Raising a flock of backyard chickens as pets with “benefits” is a fun, fulfilling activity that the whole family can get involved in. Kids love to help collect eggs, refill feeders and waterers, and watch the chickens chase bugs in the yard. If you are considering starting a flock of backyard chickens, choosing a few “kid friendly” chicken breeds will result in a flock of calm, docile hens that your kids can have fun petting, holding and interacting with.
Getting your chickens as baby chicks and handling them often (be sure to teach your kids how to safely hold the chicks – always have an adult present to avoid accidents or injuries – and enforce strict rules about washing hands after handling the chicks), bringing them treats, and spending time with them early on will ensure your chickens are used to your children, and vice versa. In the past I have bought pullets (young chickens, usually 3 months of age or older, but under a year old) and despite spending plenty of time with them, never found them to be as friendly as those I raised from hatch or as day-old chicks. It really does make a difference, so buy your chicks as young as you can — or hatch your own in an incubator (chicks hatched under a hen aren’t as friendly to humans as those hatched in an incubator).
In addition, choosing chicken breeds known for being friendly and calm is your best bet for a family-friendly flock and very important if you are interested in raising the chickens as pets. I have raised nearly twenty different breeds over the last seven years and temperament from breed to breed really does vary greatly. I am naturally drawn to the more friendly breeds and now have a flock comprised nearly entirely of chickens that have no problem letting me hold them and pet them, and even seem to enjoy the company of humans.
Since many areas limit flock size to just five hens, here are five of my favorite chicken breeds. I would actually recommend getting one of each for a diversified, interesting kid-friendly flock.
L to R: Buff Orpington and Australorp, Salmon Faverolle, Olive Egger, Blue Cochin, Australorp
Gorgeous, buttery yellow Buff Orpington chickens are often referred to as the “golden retrievers” of the chicken world. As far as raising chickens as pets, if you can only choose one breed, this is it. Buffs are notoriously calm, sweet, friendly chickens. They are fairly large, but not so large as to be intimidating to little ones. They are brown egg layers and are both cold hardy and heat tolerant. One of my first chickens was a Buff Orpington named Grace and she sure lived up to her name. She was a sweet hen who never bothered anyone and loved to trail around after me in the yard like a puppy dog.
The name Australorp comes from blending the words “Australian” and “Orpington”. Very similar in size and temperament to Buffs, Australorps were bred in Australia from Black Orpingtons and are the Australian version of the Buff Orpington. They are solid black, although their feathers will shine with a purple and green sheen in the sunlight. Australorps lay pale tan eggs and hold the world record for egg laying.
A personal favorite chicken breed of mine, my flock has always included at least one or two Australorps. My current flock has two Black Australorps, one of whom is my alpha hen Annie who rules the roost with a firm yet kind hand (claw?). She has never been unnecessarily aggressive to either the other hens or chicks. And in fact, she has hatched eggs for me and been a wonderful mother to the chicks.
Faverolles are one of the most adorable chicken breeds. They come from France and come in one of two colors – either white or salmon. They have feathered feet and cheek muffs, making them some of the cutest, puffy little chickens. Faverolles chickens are so docile, they are often at the bottom of the pecking order, but their gentle nature makes them a perfect fit for a family flock. They are curious and active and tend to be a bit talkative as they lay pale cream-colored eggs.
Cochins are another chicken breed that works well in a family flock of chickens as pets. Extremely calm and laid-back, they are large hens with feathered feet – originally bred in China as an ornamental breed. They are hardy and perfectly content to lazily wander around the backyard. They lay large light brown eggs and can tend to go broody (sit on eggs until they hatch), but don’t generally turn into “broodzillas” like some other chicken breeds do, so if you want the experience of hatching some chicks under one of your hens, a cochin mom is the perfect choice. Cochins come in a variety of colors including black, white, blue and buff.
Now for some different colored chicken eggs. Kids and adults alike get excited about a little color in the egg basket! While I don’t find either Maran chickens (that lay chocolate brown eggs) or Ameraucana chickens (that lay blue eggs) to be terribly friendly chicken breeds, their offspring, the Olive Egger is a fun chicken for the backyard flock and calmer than their parents.
Olive Eggers, as their name suggests, lay gorgeous olive green eggs. The Olive Egger (not yet a recognized breed) was created by crossing a dark brown egg layer (such as a Marans, Penedesenca or Welsummer) and a blue egg layer (an Ameraucana, Araucana or Cream Legbar) to create the deep green color. In addition to the green eggs they lay, Olive Eggers have retained some of the best traits of their parent breeds and have feathered feet, cute cheek muffs and are beautiful chickens, usually a glossy black or beautiful lavender/blue. They are on the small side, which can be attractive to younger children, and not as flighty as the Ameraucanas and other blue egg laying chicken breeds.
Raising chickens as pets, as I mentioned above, is such a great pastime for the entire family. Choosing chicken breeds that don’t mind being picked up, love to be petted, and will follow you and your kids around like pet dogs makes the whole experience even more fun for everyone. Check out some of the five chicken breeds I recommend for your flock. I have personally raised them all, plus many other breeds, and find these five to be the friendliest, calmest, most “pet-like” hens. Even the roosters of these breeds are more docile and less aggressive than other roosters – another important thing to keep in mind when you start your backyard flock, especially if you have small children.
Photo credit: Sara B. from ChickinBoots!
What are your favorite chickens as pets? Can you add to this list?