher that had been extended. We just can’t trust the night creatures. Our chickens are members of our family and we could never forgive ourselves if something happened to them. They go in and out of the house as they please, through the “chicken” (dog) door. Our floor is tile so it’s easy to clean. Yes, we pick up poo often. It’s very time consuming. But our chickens come and snuggle when they want. They come running and beg when they hear the refrigerator door open. They have a run of the house just as other pets do (except the carpeted upstairs). We was a lot of chicken towels and our electricity bill is high as a result. But we have very therapeutic pets. They come running and welcome us when we get home.

    Fast forward to a year later, and now we have 2 10 week old girls as well; Agnes and Rhonda. It’s a lot to have 4 chickens that can be indoors when they want. But it is so rewarding to watch them play, chase flies, eat grapes and noodles (their favorite), and showcase their individual personalities. They jump like dogs to get their favorite treats. I just wish we would have tried potty training them when they were young.

    Thank you for loving your chickens. Please know that there are others out there who love their chickens the same way.

    • It’s so lovely to hear from you, I loved reading about your chickens! I recently moved to a new house which is carpeted throughout so the chickens don’t come indoors but they often wandered into the kitchen of my previous house which was tiled. Like yours, they would beg at the fridge and jump on my lap. I’m currently down to just one hen because my other two sadly died with egg yolk peritonitis. I did everything I possibly could, spending almost £500 on trips to the vet and treatment. People think I’m mad – perhaps there’s some truth in the whole ‘crazy chicken lady’ phrase!

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