When you really love animals, often a dog and cat are just not enough. Chickens can make great pets, provided you have the means, time and space to care for them. As with any pet, it is extremely important to do your research beforehand. That way you’ll know exactly what you need to do to keep your chicks in the best condition.
Chicken breeds to choose from include the Large Soft Feather, the Bantam Soft Feather, the True Bantam, the Large Hard Feather, and the Bantam Hard Feather.
While your choice of breed will naturally be the one that you find the most appealing in the looks department, you will need to look into factors such as the climate of the area you live in, as chickens can be weather-sensitive. A good idea would be to attend a poultry show, where reputable breeders will be able to give you valuable advice about the different breeds. For more information go to www.poultryclubsa.co.za.
Birds of a feather
As chickens are social animals, they will be happiest living in small groups. Your chickens will need a coop in the garden to sleep in, and each chicken needs a minimum space of 25cm as a sleeping area.
If you would like your chickens to produce eggs, it’s not necessary to have a male (cockerel). Hens will still lay eggs, although these will never hatch. If you are considering a cockerel, keep in mind that they are noisy – you might end up with some grumpy neighbours.
Caring for your chickens
- Shelter Just like any other pets, chickens need shelter from extreme temperatures. Ensure that their coop is insulated but still well ventilated. In the garden they need to have access to shade, as well as shelter from cold temperatures.
- Predators Make sure that your chickens will be safe from dogs, or any predator who would be tempted to catch them.
- Veterinary care Chickens can also become ill and get injured. Make sure that you have access to a poultry vet in your area before you get your chickens.
- Holiday time You will need someone to take care of your chickens when you go away. Someone has to be available to provide food and fresh water, and to put them into their safe shelter at night. You can always pay them with eggs!
- Feeding Although chickens are omnivores, it is not recommended that you simply feed them scraps from your kitchen. They do need a healthy, balanced diet. Apart from their regular feed, chickens will enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables as well as grains, but ensure that you don’t give them something that could put their health at risk (see box), and avoid giving them any mouldy food. Your chickens need to have access to fresh water at all times.
- Keeping clean Chickens can become the victims of infectious diseases, and therefore it is of utmost importance to keep their living space clean. Regularly remove manure and clean out food and water containers.
Sunny side up
It might take some time, money and dedication to get everything prepared for your chickens. But once everything is done and your new friends have arrived, it’s time to enjoy them! Chickens are friendly (when treated kindly), inquisitive and energetic animals, and they can be great fun to watch. They display interesting behavioural patterns and will entertain you with antics that include dust baths and fascinating social interactions among one another. Soon you’ll notice that each chicken has her own unique personality, sometimes on the quirky side, and before you know it, each one will have scratched out her own special spot in your life.
Chickens love to occasionally take a nice dust bath. And while it might not seem very clever to roll around in the dirt to clean yourself, it actually works well for chickens, as the process does clean their feathers and also protects them from mites. Chickens will create a pit by loosening up the soil, and then the fun part starts: rolling around, fluffing up their feathers and shaking about. Once done, they will get out of the pit and shake off all the dirt.
Many people suffer from allergies these days, and it’s a condition that causes a lot of discomfort. If you are thinking of getting chickens as pets, make sure that no one in your household is allergic to the feathers. You can do this by getting the whole family to interact with some chickens before you get your own, and seeing if there are any sneezing outbursts or other symptoms.
Foods that are harmful to chickens
- Raw potato peel
- Apple seeds (avoid seeds from apricots, peaches, cherries, pears and plums too)