Choosing chickens as pets

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2013 - 6:45 PM

There’s Chicky, Buffy and Goosey. Goosey is not a goose. There’s also Brownie, who is not a chicken: She’s a partridge that joined the flock. You will not find them listed in the Shakopee phone book, but they’re family members nonetheless — and inspiration for a new book on raising poultry at home.

It’s “Young Chicken Farmers,” written by Vickie Black and published by Beaver’s Pond Press. It tells kids what to expect when the family decides to incorporate poultry into the domestic menagerie.

So how did this happen, anyway? Most people are content to know chickens as something on a plate and leave it at that.

“We were at a local pumpkin patch,” Black said. “They had a chicken coop, and my child was just laughing and laughing as one of the chickens ate corn out of his hand. I looked at my husband, and said, ‘We could have chickens in our back yard!’ ”

Good thing the kid wasn’t laughing at giraffes.

Once the idea was planted, the husband and sons built a coop, and they sent away for the chicks.

While reading up to prepare the family for the adorable new arrivals, she realized that everything aimed at kids was either a book of cartoon talking chickens or something dry and anatomical. That’s when she got the idea for the book — a fun primer on urban bird husbandry filled the niche.

How many chicks finally arrived in the mail?

“At first I ordered 15. Once they got big enough I shuffled a whole lot out to my mother-in-law.” (Note: she was expecting them.) “We’re ready to expand now, so instead of building another coop, I reached out to our local high school shop program, and they’re building a coop. I’m going to turn it into a chicken resort.”

If this seems odd to most urbanites, it could be that they don’t know chickens can be pets as well as nugget fodder. But are they really, you know, pets?

“Absolutely. We went to mypetchicken.com …” Seriously? There’s such a thing? Of course there is. “It asks you what type you want — if you want to hand-feed them, hold them, hug them and so on. We ended up with Buff Orpingtons.” Sounds like a myopic bodybuilder.

“They’re so friendly! My 2-year-old picks them up and carries them around. We’ve trained them to come when we call — ‘here, chickie chickie.’ Some breeds you can even hold like cats.”

Any input from the neighbors? “They’re much quieter than a dog — except when they lay an egg, then it’s ‘cackle cackle, I did it!’ Or if a hawk is overhead.

“But I’m going to get a rooster this spring. We’ll see when he starts crowing.”

Final, delicate questions. Has raising chickens changed your mind about consuming their parts for delicious, healthy meals?

“My family eats chicken. We love chicken. But I will never eat my pet chickens. When they stop laying, they can just wander around and live a happy life.”

Who could ask for more?

 

James Lileks

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