How to keep a chicken as a house pet

BY Johnsons

26th Sep 2023 Inspire

4 min read

How to keep a chicken as a house pet
Chickens make lovely, intelligent pets who can also help you cut food bills by laying eggs. Before you invest in a chicken coop, make sure you read these tips
Amidst the cost-of-living crisis, many are taking a fresh approach by growing their own produce. With the cuts to rising food bills and health benefits that fresh food offers, it’s surprising we haven’t got onboard with the idea sooner. 
Fruit and vegetables should make up over a third of your daily intake, but along with the essential vitamins and minerals, protein is another key contributor to a healthy diet. Vital for muscle growth and repair, protein is rich in foods such as eggs
Sticking with the self-sufficiency theme, lots of UK families are turning to their own hens to provide households with free-range eggs. And it's with this that their popularity as pets has peaked.

Laws on keeping chickens

Before your hen-keeping journey can take flight, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the legal requirements of handling hens. 
Occasionally, there will be bylaws for certain properties that prevent people from keeping livestock. It’s worth checking with your local authority that this doesn’t apply to you, and that your property is eligible for housing poultry.
Although you may not mind the clucking coming from the coop, nearby neighbours could find it irritating. Try and keep the disturbance levels to a minimum by strategically siting the pen. 
"It’s illegal to feed your chicken scraps in the UK"
It’s illegal to feed your chicken scraps in the UK. Whilst it may seem like a waste-reducing ritual, the potential for contamination from domestic kitchens opens the risk of disease transference to humans, commonly in the form of Salmonella. It’s much safer to stick to composting your food waste.
Another way to protect your flock is by registering it with the GB Poultry Register. This is a legal obligation if you have over 50 birds, but it’s useful to register no matter the group size, so you’re informed of disease outbreaks.

Where can I get chickens?

We recommend buying your chickens from rescue centres or ethical breeders to determine the animal's health and history. This isn’t so clear-cut when they’re collected from a market or auction. 
You can even rescue and rehome ex-commercial laying chickens who will still produce the eggs that you enjoy for breakfast, baking and cooking in less strenuous conditions. 
Interested in adopting a hen? Find your nearest ethical provider with The British Hen Welfare Trust.

Should you keep chickens indoors or in the garden?

Hens need access to both indoor and outdoor space. Indoor housing needs to be spacious enough for normal chicken behaviour to commence.
Around 12 square metres serves 30 birds, but this differs depending on the size of each bird, number of hens and the coop layout.
A luxury of pet hens are the fresh, free-range eggs on your doorstep. But in order for your flock to continuously deliver this, their nest boxes must be set up for egg-laying.
"Around 12 square metres serves 30 birds"
These should be quiet, draught free and lined with a comfortable material, such as straw or wood shavings, to encourage the best batches of eggs. 
Any outdoor area needs to be chicken proofed. If your garden has gaps or escape routes in the low-down bushes, these need to be properly covered with reliable fencing or netting. Not only does this stop your flock wandering off, but it protects against injury and wild animals.  

Disease in chickens

Like any other household pet, there are a few insects that pose threats to our feathery friends. 

Red mite

Red mites are blood sucking ectoparasites that infest and feed on chickens. Being nocturnal, they hide in cracks and crevices of the poultry pen during the day then emerge at night to feed.
They’re particularly active in the warmer months, so they’ll become less of a threat as we transition into winter.
However, this isn’t to say your flock is safe. They’re challenging to spot in low numbers, and it only takes a few to cause a major infestation—so don’t forget to check your chickens and their coop for mites.

Northern mite

This is the second type of mite which is dangerous to chickens. Northern mites differs to red mites in that they will spend their entire life on the chicken (survival lasts up to ten days on the bird).
You won't catch them hiding. They will shamelessly feed on the chicken until it causes anaemia and death in due course. 

How to treat a sick bird with mites

In the unfortunate case of mites, treat your bird with a poultry mite and lice powder (Johnsons lists a specialised one on their website). Suitable for both the animal and coop, this natural organic diatomaceous earth powder can be used on laying chickens to dehydrate feeding insects. 
Removing mites from the chicken is important, but treating their coop is the key to prevention. Johnsons' HSE approved poultry housing spray kills any roaming insects and offers months of protection against re-infestation. 
If your birds are suffering from a nasty mite infestation, contact your veterinary surgeon for advice. 
About Johnsons:
Family-owned, independent pet healthcare product provider Johnson’s was founded in 1921 and has remained true to its core roots of manufacturing a broad range of pet healthcare products, from flea and worm treatments to shampoos and treats, all available through high street pet shops and pet stores across the UK.
From its earliest beginnings Johnson’s has had a reputation for innovating and marketing leading products.
This reputation still holds true today, with many new products still being introduced into the ever-expanding pet care market. Johnson’s has made huge investments in marketing and advertising since the beginning of the new millennium and is now regarded as the dominant force in pet health products available in pet shops, pet stores, and garden centres.
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