It’s a strange time in the world. People are looking for new companionship, especially if they have become permanent remote workers. And everyone is also looking to save a little money. Those are two of the reasons for a recent boom in pet chicken ownership. The “urban chickening” trend has reached all corners. This has left many wondering if a pet chicken is right for me?
The fact is, chickens make wonderful pets and feathery friends. And you might even get to enjoy a trove of fresh eggs along with it. But they’re certainly a far cry from dogs and cats. Pet chickens aren’t for everyone, but if you like the idea, the rewards are many. “They’re cute. They’re fun to watch run around. They’re excited when we come home,” reports pet chicken owners Robert McMinn and Jules Corkery of Queens, NY. What makes this Astoria couple interesting is that they are raising their three hens inside their one-bedroom apartment.
So, can you have a chicken in an apartment? The answer is a wholehearted, yes. But to do so takes time, patience, expense, space and permission, as well as the ability to do so in your location and climate. It’s obviously easier to raise a chicken in an apartment if you have a dedicated outdoor space to house them full time. But what about indoors? Indoor chickens are known as “house chickens,” and this is what it takes to own one.
Are you allowed to keep a chicken in your apartment?
Before you even consider purchasing or otherwise acquiring a chicken, you need to find out if you can even have a chicken in your apartment. There are two forces at work to find out — from your landlord and from the government.
Ask your landlord
First, you’ll need to find out from your landlord if they allow chickens, or birds in general, in your lease. If you aren’t allowed pets at all, the answer is probably no. If your apartment is pet-friendly, read your lease to see if it spells out what kind of pets or what size.
If you’re still unsure, contact the landlord or property manager directly to ask. If it’s not expressly forbidden in your lease, you can make the argument to allow them. Additionally, if you rent a unit that’s part of a homeowner’s association, make sure it’s allowed by that entity, too.
Ask your local officials
If your landlord permits chickens, you also need to find out if it’s actually legal where you live. Unfortunately, rules about chicken-keeping vary from municipality to municipality. The first step is to research rules for raising chickens indoors online. This is a good source to begin with.
For more information or to confirm, contact your local county, township or city hall. Ask for the best person with whom to speak to find the legal answer. Before you make your purchase, make sure every entity — your state, your county, your town, township or city — agrees on the legality. It may also require a call to a zoning board or local health department. Be sure you’re researching indoor rules, specifically. If there’s no ordinance prohibiting it, then you’re allowed as long as you follow other regulations like noise and sanitation.
And be aware. Even if keeping chickens is legal, some ordinances require you to get your neighbors’ approval.
Should you have a chicken in your apartment?
Even if you can raise a chicken in your apartment, there’s a question if you should raise a chicken in your apartment. There are many people, from veterinarians to enthusiasts, who believe it’s not good for the chicken to be indoors in an apartment. In the end, only you can decide if you feel it’s humane in your particular situation.
Pros of urban chickening
If you plan on keeping a chicken as a pet (as opposed to as an egg-laying machine), they make wonderful companions. Chickens easily adapt to your lifestyle, especially if you acquire them as chicks. Indoor chickens get used to being around you and will bond with you. Like any pet, they can learn to interact with you. Many chickens will be quite comfortable curling up with you on the couch and watching TV.
But like any pet, the more they get used to their indoor pet lifestyle, the harder it will be to change. Once you raise a chicken as an indoor pet, it would be unkind to send it away to live outdoors. A typical chicken lives an average of 10 years. Be ready to make that decade-long commitment.
Even if you aren’t raising chickens to save money on eggs, it’s still going to happen if yours is a hen. A hen, if that’s your choice, will lay around 300 eggs a year when properly cared for. And yes, the eggs are perfectly fine to eat. And may even save you some money. As an added bonus, hens lay eggs with a hint of the taste of whatever they themselves eat. Giving your chicken table scraps to eat will make your eggs taste like that.
Cons of urban chickening
But remember, chickens, by their nature, are outdoor creatures. Of course, they can adapt to living indoors, but they can often treat your indoors like the outdoors. They’re dirty, smelly and cause messes. They can eat indoor plants and peck holes in your furniture or floor. And, even with precautions, they can and will poop almost anywhere. They require a lot of time and effort. It’s up to you to discern the ROI.
Many enthusiasts turn to chickens as an alternative to traditional pets. But if allergies are a consideration, it isn’t any better luck. While no, chickens don’t have fur, many people are allergic to feathers, dust and dander. Be sure no one in the apartment is allergic before pulling the trigger.
As well, if you already have a cat or dog in the house, consider not adding a chicken. Most house pets aren’t used to being around fowl. They may scare or even harm your indoor pet chicken. And just because chickens aren’t flying birds doesn’t mean they can’t fly. Be aware that many chickens can fly or jump up to 15 feet or so.
What breed is best for an apartment and how many?
There is, of course, no standard “chicken.” Like any pet, you have a variety of breeds to choose from. The friendliest breeds are often the most adaptive to living indoors. Many are known as “lap chickens” because they’ll get used to sitting right in your lap. Some of the best breeds for house chickens include:
- Barbu D’Uccle
- Buff Orpington
- Salmon Faverolle
- Easter Egger
Silkies are docile, very friendly and act quite quirky. Barbus are fairly small, easy to carry around and can learn to sit on your shoulder. Sultans enjoy the indoors and are often described as sweet and warm.
But chickens are social creatures. They’re born to run in flocks. Keeping fellow chickens as social company is crucial. Experts and breeders suggest never raising a lone chicken. In fact, it’s generally recommended to keep three chickens from the chick stage. That’s often how they’re sold, as well. This is to ensure that if one passes, the other chickens will still have each other.
What do you need to keep a chicken indoors?
While chickens are naturally outdoor creatures, you can still raise a chicken in your apartment like a traditional pet. Indoor chickens are as fun and cuddly as having a dog or cat. They can eat and sleep indoors, and interact with you as you go about your day. But keeping a house chicken is expensive, messy and difficult.
And chickens will bond with you just like cats and dogs. Many feel chickens are aloof or even unintelligent, but they are loyal pets. Your best bet for this is to buy chicks very young. The more you imprint on them from a young age, the stronger the bond. And to keep them happy, give them the best living and feeding situation you can.
Your house chicken’s living area
It’s vital to give your indoor chicken an environment for them to thrive. And that starts with a living area similar to an outdoor coop.
You can buy a specialty cage for your chickens, or even repurpose an old doghouse. Your setup should have a coop, a run and a nest box. The coop should also have a roost, raised a foot to a foot-and-a-half off the ground, high enough to jump to and low enough if they fall. The run should have sawdust and straw as that will also be your chicken’s litter box.
Your chickens should never be confined to or denied access from the coop, but rather given free access to it unsupervised. Their home should have four or five square feet per chicken. If they’re too crowded, chickens have been known to cannibalize.
The entire setup should be in an area least disturbing to both you and them. Chickens enjoy taking “dust baths,” covering themselves in detritus from the run. So, it’s advisable to keep it away from kitchens and bedrooms. You must also decide if the chickens have access to your entire space, or only to certain areas.
And lastly, artificial sunlight is also key, just as it would be to incubate an egg. There are many appropriate indoor avian lamps available. This helps keep their vision sharp and allows their bodies to create proper hormones. Keep these where your chick can sunbathe in the light.
Keep your indoor chicken’s living space clean
Clean the living area between one and three times a week. Your chickens will learn this routine and keep away while you’re cleaning. When you clean, remove the feces, replace the litter (compostable is an excellent option) and wash the floors and sides of each surface as well as the feeders and waterers. Use non-toxic soap and hot water. Wash your hands thoroughly immediately after cleaning or touching any areas. Minimizing salmonella germ spread is an important concern.
And if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space like a yard, patio or porch, you can set up their living space outside. But again, the chickens must have free access to it at all times.
What to do with your chicken’s poop
For the most part, your chicken will do their business in the litter area of the coop and run you have set up. Chickens are not cats, and won’t naturally seek out the litter. You can potty train chickens to do so, but it’s not simple. How tame and smart enough your chicken is to do so will make a difference, and you’ll have had to build trust.
Litter box training takes time and patience. And in the meantime, there is a lot of poop to clean around the house. And even after training, accidents will occur, so be prepared.
Additionally, yes, chicken diapers do exist. But experts say diapers are not a permanent option, but only for timely convenience. And keep in mind, that hens lay eggs from the general area from which they poop, which means poopy eggs in poopy diapers. And that’s no fun for anyone.
Feeding your apartment chicken
Your chicken’s primary dietary item is fresh pellets as chicken feed. The makeup of pellets will change with your chicken’s age and life stage. Additionally, you’ll need to add “grit” to the chicken’s feed. Broken oyster shells and small stones in their food help them to digest.
As well, your chickens need 24-hour access to fresh drinking water. You may provide this in a retail chicken waterer. It’s also recommended to add commercial poultry vitamins to the water.
Like any animal and any pet, chickens also love treats. Some favorites include dried mealworms, peeled and cored apples, alfalfa and plain yogurt. But every chicken’s favorite is corn. This is the recommended reward for chicken training. And chickens also love table scraps. Suggestions include pasta, green vegetables, dry cereals, raisins and bananas.
But be judicious with treats, especially ones high in fat. An overweight chicken can become sick very quickly. They will also produce low-quality eggs.
Getting your chicken outdoor time
So, you have decided having a house chicken indoors is the right choice for you. But to make sure it’s the right choice for them, too, your chicken must have significant outdoor time. Chickens, as mentioned, are outdoor creatures, and they won’t thrive stuck indoors.
Chickens thrive when given time to forage in a yard or in a park. If they start trying to eat bits of carpet or other non-food items around your house, that’s a sign they need more outside time. “They need to give themselves dust baths, which kills any body parasites and keeps them clean. It’s important for chickens to be able to scratch in the Earth for bugs, grubs, worms, etc.,” says Owen Taylor, city farms manager at Just Food.
Make time in your schedule for you and your chicken to take a walk outside every day. Possibly several times a day. Chickens need access to the outdoors, sunshine and grass as often as possible. It’s not required they run free in an enclosed area. You can even take them for a walk like a dog. Just be sure to purchase a chicken harness and avoid traffic areas.
Welcome to urban chickening
The answer to the question “Can you have a chicken in an apartment?” full-time indoors is yes. But the more important question is “should you?” That’s a decision you have to make dependent on your budget, time, patience, space, situation and permissions.
You’ll need to do significant prep and research before you jump into the world of indoor urban chickening. Read every website you can. Talk to breeders and fellow enthusiasts. And read up in books like “The Chicken Health Handbook.”
And if every light seems green, proceed cautiously, and enjoy getting to know and bond with your new house chickens. If you’re looking for a pet-friendly apartment in your city, be sure to peruse the listings at Rent..