The backyard chicken fad has brought many chickens into urban and suburban communities. Lake Elmo, Oak Park Heights and Stillwater, MN have recently revised their city ordinances to permit them.
Chickens are sociable, cheerful and intelligent creatures who can form lifelong bonds with each other and other species including humans, dogs and cats. They are warm and silky and lovely to hold. No wonder so many people are now recognizing them as loveable and endearing companions.
Here's a few things you might not have known about chickens:
- They are smart. A February, 2014 article in Scientific American reports that chickens posses communication skills on par with those of some primates, use sophisticated signals to convey their intentions, remember and use prior experience and knowledge, solve complex problems and can empathize with individuals who are in danger.
- Domesticated chickens are all descended from Tropical Jungle Fowl and are adapted to living in a natural habitat that is spacious, richly vegetated, diverse and warm. Because of their keen intelligence and instinctive physical activity, they need a stimulating environment that mimics as much as possible the rich and diverse world nature designed them to enjoy. This presents a particular challenge in a cold climate like Minnesota.
- Domesticated chickens can live as long as a dog or cat - up to 14 years or longer. Wild chickens can have a 30 year lifespan. In the wild, hens produce only 2 clutches of 10 to 12 eggs a year for the sole purpose of reproduction. Domesticated hens have been bred to have a prolonged reproductive period with commercial hybrids laying over 300 eggs a year. Reproductive disease is the leading cause of mortality in egg-laying breeds.
- Chickens need protection against predators. Common Minnesota predators include raccoons, dogs, coyotes, fox, mink, opossum, rats, owls, bobcats, hawks, snakes, weasels, ferrets, fisher and marten. Flight is their only defense - most are only capable of low flight in short distances. Smaller chickens can fly higher and farther.
Cedar Pet Clinic Medical Director Dr. John Baillie has been treating pet chickens and other companion birds since the 1970's. Dr. Baillie recently noted "chickens are individuals and have unique personalities like any other companion animal." He added that the AVMA has identified a need for more information on treating chickens as companion animals due to the rise in demand. Common avian health problems include respiratory problems, trauma injuries caused by dogs or wild animals, frostbite and reproductive problems. “Birds’ bodies aren’t designed to lay eggs daily for five to six years,” he said. Selective breeding has resulted in birds that produce eggs to the point of exhaustion and disease.
"Now that more and more people are discovering the fun of companion chickens...and more municipalities are allowing them...these pets are becoming an important part of our practice. We welcome pet chickens in our practice."
For good basic information about chicken care, see Recommendations for Municipal Regulation of Urban Chickens http://www.chickenrunrescue.org/chickencareandrequirerev2310.pdf
This publication is required reading for permit applicants for many municipalities including Stillwater and Lake Elmo.
Contributed by Mary Clouse of Chicken Run Rescue.