I’ve never had a house chicken. Occasionally I’ve brought a sick or injured bird inside while they were recuperating, 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 experiences 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 with 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.
I found the stories behind keeping house chickens interesting so I reached out to members of the Facebook group Huggable House Chickens and Ducks to share some of their experiences. With their assistance I’ve have created a series specifically on house chickens.
House Chicken Flock (homeofhousechickens)
Right now I have 10 house chickens which sounds like such a big number to me, but all of them except my Leghorns are tiny Seramas.
In 2019 I talked to my partner about getting a single house chicken as a pet. The problem with that is most farm stores had a chick minimum of six so we ended up with six. We sold them as they got older except for two Leghorns who were closely bonded. Since then we have always had house chickens. I can also make a little profit on the side selling chickens such as the Seramas who have grown up to be very accustomed to people.
My Seramas live in deluxe Wabitat in their own room and get free roam time. My Leghorns sleep in a Critternation in the living room and get free roam while in diapers during the day.
My two Leghorns have reproductive issues which is common for production birds. They had about two years of providing us eggs daily until they started having issues so now they are on the hormone implant to prevent egg laying. One of my Leghorns also has heart issues which is also managed by the implant because eliminates the stress of egg laying.
My Seramas are all well bred birds so they are very fit and healthy.
My birds live 100% indoors. Some of them have never been outside and I prefer to keep it that way as I’m very paranoid about some poultry diseases prevalent in my area. I use pine pellet bedding for their cages so they have a good bedding to dig and dust bathe in.
As for diapers I have quite a few and I’m always trying new ones so I can find what works best for each individual bird. Some diapers like pamperyourpoultry aren’t as comfortable on some birds as they are others.
A typical day involves giving everyone fresh food and water and doing morning chores. Then I diaper my birds to let them roam around. If they have dirty feet I wash them before letting them walk around. I clean my diapers in the sink with detergent made specifically for cleaning cloth diapers .
Since my birds are indoors I have to supplement their vitamin D intake. I also have to be careful about not feeding too many fatty treats since my birds are less active then free range birds. They are fed Kalmbach’s Henhouse Reserve and tend to keep good manageable weights on it while also keeping good feather quality.
I understand most house chicken owners only see their birds as companions/pets while I see my Seramas as a combination of livestock and pet because I’m not afraid of eating my extra cockerels or the eggs they produce. Of course my two Leghorns are definitely only pets now these days.
Feral Rescues (Courtney Caldwell)
I have six indoor/outdoor chickens. I saved some orphaned feral chicks last summer and, having never had chickens, had no set up for them. They spent weeks in one of our bathrooms and my daughter and I spent so much time with them, I couldn’t imagine having to go sit in the yard to visit with them. When we got their coop, we put it on the lanai (we live on the second floor of our house) and for months they spent most of their time in the living area of the house (we leave our back doors open always).
As they got older, they started venturing down to the yard. Now, they spend most of the day in the yard, but the girls fly back up to lay eggs in the laundry hamper in the bathroom, all come up for snacks or bad weather, and they come roost on the couch or cat tower in the house at dark.
I try to make sure everybody gets individual snuggles every night. I put them to bed in their coops when I go to bed between 10pm and midnight. They get let out between 8 – 8:30am. We just took in two new rescue chicks, so our flock may grow. We also have two rescue dogs and two rescue cats. Everybody gets along for the most part, or at least respects each other’s space. We absolutely love it.
Disabled Silkies (Saleana Harruff-Hatton, Twitter @sendchickpics)
I rescued Sparkle in February of 2021.
I already had an outdoor flock, but I had more time and energy so in February 2021 I went on the search for a disabled bird that needed more attention. A woman on a farm group contacted to me and offered me Sparkle for free; she was practically dragging her head on the ground from a spinal injury, wry neck, and she had curled toes. After I picked her up I discovered she also had frostbite and ended up losing both front toes. It had been -26C/-15F that week and her owner told me the other birds were bullying her.
Puzzle came after I saw an online post asking if anyone in Missouri could adopt her. She had a weak leg and required an indoor setting to thrive. Luckily Sparkle needed a friend and I gladly accepted. Her owners actually drove her across the state for me while on a trip. Both were just a few months old.
I started with a small cheap playpen off Amazon, but now Sparkle lives in an area in the living room. She sleeps in a cat bed beside my bed that I set atop an ottoman.
They both have/had medical issues.
Sparkle has a spinal injury from when she was a chick, which is directly above her lungs and I believe it affects her breathing. She frequently has a runny beak and has always breathed out of her opened mouth when lying down. We did a throat swab at the avian vet which came back negative for any signs of infection.
Puzzle’s leg affected her walking. It was never a big issue but when we were outside playing, I turned my back for just a moment and when we came inside I noticed a nasty scrape on her face. I believe she tripped because of her leg and fell onto a cement surface. Despite treating the wound it became infected. She went downhill quickly, was lethargic and stopped eating. I learned how to tube feed her and we took her to a small animal vet. They weren’t very educated about chickens and the antibiotics they gave us didn’t help. We went to an avian vet and she prescribed more powerful antibiotics; her lethargy lasted until the last few days of the medication.
She improved a lot, we continued to visit the vet, and she was almost back to full health, but suddenly she developed a cyst on her face and the lethargy returned. The vet gave us more antibiotics, but her lab results came back negative for infection. I was hopeful because she started to eat on her own but she passed away peacefully early today in her sleep. The entire illness lasted for four months.
I think it’s important for Sparkle to have a friend so we’ll try to find one, but I’m not sure it’s going to be easy. She doesn’t get along with most chickens, her previous owner said the other Silkies really bullied her. She keeps her distance from my all Silkie outdoor flock or goes after them to give them a peck if she gets a chance. She’s not a big fan of the chicks I raise either.
Sparkle took to Puzzle instantly. When we first allowed her and Puzzle to interact physically, she was so interested in her feathers, she kept preening them over and over. I think it helped them bond. We miss her.
I use fleece blankets on Sparkle’s set up. I change them daily, empty the droppings into the trash or my compost pile and then I wash them. I have a diaper for her sometimes, but usually I just let her sit on a blanket. She is not very mobile with her injured feet so she doesn’t wander much, but when she does I just use paper towels and vinegar to clean up after her. The most important thing when owning an indoor chicken (or pets, really) is cleanliness.
Chickens make incredible, affectionate, intelligent pets and they’re amazing. I have such a deep connection with these loving creatures.
Many thanks to homeofhousechickens, Courtney Caldwell and Saleana Harruff-Hatton for sharing their stories and photos, used with permission.
Featured photo: Holly Briscoe