By Wendy E.N. Thomas – Olivia Dougherty, who lives in Delaware, Maryland, created her chicken clothes for a contest, sponsored by Cooptastic, one of the nation’s premier educational conferences dedicated to small and backyard poultry flock. And each conference holds a chicken costume contest.
“It’s along the lines of the lamb- and sheep-dressing contests frequently held at 4-H shows,” said Brigid McCrea, PhD, associate professor at Delaware State University and extension poultry specialist who organizes and helps judge the conference’s contest.
“Audience loves it to pieces,” McCrea continued. “Not only for the creativity but also for the conversation. It provides an opportunity for people to converse with one another and to talk to other poultry people.”
For her entry in the contest, Dougherty designed a “Superman” cape, complete with an egg logo. “I made it for my favorite chicken who is our biggest, white and black, ‘Supersize’ chicken.” Although her family no longer has chickens, if she were to design future chicken clothes for costumes, Dougherty thinks it would also have a superhero theme, along the lines of a Chicken Spiderman.
Dougherty does have goats and a pig and she admits to dressing them with collars, necklaces and little blankets. She has also dressed up her dog up as a lady bug and has put tiny shirts on her cat.
“It’s fun,” she says of the experience.
For some, the urge to put their backyard chickens in chicken clothes simply comes from a need. Kelly Nichols of Bloomville, New York, wanted to do a Facebook Christmas card, and decided what better subjects to use than a kid and her chicken? Nichols also works with a few of her hens to participate in agility challenges as well as hen therapy.
“It has been difficult,” said Nichols of the designing aspect. “I’ve tried a few dog outfits, but they just don’t fit right. I make our own chicken clothes. We’re pretty lucky; we have a couple different hens that will be patient enough to let me pattern on them.”
Some people, like Jennifer Pike, of Florida, became inspired to dress their flock in chicken clothes on a whim. “I was shopping with my mom at a store and came across a cute teddy bear outfit. We started joking about how people dress up dogs, and I said I was going to get it to put on my house chicken for a cute picture … and that started it all.”
Pike, who said she suffers from depression, also sees posting her chickens in their chicken clothes on Facebook as a way of bringing enjoyment to others, and has helped her connect with others who also use chickens as a means of coping.
“I liked posting funny pics of my chickens,” Pike said, “as raising chickens can be a heartbreaking hobby and many people who I chat with on forums. … The cute pictures bring smiles to people and also get non-chicken people interested in how chickens can be neat pets.”
Throughout the years, Sophie’s chicken clothes for her favorite pet Silkie chicken have included: a pirate costume, a police officer, a cheerleader, a bride, a Santa suit and a rain jacket. Pike has also had her chickens wear barrettes in topknots in shapes of bows or flowers along with a chicken diaper when they went to stores.
Everywhere Pike takes a dressed-up chicken, people can’t help but stop and ask questions. “Kids seemed very interested as well as parents. They never knew how diverse the looks of chickens could be or how sweet. Sophie traveled with me in my truck everywhere. She often rode in my lap, looking out the window glass or in a towel sitting in my seat console.”
Once, Sophie said, a lady at a drive-through got so scared of the chicken — “a little fluffy chicken with a hair barrett and a flowered diaper” — that another lady had to hand her the food.
“Eventually she started asking questions and became less afraid,” Sophie said.
Holly Olejnik from Huntington Mills, Pennsylvania, first started dressing up her chicken, Cheep Cheep, four years ago for a Halloween contest on Facebook. “Everyone loved her and went nuts on how well she took to being photographed.”
That was only the beginning. Cheep Cheep’s chicken clothes are fairly small now with about 30 dresses.
“We donate all that she has worn to family and friends that have little ones on the way,” Olejnik says of Cheep Cheep’s dresses. “All the chicken clothes that she wears are bought from thrift stores or yard sales. We shop in the children’s department or look for Halloween costumes that look fun. My grandmother Carolyn Gensel loves to go hunting for my next dress to post to Facebook. She carries a photo of me and shows off her grand-chicken to anyone wondering who the pretty dress is for.”
Cheep Cheep has quite the Facebook following from around the world. In fact, Olejnik says, “A lot of her friends, if they are in the area on vacation, ask if they can come meet her in person because she has brought so much joy and smiles into their life.”
If you’re interested, Cheep Cheep’s Facebook fan page is “Cheep Cheep Olejnik,” and her regular profile page is “CeeCee Olejnik.”
Sometimes, chickens need functional accessories like aprons (for protection against a rooster’s nails) and diapers (for, well, you know). Julie Baker, owner of Pampered Poultry (pamperyourpoultry.com) decided that if a bird has to wear functional chicken clothes, then it might as well look pretty. She has made designer chicken clothes, including floral chicken diapers and has added ruffles to chicken aprons to make them look more like attractive summer dresses.
Plain Old-Fashioned Fun
And then there is Kevin, the chicken that just showed up in Leona Palumbo’s driveway one day.
“I never had chickens nor did I know much about them,” Leona said. “My husband found her in a tree next to our driveway and brought her in to me as a joke, and she fell instantly asleep on my lap and it was love at first sight from there. We put flyers up about her around the neighborhood, but never heard from anyone. It quickly became apparent that potty issues needed to be dealt with, so I did a quick search online on a lark for ‘chicken diapers,’ and lo and behold, several designs popped up. I picked out the one I thought would work and ordered it. It works great and she fit in at home inside with all of our other pets just fine.”
Then one day, she bought Kevin a Christmas sweater.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know why the heck I bought it and put it on her … I really don’t. I just did and it she was so calm and easy going about it that it just became a thing we did and took pictures of. … We try to do holidays and family events and just fun things. I keep her page completely free of hot-button topics and I am amused and pleased at the incredibly varied following she has acquired in a very short time.”
Most people think it is fun, says Palumbo, but she has gotten some negative comments from animal activist types who think it is mean.
“But they just don’t know how loved and spoiled Kevin is. We never do anything that makes her uncomfortable and I swear, she even knows what’s going on as she sits so calmly, and once the picture is taken, she goes off again on her little way. Some other people have remarked that they can’t believe I let a chicken on my counters and furniture. Well, ‘That’s why there is soap and water in the world,’ I usually remark. Kevin is my pet, no different than my cats, dogs or other animals, and she is just as loved and welcome anywhere in my home.”
Whether it be for a competition, holiday, or just for pleasure, many people enjoy putting clothing and accessories on their chickens in order to dress them up. If you are going to costume your chickens, advises Brigid McCrea, PhD, associate professor at Delaware State University and extension poultry specialist, for the health and safety of your birds keep the following clothing guidelines in mind:
• Watch the weight of the costume, as chickens will get flustered if an outfit weighs them down.
• Along with fabric weight, be careful to not use fabrics that will overheat the bird. Polar fleece is a lightweight material but if worn for a long period, it may make your chicken too warm.
• An interesting fact about chickens is that they are naturally attracted to the color red and will peck at it; be careful of where red is used in the bird’s costume.
• Make sure that the chicken can move her wings and that the outfits do not in any way restrict her wing movement.
• If you are putting something around the chicken’s neck (necklace, bandana), make sure that it is lightweight and does not hang down so low that the chicken could potentially trip over it.
• Try not to use hats or head coverings. Chickens are prey animals, meaning they are constantly on the lookout for predators who may be after them. A hat restricts vision and won’t be tolerated very long by any chicken. Consider this the first step toward learning how to protect chickens from hawks and other predators.
• Be careful of beads and hanging decorations that the chicken may be tempted to try to eat them. Likewise, inspect the construction of the outfit to make sure that it does not have loose, dangly threads or that it might fall apart while the chicken is wearing it.
• Allow for waste to happen (because you know that with chickens it eventually will); either leave the back area open in a costume or prepare the chicken to wear a diaper. Composting chicken manure is an excellent way to add nutrients to your garden.
• Lastly, make sure that the costumes are made from washable fabrics, and for bio-security reasons, wash them after each wearing in order to avoid possible contamination among chickens.
Have you ever dressed your flock in chicken clothes?
See our fun fan photo shares and share your own #BackyardPoultryHalloween inspired pics on Instagram.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.