Pet chicken
June 22, 2009 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Can a chicken be raised in a cage like a canary?

Commercially raised chickens are confined to a small cage for their entire life. I've seen store bought setups that are outrageously expensive. Just looking for a couple fresh eggs per week.
posted by boby to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That thing is absolutely ridiculous.

If you want to raise chickens without letting them roam in your yard (they keep insect populations down, it's great!) just invest in some chicken wire, stakes, and plywood to build them a small coop and fence in their area.
posted by Loto at 6:28 AM on June 22, 2009

Chickens can live a short, miserable life full of disease in a cage. The internet is absolutely overflowing with resources explaining how incredibly cruel it is to keep a chicken in a cage, which you can look up. Battery cages are about to be banned in the EU because they are so cruel. Not only are the chickens prone to pecking other chickens to death in confinement (which is why their beaks are sliced off with a hot blade when they are chicks), but their bones are prone to very painful breakage and they (and their eggs) are measurably less healthy in several other ways. This is to say nothing of the trauma it would cause a chicken not to be able to interact with other chickens (they are a flock bird) and peck and scratch in the dirt as chickens have an instinct to do.

Please, please, please, please, please don't do this.
posted by Cygnet at 6:30 AM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also, chicken poo is very smelly when inside the house. If you want chickens you had better have a lot of space outside and very good building skills. We used to have a few backyard chickens roaming around and they would escape just about every week despite our best attempts at enclosures. They also had a giant repurposed dog house to call their own.
posted by amethysts at 6:49 AM on June 22, 2009

I am an owner of three chickens and two ducks. Never ever, never ever try to raise any kind of poultry by itself. They are social animals and need others of their own kind to stay healthy. Solitary birds get depressed and sick and don't lay many eggs. It's like a lifetime of solitary and no animal deserves that.

Chickens don't need a lot of space, only about 4-6 square feet. They are much happier, however, if they have a little bit of outside space, however small. All of my animals live on less than 1/20th of an acre, but they have plenty of space to move around and lots of grass to scratch at. Those free-range eggs are only so good because those birds have had a chance to eat greens and bugs.

In summary: don't do it.
posted by Alison at 6:53 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

A "chicken coop" is basically just a large cage that is (usually) set directly on the ground, often with a place for the chicken(s) to roost at night. Yes, you can pay $$$$ for a fancy one, or you can go to Home Depot and buy some chicken wire and some wood and make the whole thing for cheap.

Ultra-small cages, as mentioned above, are not the right way to raise chickens, at least from a moral and health standpoint.
posted by Forktine at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2009

I have friends who keep an egg laying flock in their back yard, and they live in a fairly standard sort of subdivision. Their birds seem happy, healthy and well-cared for and they're not exactly living on a large plot of land. The biggest obstacles seem to be culling the roosters out occasionally (for reasons of noise and neighborly harmony) and chasing away the odd possum. Lots of info at the urbanchickens website.
posted by jquinby at 7:06 AM on June 22, 2009

I had a single chicken, because my friend felt so sorry for the way the other chickens were picking on her that she convinced me I needed to give her a home. She looked like only half a chicken when she got here, because all of her tail feathers had been pulled out. She quickly became very attached to me and seemed to be a very happy chicken, considerably happier than when she was being tormented by the other chickens.

It was so easy to make that chicken happy. A grape or some leftovers from dinner were delightful to her, as were the bugs and worms she found in the grass. She would stand on the back of a bench outside my window so she could keep an eye on me while I worked. When I went outside, she would leap up into the air, apparently overjoyed to see me.

She produced at least one egg every other day. Her eggs were completely different from even the so-called "free range" eggs at Whole Foods, which are clearly nothing but a scam. The eggs from a yard chicken that gets to eat bugs have yolks that are orange, not yellow, and they taste incredibly better than store-bought eggs.

We never let her into the house, because, since chickens are not naturally vegetarians, their droppings are offensive. I would not like to keep a chicken indoors. As mentioned by others, an outdoor chicken cage is not difficult to build cheaply. Unfortunately, ours was not sufficiently varmint-proof, and eventually something (a rat? a possum? a raccoon?) got in and ate her one night as she slept. Chickens are pretty vulnerable at night and need a safe place to sleep.

Warning: if you live in the city, do not buy "straight run" chicks. "Straight run" means that half are male. The will crow, not only when it's time to get up in the morning, but all night long. It's maddening. If you have neighbors, do not inflict a rooster on them. Buy only hens.
posted by Ery at 7:07 AM on June 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

My Pet Chicken is a great resource. They're happy to answer email questions about chickens and will give you solid advice about how to raise your chicks. Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens is a book you should read before getting chickens.
posted by electroboy at 7:21 AM on June 22, 2009

If you have a small, but unsecured backyard, you could use a "Chicken Tractor."
posted by wfrgms at 7:38 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I should mention that the point of the chicken tractor is that it keeps your chickens safe, while allowing them access to various parts of your hard (because it's a mobile enclosure.)
posted by wfrgms at 7:40 AM on June 22, 2009

First: Ask an official for your town/municipality is legal. Many place allow for up to three HENS (please note: NOT roosters. For the love of God, spend the extra few bucks on sexed day-olds and get confirmed hens).

Second: Do your homework. Read the Storey guide to raising chickens, mentioned upthread, as well as Urban Chickens and Backyard Chickens.

Third: Contact your local agricultural extension and talk with them about local breeders, coop-building and chicken-raising hints, seminars, etc. Often, because of body-heat/temperature issues, online chicken sellers will only sell a bunch of chicks (like 15, minimum). The ag ext folks may know of other people who are looking for just a few birds, and perhaps you could go in on an order together.

Fourth: Choose a hardy breed for your first try. I have Buff Orpingtons, New Hampshire Reds (my favorites!) and Black Sex-links. They all give brown eggs, are fairly quiet (except for laying cackles), and are good with the kids. I know, I know, colorful eggs are sexy and impressive, but resist the fancies for now.

Fifth: Realistically evaluate your space and time. A small chicken tractor (think of it as a rickshaw coop) will let you move your coop around and fertilize your green space at the same time. Do you have a compost pile for used littler? Do you have a place to obtain feed? A place to store it? Will you be around to change water frequently? Who will care for the birds when you're away? (That's where neighbors come in handy.) Is there some dirt for them to bathe in? Grass to scratch in? Are you comfortable with doing minor stuff, like coating their wattles and combs with Vaseline to prevent frostbite? Chickens are low-care, but not no-care. What do you plan to do with them after their laying is finished?

No bird cages. No. No. No. Chickens are birds but they are unlike house birds and have their own requirements. Please do your reading before you start this project. Having said that--happy chickens will make you happy, too. Better to watch than TV, and there's nothing like the feel of a still-warm egg in your hand.

/love my hens, and even my ornery rooster
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:56 AM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oops, ask if keeping chickens is legal, I meant to say.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:58 AM on June 22, 2009

Oops, ask if keeping chickens is legal, I meant to say.

If you live in a neighborhood with covenants, check these as well. Our current 'hood (in TN) has an explicit line about livestock (poultry, swine, &c).

Nothing about bees, though. :)
posted by jquinby at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2009

Nthing the advice to give chickens a little bit of room to roam and ground to scratch. They don't require much and it's so much kinder than keeping them in a cage. I live in a residential neighborhoodSan Francisco and have a tiny urban backyard, but it's plenty big for 3 hens. If you have a postage stamp of a yard in Boston, it will probably be enough for 2 or 3 hens.

Assuming you've satisfied yourself it's legal to keep chickens in Boston, you'll want to build a coop or "tractor" to keep them in. I've read that chickens can tolerate considerable cold, and my coop is windproof but not heated. Then again, it doesn't get all that cold here. In Boston you'll need to make sure your birds will stay warm enough in winter.

Also, chickens love to eat grass and vegetables and certain flowers. They can take a yard down to bare dirt in a few months. If you have a garden, keep your hens out of it.

Chickens don't normally lay eggs all year. Commercial chicken farms use heat and lighting to simulate year-round summer, but your backyard birds will shut down in late summer/early fall, and resume again in spring. Their combs and wattles will be pale dusty pink when they're not laying, then turn brilliant red when they're, um, in the mood. (Shameless hussies!) Egg production also falls off as hens age, finally ending altogether at about 4 or 5 years of age ("eggopause", I call it). Your options at this point are a fried chicken dinner, or an entertaining but useless pet. *Sigh* Although they're still good for eating table scraps that can't go into the compost bin - they love meat, cooked or raw, although I never give my hens raw poultry for fear of disease. Yes, they eat chicken, the macabre little cannibals.

Lastly, I've read that raccoons can bite through traditional chicken wire, or reach a paw through a hole and grab part of a bird and start chomping. We made our coop using 1/4" mesh hardware cloth, which is much stronger. Expensive, but the coop itself is fairly small since the birds only go in there at night to sleep and spend their days trashing the backyard. Full-grown hens can stare down cats and most predators that might wander into an urban yard, but only if they see 'em first. Asleep at night they're vulnerable so you need to provide protection.

Just a note about flock size: hens are said to be happier when they have company, but 2 of my 3 hens have died (at ripe old ages) and the survivor seems pretty content. Maybe she would not have been happy as a life-long solo chicken, but she acts still acts pretty much like she did when the others were around, so I wouldn't say she's pining away (for fjords or anything else). Then again, her brain is the size of a garbanzo bean, so maybe she just hasn't noticed. Chickens are dumb.
posted by Quietgal at 9:35 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

jquinby: Nothing about bees, though. :)

All kinds of awesome. I'd love to hear more about your furtive beekeeping.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2009

Something else to consider: what will you do with your hen once she stops laying eggs? Friends of mine who keep chickens tell me that hens only lay eggs for a certain amount of time (and continue to live after the egg-laying stops). It may be legal to keep chickens where you live, but slaughtering livestock may not be legal (or something you personally want to do). This isn't to say you should or shouldn't get a chicken, just that if you do get one specifically for eggs, you need to plan for what you'll do once the hen is done laying eggs.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:03 AM on June 22, 2009

Small canary sidenote: Not many birds can live one to a cage and be confined to that cage like a canary and be happy about it. Even so, many canaries like the company of another canary in a nearby cage.

Small chicken sidenote: Chickens are so funny and fascinating to watch that it'd be a shame to keep them confined to cages. They're pretty cheap entertainment. I never knew a chicken could have such personality till I kept them myself.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:03 AM on June 22, 2009

The eggs from a yard chicken that gets to eat bugs have yolks that are orange, not yellow, and they taste incredibly better than store-bought eggs.
Many commercial farmers feed their chickens marigold petals in order to get those golden yellow yolks, as that is the color the public apparently prefers.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2009

Thanks for all the comments. It seems like more trouble than I thought. The free range eggs I get occasionally from a friend who has Araucana's are great. They have a big coop with dozen's of chickens. I was looking for a simpler smaller setup. The prospect of killing the chicken when it's egg laying days are over would be a problem for me.
posted by boby at 12:24 PM on June 22, 2009

The other drawback to keeping chickens inside is the dust. Typically you line the bottom of the coop with pine shavings or something similar, and the regular stretching of wings and attendant flapping coats everything in a nice thick layer of dust. We kept our chicks in a spare room and were a little slow in getting them outside. There was about 1/4" of dust on every surface by the time we got them out.
posted by electroboy at 12:42 PM on June 22, 2009

I've seen chickens kept in a laboratory for experimental purposes (NOTE to PETA types: this was 20-30 years ago) and they are very, very noisy and smelly. Feathers drift through the air.
posted by bad grammar at 6:42 PM on June 22, 2009

Chicken make a lousy house pet.
posted by Bonzai at 11:33 PM on June 22, 2009

I was thinking about this post this morning when I came in from feeding the chickens and, for the millionth time, sighed with relief that they were outside. I got them at a day old and kept them inside till they got big enough and the weather got warm enough that they could go outside. Toward the end there, every damn day I was cursing the nastiness of their poo and the dust and the smell -- it was just bad. I can't imagine wanting to do that for YEARS.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:01 AM on June 23, 2009

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