Is a Pet Chicken Right for You?

By Jessica Remitz | Pet360.com

For the most part, caring for a small flock of chickens is a low-maintenance and stress free job. As with any pet, however, there are certain responsibilities you'll need to undertake when raising a chicken and some tips to keep in mind as you consider owning one.

Questions to Consider Before Buying a Chicken

While they're much easier to care for than your pet dog or cat, there are several things to consider before you commit to bringing home a chicken.

1. Time Commitment-chickens require fresh food and water several times a week, as well as fresh bedding every month. Plan to take a few minutes out of each day to gather eggs and check in your flock and set aside a bit more time every few months to make sure your coop is clean and pest-free.

2. Space Requirements-chickens require a coop with a minimum of 10 square feet per bird if you plan to keep them from roaming and 2-4 square feet per bird if they'll have access to a run, according to Mypetchicken.com. They'll be most happy with some kind of run or yard to roam in, so consider the amount of backyard space you can dedicate to keeping them.

3. Zoning Restrictions-not every town or city allows chickens in residential homes, so you'll need to check with your local government before you start building a coop or buying a chicken. Check with your municipal zoning and health boards to make sure you can keep chickens on your property and that you're building your coop by their standards and codes. You'll also want to check in with your neighbors to make sure they're comfortable with the idea of you keeping chickens.

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Maintaining Your Flock

In addition to monitoring your chicken's food and water supply, checking in on their health, collecting eggs and keeping the coop clean and bedding changed, there are a few things to prepare for as the seasons change or if one of your birds becomes sick:

1. In the Winter-make sure your chickens water supply does not freeze by checking on it daily and, if you do not have electricity in your coop for a water heater, bringing the waterer indoors every night, according to Mypetchicken.com. Chickens can become dehydrated quickly and will always need access to fresh water, regardless of the temperature. Mypetchicken.com also recommends rubbing petroleum jelly or heavy moisturizer on your flock's combs and wattles every few days during winter months to prevent frostbite.

2. In the Summer-keep your coop well ventilated and provide a source of shade in your yard or chicken run for your flock to rest comfortably during the summer. Provide them with plenty of cool, fresh water to prevent dehydration. During a heat wave, you may see your hens lay fewer eggs due to stress, but their laying rates will bounce back as the temperature drops, according to Mypetchicken.com.

3. Dealing With a Sick Chicken-make sure you have a veterinarian that specializes in farm animals and can properly care for your chicken and call them at any sign of illness in one of your chickens. You'll want to keep them separate from the rest of the flock until you've diagnosed the issue and can easily prevent diseases by keeping your coop clean and birds healthy. Learn more about bird security and wellness here.

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Keep yourself safe and healthy by thoroughly washing your hands after handling your chickens and cleaning your coop and wear gloves when cleaning up chicken manure. Mypetchicken.com also recommends setting aside a pair of shoes to be your "coop shoes" and keeping them outside of your home to prevent the spread of manure anywhere in your home.
Breeds of Chicken and Their Eggs

While you may be concerned about your flock growing on its own as it produces eggs, a hen cannot lay a fertilized egg without the presence of a rooster. How often they lay eggs will depend on their breed, age and the time of year. Chickens lay eggs during the day, so the more daylight you have, the more eggs your flock will lay.

Some chickens are also bred for show purposes, just like a cat or dog. To learn more about this process and to find an avian vet, visit the American Poultry Association.

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