I’ve never had a house chicken. Occasionally I’ve brought a sick or injured bird inside while they were recuperating from illness, but that’s the extent of my experience. I belong to a number of online chicken groups and folks often post about their indoor birds. Their stories seem to vary widely from having just one bird to a whole flock; from keeping birds predominantly outside but allowing them to come in for visits; to chickens who have lived their whole lives never having touched the ground.
The reasons for having house chickens seem to run the gamut as well. Some birds are low in the pecking order and get bullied; some came into the house during quarantine or illness and never returned to a flock while others have a disability like blindness or mobility issues. Sometimes the owners themselves have physical limitations so keeping a small number of chickens indoors as pets is easier than maintaining an outdoor coop.
Having never had house chickens I can imagine some of the pros (not having to deal with predators, parasites or pathogens and getting to know your birds more intimately) and cons (noise, smell, dust). And then there’s dealing with issues regular chicken keepers take for granted, such as birds with outside access can ingest tiny pebbles which assist in grinding food in their gizzard, or can swipe their beaks on hard surfaces that keep them filed.
The stories behind keeping house chickens are interesting and varied. I reached out to members of the Facebook group Huggable House Chickens And Ducks to share some of their experiences and will post them in a series specifically on different aspects of keeping house chickens.
I asked them a series of questions related to keeping chickens indoors and here are their responses:
How do you deal with dust and dander?
- If I wasn’t a total nutjob with 21 chickens in the house, I’m certain the cleaning would be much less daunting. Cleaning is an ever-present hobby…no, more like a second job, but one that doesn’t pay you anything. I am constantly cleaning. The dust is partially mitigated by the large HEPA air filtration system I have running in the aviary. The rest of it is dealt with through never-ending vacuuming, dusting, washing, wiping, and scrubbing. I vacuum the air filters in the HEPA system daily and we change out the whole house air filters monthly. Though the birds themselves are dusty, I blame the majority of the dust on the flake pine shavings I use as their bedding in all of their enclosures. Though we have looked into alternative bedding ideas, pine shavings remain the most economical and compostable option available to us. The vacuum I use works well on bare floors and picks up dust well. I change out filters in the vacuum frequently and wash them when not in use.
- I have an automatic vacuum that runs once a day, which really helps. Cleaning, swapping out bedding and doing laundry usually just takes a few minutes once or twice a day.
- With one or two house chickens it’s never been an issue, especially Seramas who don’t typically molt like other breeds (they consistently lose a feather here and there and regrow it). A Silkie during a molt results in more frequent sweeping or vacuuming and can be a bit of a hassle.
- Dust buster for cleaning and just wipe hard wood floors around the ‘coop’.
- We vacuum a lot to take care of any dander or feathers and have a Roomba that runs every night.
- Air purifier.
- During molting season I clean at least three times a day.
- I wash diapers, furniture covers, and chicken towels on the sanitize cycle of my washing machine. We go through a fair amount of bleach making dilute solutions to use in the foot baths located at the doorway of the house.
- Shavings in the brooder boxes are changed out completely every other week and the shavings in the runs are changed out once a month. I spot clean in between shaving changes to remove poop that accumulates under their preferred roosting spots. Water bowls are scrubbed out with dish soap daily.
- Ours frequently have a chance to come outside and visit with the rest of the flock. If they have muddy feet it’s just a quick wash/rinse in the sink.
- I’m a bit of a neat freak with a husband, two teenage boys, two cats that are in and out and shed a lot, at least one adult house chicken (Chuck, our house roo, often has a ‘girlfriend’ inside for a couple of weeks at a time), and multiple brooders of chicks on the go – so I spend far more time cleaning than most I imagine. The least amount of mess is probably attributed to Chuck while a brooder of chicks is a thousand times worse for dust and dander.
- I clean a lot because we also have cats, quail, rabbits and parrots plus a kid and me to clean up after.
- Use horse pellets in their enclosure; it’s a total life saver dealing with poop stuck on their feet.
- Carpet is a bad idea.
- Put puppy pads under the roost.
- Covers for furniture; pee pads under her blankets when she sleeps on the sofa.
- I have a small lidded garbage can for their diaper and cage cleaning so it keeps the smell contained.
What’s the noise level of indoor birds?
- I have six roosters and they crow periodically through the day. Honestly, I rather enjoy hearing the birds make their noises. The only time it has ever been a problem is when I’m on the phone or in a Zoom meeting.
- Sparkle is pretty quiet. She will tell me when she’s unhappy and she does get in chatty moods – we talk back and forth sometimes. Not nearly a fraction as loud as a parrot. I’m not sure why, but Sparkle doesn’t do the egg song.
- Egg songs can be noisy, but they tend to abate if their hard work is acknowledged with a couple of treats or they’re picked up.
- We have always been very lucky with any house rooster we’ve had; they’ve slept in a dark closet and are on a schedule so they don’t crow until we open the closet in the morning, which is never later than 8am.
- She has her moments where I can hear her from outside, and sometimes early in the morning she makes a loud alarmed noise until I call down to her (usually leading her to hop up the stairs and jump onto the bed), but for the most part she is very quiet.
- My girls don’t make much noise except for the occasional talk back (they like to get loud when I tell them ‘no’ or don’t let them go somewhere they want, like the bathroom to tear up the toilet paper) .
- The egg songs can get loud – up to a few hours at times, but I asked our neighbors and they can’t hear it.
- We use a crow collar and curtains to muffle the noise.
- After a while you won’t hear them.
How do you manage keeping their beak or toe nails from getting too long?
- I feed my birds treats on a big flat rock so they can swipe their beaks.
- When Puzzle was sick and being tube fed her beak did get too long so I very carefully clipped it to an appropriate length. Don’t do this if you don’t know how because you can really hurt them. I also clip nails once a month, which is similar to clipping dog nails.
- I’ve never had one in the house that has successfully kept their beak filed, regardless of what I’ve tried providing for them to do so. We just trim a little when necessary – a little at a time with nail clippers and a file.
- She has never had a problem with her beak, but we don’t really have anything specific she can grind it down on; it just seems to stay healthy length with whatever she is eating.
- We have a 12”x12” concrete block that we put seed or meal worms on and she files her beak and nails on it.
- Use a dremel to file down beaks and toe nails just like the dogs.
Do you provide grit because your birds don’t ingest pebbles in the soil?
- I provide both grit and oyster shell in separate dishes so they always have access to it.
- Ours probably get enough grit off the entry mat from us coming in and out of the house but I do add a pinch on their ‘foraging rug/mat’, a 2’x2’ square of artificial grass, that she scratches and forages for seed and crumble in.
Recommendations on diapers
- Don’t leave a diapered chicken home alone. Something as simple as a loose thread can become life threatening in a short time. We had one hen who I’m sure would have lost her tongue if we hadn’t been home to notice a long thread going from the diaper into her mouth and wrapped tightly around her tongue.
- Diaper train early and be prepared for poop. My house chicken was a few months old when I brought her home and she very much resists the diaper.
- She wears a very comfortable custom diaper with a cup in it that we dump a few times a day, and has free access to our whole house.
- At night let them sleep diaper free in a small crate.
Any advice for prospective house chicken keepers?
- Research, research, research and clean, clean, clean!
- I was very unprepared and got extremely lucky with Heihei. If I were to do it again I would research more before getting her instead of after.
- Grow a thick skin The general public can be very judgmental about having indoor chickens. No one interrogates Bob from Accounting about why he lets his dog lick him in the face right after she just spent twenty minutes licking her bits. No one emphatically chastises Nancy about all the possible harmful bacteria and parasites she is exposing herself to when she allows her cat to lay in her lap as she drinks coffee in the morning. But loving a chicken?! Allowing a chicken in your house?! That is filthy, disgraceful, and irresponsible! And spending money on veterinary care?! How insane! Why wouldn’t you just put it in a pot with some noodles?! It’s just a chicken after all!
- Be mentally prepared for other people’s negative reactions and their inappropriate jokes.
- Find a veterinarian who will see chickens. If you share your home and your life with an animal you are going to get very attached, as you should. That means, though, if something happens and your bird gets ill you’re going to want to be able to get veterinary care for them. Understand that the exam fee at most clinics is the same for all species. Same goes for blood work, x-rays, and many other services that might be needed to care for an ill bird. Be prepared for the costs of care and don’t be an a-hole to the veterinary staff who are trying to help.
- If you can get pet insurance for your house chickens DO IT! I have policies on all the critters at our house, chickens included, and it has saved us so many times.
- Dietary Needs I feed them Game Bird Flight Conditioner food that is high in protein and can be fed to breeding birds, molting birds, those recovering from illness, and for any life stage. It does not contain added calcium so it is safe to feed to my roosters and hens that do not lay eggs without the threat of them getting gout. The enclosures that have laying hens have oyster shell available to them to provide the required calcium.
- Don’t overfeed them people food or allow them to gain too much weight.
- If you start giving them their own plate at meal time, you won’t be allowed to stop.
- Vitamins In addition to their normal feed, they also get Rooster Booster, a vitamin supplement, added to their food and are given black oil sunflower seeds periodically as a treat and to keep their feathers healthy and shiny. The vitamins help replace some of the vitamin D and other nutrients that are lost when the birds are unable to be out in the sun to get it naturally.
- Have Support Join an online house chicken group.
- Biosecurity Being inside doesn’t entirely protect them from illnesses. Limit visitors to your home who have chickens or other birds of their own. Quarantine new birds for a minimum of 30 days. Don’t share bowls, incubators, or other equipment with others who have birds. Use foot baths at entrances to your home to prevent bringing germs in on your shoes or have a designated pair of shoes for inside the house, and another pair for outside the house.
- Household Chemicals Keep a close eye on what products you’re using in your home since there are many chemicals that can be dangerous to any pet bird: fragrances, cooking with Teflon, air fresheners, etc.
- Chickens Need Friends I believe they should have another chicken friend, even if you’re home with them all the time. There was a noticeable difference in Sparkle’s personality before, during and after we had our second hen, Puzzle.
- Animal Husbandry Don’t be a slacker just because your birds live in your house doesn’t mean that they still won’t need access to places to roost, to lay eggs, and to get away. Provide them with enrichment activities so they don’t get bored. Give them a place to dust bathe.
- Other Pets in the household (i.e. dogs) should still be considered potential threats, even if they appear to do well with house chickens. Make sure they are safe from other pets in the home.
- Birds can be bullies (Heihei rules the house and the cats know it, but my cats are very good with other animals).
- Chickens learn how to climb stairs.
- They may not be snuggly, but will probably want to be close.
Many thanks to Seleta Nothnagel, Saleana Harruff-Hatton, Huggable Hens, Jessi Jay, Julie Lynn-Comunale, Candy Eric Strickler, Sheena Carlson, Jennifer Berglund, Alex Chapman & Carin Barry for sharing their advice and photos, used with permission.
Featured photo: Moose The Rooster On The Loose
Diapers, wheelchairs, slings and managing special needs will be dealt with separately in upcoming posts.