Pet Chickens

Are chickens the new dogs?

Chickens are social, inquisitive, playful, and affectionate. They are not just members of a faceless flock, chickens are unique individuals with personalities.

With the trend of backyard chickens, people often get chickens without knowing what they are getting into, leading to unnecessary suffering. Learn how to care for them before bringing them home.

Are you thinking of having chickens, but don’t know if they are right for you?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of keeping chickens so you can make the right decision for your family.

First and foremost, chickens make awesome pets! They are fun, social, cute, and each has their own personality.

They are also quite smart! Research from the University of Bristol has demonstrated that chickens outperform not only cats and dogs but also human toddlers in multiple cognitive and behavioral tests. They have about 30 unique vocalizations used to convey different messages. For example, they make different sounds for land and aerial predators.

Chickens are also wonderful garden helpers! They eat bugs and grubs, weed the garden, aerate the compost pile, and generate nitrogen fertilizer.

And they lay eggs! Well, the hens do… And they are probably the most “humane” eggs you will ever find (see this article on “egg labels”) because you fully care for them from the day you bring them home to the day they peacefully pass away in their coop.

So, what’s not to like? Show me the chickens!

Well… here are some other things to think about before you decide.

Most importantly, chickens are a long-term commitment. They usually live 8 to 10 years. Also, if you get them for their eggs, know that as a hen ages, she will lay less, and there is no other humane option than to keep her.

Chickens need some of your time each day. Not much, about 30 minutes or so once the coop is set up. Who is going to take care of them when you are out of town? Is your family onboard with the chicken keeping and ready to get their hands dirty too?

Keeping chickens is more expensive than you think. Don’t get chickens to have cheap eggs, they will be more expensive than any you can buy.

Chickens don’t require a ton of space. But the more space the better, both in and outdoors. See next tab for the housing requirements.

Last but not least, check if your town allows you to keep chickens. Every city has their own rules, so call them. Many do not allow roosters and have a maximum number of chickens you can have and some require permits. While you are talking to them, also check the regulations related to waste disposal, the minimum distance required from the coop to the property lines, etc.

To keep happy and healthy chickens, you need a proper coop, plenty of space, a clean environment, and good food. So let’s look at the basic requirements for housing and food.


A chicken coop consists of a house where the chickens sleep at night and lay their eggs, and a run is where they roam during the day.

The chicken house is their fortress; no predator or rodent should be able to penetrate it at night when the door is closed. That’s key, as chickens are prey animals and it’s our job as guardians to protect them. We hear too many horror stories of raccoons or dogs entering a coop and killing all the birds.

More on what to feed chickens

The size of the house naturally depends on the number of chickens. Here are the minimum requirements:

  • 4-sq ft floor space per chicken
    The floor should be covered with at least 2” of bedding material (wood shaving, straw, shredded paper…) to provide a soft surface and absorb droppings and odor.
  • 1-ft roosting space per chicken
    A 2×2 with rounded edges works great for standard size chickens.
  • 1 nest box (1ft x 1ft x 1ft) for every 3 to 4 hens
    Chickens love to share! 🙂

It’s important to have good air circulation in the house to prevent both dust and moisture buildup.

Last, but not least, choose a coop that is easy to clean because that’s going to be one of your regular activities. Little chicken-size windows and doors are cute but not very practical for humans. 🙂

The run is a safe outdoor area connected to their house where chickens spend the day. Like the house, it should be predator and rodent proof.

The minimum size for the run is 10 sq ft per chicken, but the more space you give them, the happier they will be. And the run should be partially covered when it rains to keep the food and the dust-bath area dry.


Chickens are omnivores and eat just about anything, but they do need a balanced diet to stay healthy. Their food must meet their nutritional needs based on the season, the temperature, their age, weight, and number of eggs they lay.

We recommend getting a commercially prepared feed to provide the right mix of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fat to the flock. Commercial feeds are formulated according to the chicken lifecycle and include chick starter, grower, developer, and layer rations. Feed designed for adult chickens is usually in the form of pellets, which consist of ground-up ingredients that are mixed and compressed and are highly digestible.

In addition to their feed, you will need to provide calcium for laying hens, as these require lots of calcium to produce eggshells. And if your chickens don’t have access to the soil, they will need some grit as well.

Never give your chickens avocado, citrus, and uncooked beans, as these foods are poisonous to them.

Also be careful with the plants in the chicken yard, although chickens rarely eat toxic plants. Here are two useful lists for keepers of chickens: toxic plants and safe plants.

Are you still with the program? If “yes”—

Here is a detailed checklist of things to get ready before bringing the chickens home:

Gearing up checklist

Adopt your chickens at your local animal shelter or farmed animal sanctuary.

You can also find your perfect match on,, and

Here are the top three reasons to adopt a chicken instead of buying them:

You save a life.

Like dogs and cats, too many chickens come into shelters and too few people consider adoption when looking for a chicken.

Some farmed animal organizations rescue hens from the egg industry so they can have a second life in your backyard.

When you adopt, you save a chicken by making her part of your family and opening up space for another one to be sheltered and rescued.

You don’t support hatcheries.

Almost all eggs and chicks come from hatcheries including the ones you find at the local feed stores. Hatcheries are factory farms, very similar to puppy mills.

The parents and grandparents are bred, and the less desirable offspring are killed in order to control the bloodlines. The survivors are de-beaked and kept in sheds until their time is up.

The fertilized eggs are artificially incubated, the chicks never meet their mothers, and they are inhumanely shipped via mail (not all make it alive to their destination). In fact, hatcheries are even worse than puppy mills because they kill the boys just after hatching.

So actually you save two lives when you adopt a hen!

It’s much easier.

By adopting an adult chicken, you are skipping the time-consuming and messy job of raising a chick.

With an adult chicken, you also know the gender. No surprise rooster, nor the agony of deciding what to do with him!

Since most of the cities in the San Francisco Bay Area don’t allow roosters, please don’t buy baby chicks, as the sexing is not 100% accurate. If you hatch eggs yourself, half of them will be roosters. As it’s impossible to re-home them and illegal to dump them, they will end up being killed.

A second life for ex-commercial hens

Just like cats and dogs, chickens do feel pain and can get ill.

Find a vet who sees chickens near you (see list of local vets) before you need them, and put that vet’s number on the coop or wherever you will easily find it in an emergency.

Chickens do need regular health checks (at least twice a year), but those health checks are usually performed by their guardians and not at the vet. Chickens do not need annual shots like our furry companions (see vaccination).

Many chicken illnesses are curable if they’re caught in time. The problem is that chickens are very good at hiding their symptoms, and when we notice that something is off, we have very little time to act. So it’s very important that you get to know your chickens and quickly notice any difference in appetite or behavior.

As soon as you suspect that one of your chickens is sick or injured, isolate her from the others, and contact your vet right away.

How to do a health check

Want to learn more about these awesome creatures?

Check out Clorofil’s resources and sign up for their monthly newsletters. They are full of practical tips and facts about chickens to help you have a happy and healthy flock.

Clorofil’s resources

Clorofil also offers a basic class and advanced chicken care classes.​

  • “Gearing Up for Pet Chickens” will show you what is involved in keeping them in your backyard, and teach you the basic requirements like housing, food, and maintenance.
  • “Happy & Healthy Pet Chickens” will show you how to enrich your backyard, introduce new chickens to your flock, perform health checks, and treat some common injuries and illnesses.
Chicken care classes More resources

About the Author

Isabelle Cnudde is the founder of Clorofil, an all-volunteer animal advocacy nonprofit and micro-sanctuary in Los Altos. As a humane educator, Isabelle gives talks about the plight of farmed animals and the impact of animal agriculture on our planet. She also rescues chickens and educates the public about their care.

She has been an education partner of Palo Alto Humane since 2016.