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Chickens as Pets Becoming More Common — Even in Urban Backyards

Marci Riseman's daughter Piper snuggles with Tallulah.

Maybe it’s a growing trend of getting back to basics, maybe it’s the economy. Whatever the reason, keeping chickens as pets is a growing trend even for city dwellers. There are even clubs for those who fancy poultry as pets, and competitive shows where owners can show off their beautiful Bantams. The clubs and shows are generally overseen by the American Poultry Association.

While regulations vary on chicken ownership from town to town, even many urban communities allow for a small number of hens. Many towns see roosters as too noisy (hello, annoying alarm clock) and/or aggressive to be kept in a residential setting.

Marci Riseman, mom of two, has kept chickens in her San Francisco backyard for three years.

“I consider our chickens to be somewhere between pets and farm animals,” she said. “It’s a strange relationship that I’ve never had before, and I find it leaves me with different expectations. We feed our cat and all we expect is love and a full litterbox; we feed our chickens and we expect them to produce eggs.”

Don’t expect to start a roadside egg-selling stand (which is probably also regulated in your town, by the way) with just a few hens.

“Right now we have three chickens, and are getting two eggs a day,” said Marci. “This means that someone is not laying. We can’t tell who the freeloader is, since they all spend time in the laying box; without a strategically-placed ChickenCam we’ll never know who isn’t pulling her weight egg-wise.”

Good news for those who, like me, would very much enjoy an online ChickenCam: you can watch a live feed of a chicken yard on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s even a button that allows you to feed the chickens a little snack (unless someone else has pressed the “Feed Chickens” button in the last 30 minutes).

“I love having these creatures in our yard,” said Marci. “They are beautiful those weird spindly feet are actually very graceful in motion … and the feathers, oh the feathers! and funny, and friendly, and they are a great live-action science experiment every day in our own back yard.”

Marci describes herself as “an urban homesteader at heart” who makes her own jam and sauerkraut and cooks or bakes most of what her family eats. She and her family also grow fruits and vegetables in a small garden.

“Chickens are a small way to bring nature closer in to our noisy, urban lives.”

“I would totally have a goat and an orchard and acres of blueberry bushes if we had the land and my husband wouldn’t divorce me over it,” jokes Marci. “Especially the goat. Just being with the chickens while I pull weeds or hang out with the kids or friends in the yard makes me happy. Chickens are a small way to bring nature closer in to our noisy, urban lives.”

I asked Marci if she and her family eat the chickens or just the eggs.

“We don’t eat the chickens. Partly because of the part-pet thing; the kids would be beyond horrified. And partly because it would be disgusting to slaughter our own animals, though I’m sure I could get over that part with practice. At first it did freak me out to eat something that came out of the rear end of something that lives in our backyard. It made me realize how disassociated we are from our food; I don’t mind eating something that comes out of the rear end of a chicken I can’t see? I got over it, though, and now I adore eating their eggs.”

If you’re considering keeping chickens, the first and most important step is to find out what your community’s regulations are. Your town’s public health department can help you with that. If chickens are allowed, you can use a tool like the “Which Chicken?” Breed Selector Tool at mypetchicken.com to help find breeds that are suitable for your climate and your interests.

For example, in my fantasy world in which I have chickens, I want a cold-hardy chicken that is docile and produces lots of fun-colored eggs. The chicken chooser tool recommends a chicken called an Easter Egger that lays four large bluish-green eggs a week.

A particularly helpful resource is backyardchickens.com, which includes lots of ideas about coops, owner reviews of a vast number of breeds, and a thriving online community in which to discuss and ask questions about laws, breeds, problem solving, and other issues. Their Learning Center section has great information for those just getting started, as well as long-time chicken owners.

The most amazing thing about chickens is that there’s a huge variety that are suited to backyard raising. The following are just a few of the nifty birds out there.


  • If you want a chicken that looks like a Webkinz 1 of 10
    If you want a chicken that looks like a Webkinz
    The Silkie comes in a variety of colors. It's considered of medium value for egg production, but is quiet, calm and friendly. Plus IT'S SO FLUFFEH!

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
  • If you want a chicken that looks like it’s wearing Uggs 2 of 10
    If you want a chicken that looks like it's wearing Uggs
    The Cochin chicken, which comes in a variety of colors, isn't a great egg producer, but is friendly and quiet. Also, duh, it's wearing Uggs.

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
  • If you want a classic-looking chicken 3 of 10
    If you want a classic-looking chicken
    The Delaware Chicken is your sort of all-around bird: suitable for all climates, a heavy egg layer, and also good for, uh, broiling.

    (Photo Credit: backyardchickens.com)
  • If you want a polka-dotted chicken 4 of 10
    If you want a polka-dotted chicken
    If you want a polka-dotted chicken, wearing a cool hat, and you're okay with a free-roaming chicken, the Appenzeller Spitzhauben may be your breed. Prolific egg-layers, they don't like being confined very much, and often roost in trees.

    (Photo Credit: backyardchickens.com)
  • If you never want to dye Easter Eggs again 5 of 10
    If you never want to dye Easter Eggs again
    The Easter Egger isn't an "official" breed, but is pretty darn awesome anyway. Easter Eggers lay eggs of blue, green, and even pink.

    (Photo Credits: Chicken, Wikimedia Commons; inset, Wikimedia Commons)
  • If you want a chicken that reminds you of a cartoon from your childhood 6 of 10
    If you want a chicken that reminds you of a cartoon from your childhood
    Remember Foghorn Leghorn? I sure do, because my maiden name is Cleghorn, and it was always so hilarious to make the connection to my name.

    (Photo Credit: backyardchickens.com)
  • If you want a chicken with a cool ‘do and a beard 7 of 10
    If you want a chicken with a cool 'do and a beard
    Polish chickens come in several colors (this one is a "buff laced Polish") and in "bearded" and "non-bearded." One caveat with the Polish chickens is that their punk-rock hairstyle can interfere with their vision, causing erratic behavior.

    (Photo Credit: Lyons Farmette)
  • If you want a chicken that looks like it’s wearing a hat 8 of 10
    If you want a chicken that looks like it's wearing a hat
    Here's a non-bearded Polish chicken. Looks like it can see a little more clearly than the last guy.

    (Photo Credit: backyardpets.com)
  • If you want a really smart chicken 9 of 10
    If you want a really smart chicken
    The Rhode Island Red is an extremely cold-hardy breed, as you can see from this chicken tromping through the snow. Rhode Island Reds are considered to be among the smartest of the chickens, and very friendly. I'm not sure what it means exactly to be a smart chicken. It would be cool if you could teach it tricks. Productive egg-layers that are also raised for meat, they're also the official state bird of Rhode Island.

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
  • If you want a really old-school chicken 10 of 10
    If you want a really old-school chicken
    The Java chicken is one of America's oldest breeds, but today is critically endangered. One of the foundation breeds of newer types like the Jersey Giant, Plymouth Rock, and Rhode Island Red, the Java is good forager (will pick grubs out of your lawn), suitable for both meat or eggs, and produce a respectable number of eggs. The chicken shown here is a Mottled Java.

    (Photo Credit: rightpet.com)

Read more from Joslyn at Strollerderby and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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