Thinking about keeping chickens? You aren’t alone! More than 1% of all U.S. households raise chickens—roughly 3 million households, to be exact. Whether you want chickens for the fresh eggs or just as a new pet, you’ll quickly find that chickens make wonderful companions!
While most coops are made up of multiple chicken breeds, it’s good to know the differences between them. Some of the most common chicken breeds are:
• Rhode Island Red: A ‘dual-purpose’ chicken, Rhode Island Reds can be raised for either eggs or meat. They’re hardy birds that lay roughly 250 eggs per year.
• Buff Orpington: One of the tamest chicken breeds, the Buff Orpington makes a great pet. They can easily be trained to eat from the hand, and lay about 180 eggs per year.
• Easter Egger: While not technically a singular breed of chicken, the Easter Egger is a mixed breed chicken that has, at some point, been crossed with Araucanas or Ameaucanas chickens. The draw with this breed is egg color, which can vary from olive green to turquoise.
• Bantams: These are mini-chickens of almost any breed. They are typically one-quarter to one-half the size of the average bird. Their petite size makes them good pet chickens, particularly in residential neighborhoods.
Housing Your Chicken
No matter where you plan to keep your chickens—from the city to the country—thought must be given to their housing. Chickens require both a coop (an indoor space for chickens to rest) and a run (an outdoor area for chickens to roam.) Both areas should be predator-proof from all sides, and should allow at least four square feet per bird. Instead of chicken wire, it’s recommended you use a sturdier galvanized wire mesh to secure the coop and run. In addition, your coop should contain the following:
• Litter Lining: Line the bottom of the coop floor with several inches of wood shavings, making sure they stay dry and loose. Stir when it becomes damp and packed and replenish with fresh litter regularly.
• Nest Box: One box for every four hens. Nest boxes encourage hens to lay in the same place. Ensure the boxes are placed above chicken eye-level, so the hens don’t peck their own eggs.
• Roosting Poles: Roughly two feet off the ground, these poles should be two inches wide with rounded edges, and give each chicken roughly ten inches of room to roost.
• Feeder and waterer: These should hang six to eight inches off the ground.
If you live within the city or in a subdivision, double check to see if keeping domestic farm animals is permitted.
What to Feed Your Chicken
Chickens are omnivores, so they eat both plant and animal matter. The basis for every chicken’s diet, however, is layer feed. There are many different types of layer feed, the benefits of which can be read about here. In addition, your chicken can be fed a variety of treats, ranging from berries and leafy greens to cracked corn and mealworms.
A word of caution
Chickens are low-maintenance and social pets, but they come with a warning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise chicken owners to always keep chickens outside, maintain a clean coop, wash your hands immediately after touching a chicken or its living space, keep children under the age of five from handling chickens, collect eggs often and designate a pair of shoes to wear solely during chicken care. For more information, visit CDC.gov/Features/SalmonellaPoultry.