Chickens can make great pets, they can be very social animals, and will usually bond easily with you once they know you are the one who provides the food.
The average lifespan of a chicken is 8-15 years, so you will need to be committed to their regular daily care and attention. They are dependent on you to provide food, water, medical care and shelter.
There are a wide range of breeds available, but all need care and attention.
You may be able to own some ex-battery hens, which are hens that have spent their life in a very small cage, laying eggs. These hens will need special attention, as some may have little or no feathers, so will need good protection from the sun (for sunburn) and other natural elements. Some of them may also need to be taught to roost, dig and use nesting boxes, although quite often it will come naturally. Some may also need to be slowly introduced to open spaces.
Your new chickens will need to be transported securely within boxes or carry-cages with air holes. They will also need to be in an enclosed secure vehicle, not on the back of a truck. do not stop on your way home and leave the chickens in the car, they can overheat in vehicles easily.
Introduce your new chickens to their new house by confining them inside for 24 hours with food and water, so they accept it as their new home.
All animals need shelter, especially chickens. You will need to have your chicken-house set up before you bring any chickens home. There are a lot of different options; you can research at the library or on the internet.
Set the chicken house up on well-drained land that will not flood.
The house needs to provide a minimum space of 2 square metres for 10 birds (this also depends on the size of your chickens).
A lockable door or a pop-hole to keep out any predators.
Good ventilation is very important, but you need to also prevent cold draughts.
Nesting boxes should be provided for each chicken to lay their eggs
Nesting boxes should be filled with wood shavings (non-treated) or straw.
The floor of the chicken house should drain freely and be kept clean and dry. There must always be dry areas for roosting.
Cover the floor with wood-shavings for ease of cleaning and for the birds to scratch and forage in.
Clean the chicken house daily with a more thorough clean once a week.
The house will need to have roosting perches raised off the ground enough to protect from predators or rodents but low enough to be readily accessible without the risk of injury to the birds.
All chickens should be able to go outside and forage. A run can be provided for this, for protection from predators including birds such as hawks. If the outdoor area becomes very muddy or dusty and has little vegetation, then the chicken-house and run should be moved to provide fresh vegetation.
There are a variety of commercially-prepared foods which you can buy for your hens from pet stores or a stock feed company. They will provide all the nutrients they need.
If you let your birds out during the day to run around, it is a good idea to feed them in the evening in their house, so that sparrows don’t get their food and you can easily put them away at night, as they will follow you to where the food is going.
Fresh food including sweet corn and lettuce they will also like, although ex-battery hens may take some time to enjoy this food, as they will not be used to it. You can scatter the food on the ground outside if it is dry, so they can peck and scratch for it, but if you have adopted hens that have had their beaks trimmed, their feed will have to be put in a bowl, as they will be unable to pick it up from the ground.
You should also always provide fresh water everyday. It is best to provide this in a water fountain/feeder, which can be raised above ground level on bricks or suspended. This is to prevent the chickens from scratching soil or dirt into it. You should also provide some grit, which often comes with the commercial food in a separate container; this will aid egg production by providing calcium. All dishes for feeding and drinking should be cleaned daily.
To pick up a chicken encircle its body with your hands, holding the wings down while supporting the body from below. You can then carry it by placing it under one arm gently to prevent it extending and flapping its wings.
Chickens are very social animals; they will develop a ‘pecking order’. Dominant birds will control movement, feeding and socialisation. They are also pretty easy to handle, and intelligent animals that are able to distinguish and give different alarm calls when threatened by various predators. They also (especially ex-battery) can feel nervous in open spaces as this can make them feel vulnerable to attack, so introduce them slowly to any large open spaces.
A hen will sit on the nest box making it unavailable to other hens. This is why it is best to have one nesting box per hen, although you can stop this behaviour by separating the hen for a while from the others.
Sometimes you will find that one or two may attack other hens. Sometimes they may even draw blood. If this does occur, first treat the victim with veterinary treatment. They should sort themselves out, with some of the ones being attacked perhaps roosting more than others. If the problem does persist then you can try separating the attacker into a temporary pen within sight of the other hens, for a short time, this should cure the problem.
Old feathers are shed and new feathers grow to replace them. This happens about once a year and the new feathers take about 1-2 months to grow. If you adopt some ex-battery hens, you may find that they do not have feathers. This is from rubbing their bodies up against the battery hen cages, their feathers will grow back within a month or two.
If you think your chicken is ill, the best thing to do is consult your vet. A sick bird may look depressed, hunched up with feathers fluffed out and the head carried low or tucked under the wing. It is a good idea to monitor food and water intake everyday, because a reduction could be an early sign of ill health.
You can read more on the on the MPI website.