Living With Chickens
Chickens are amazing animals. They provide us with eggs, meat, and make wonderful pets. Like dogs and cats, they come in a variety of shapes, colors and styles. Some are red, some are orange, some are black, some sprout feathers out of the tops of their heads that look like wild hairdos, and some have feathers that seem more like fur than plumage.
Mixing breeds can be fun! Not only do you end up with healthier, more genetically diverse stock, but the chicks tend to carry on their parents most unusual traits, giving you new birds that are even more fun to look at.
In the pictures that follow, you'll see all kinds of interesting chickens that we have on my own family's ranch, including some common breeds and some not-so-common breeds (like the Frizzle!)
Chickens are great to have if you have a garden. Not only do they produce lots of rich fertilizer that plants love, they also love to eat garden pests like slugs, snails and worms. They love to dig and break up bare dirt and if held regularly, will even follow you to work in the garden at the same time you do. Unlike ducks or geese, they require no pond or lake, and will usually stick close to the house. With the exception of the occassional aggressive rooster, they're generally very sweet and skittish when it comes to new people or things that move fast, meaning you generally won't have to keep them in any special enclosure to protect guests from them or keep them out of the road. It's usually a good idea, however, to have a place that they can sleep at night which can be locked, especially if you live in a rural area where wild animals are likely to eat them. After all, everything loves chicken, and animals like foxes, racoons, skunks and coyotes are no exception!
Another great thing about chickens is that they get along great with other animals, though sometimes it takes a little work to keep your flock intact and your other pets from thinking chickens are just a new form of chew toy. As you can see (to the right) we've managed to train our farm dog to treat chickens like part of the family, and now he even goes so far as to guard the flock. Turkeys even get along with them quite well, though you have to be careful about size differences between different species of birds. Turkeys get big fast, and when in close quarters with chickens (who don't grow so fast) you may be faced with a real danger of the smaller birds getting trampled.
I've never seen it personally, but I've heard that chickens can be housebroken and trained to use a litterbox like a cat. As animals go, some of them are quite intelligent, and some of ours even respond individually to their own names in the same way that a trained cat or dog might. They realize when one of their own is missing, and if they see another chicken eaten or killed, they remember what did the deed and how, so if you eat your chickens, make sure to take out their buddies where they can't see you. Yeah, they'll miss the one that's gone for a little while (especially if it's a particular rooster's favorite hen) but they won't be psychologically scarred and distrustful of you if they don't catch you in the act.
In all honesty, there's really nothing wrong with eating the pet chickens that you've named and loved. In America, we tend to think that eating something that you've handled, talked to, and treated like a pet is a barbaric practice, but in truth it is the most humane thing you can possibly do. After all, when you eat a chicken, whether it be your own or one diced into a burger or a taco you pick up at a fast food joint, you're asking an animal to give up its life in order to nourish you. There's nothing wrong with that-- chickens and other livestock have been feeding humans (and other animals) in some form or another for thousands, if not millions of years, and if you're going to be grateful for that substantial contribution to humanity as a whole, why not embrace the animals that you're going to eat, give them a good life, and let them live happy and free until the time comes (as it does for all of us) to fulfill their most profound duty in the greater scheme of things.
After all, if you were a chicken, would you rather be raised commercially, in the vicious and cruel system that produces most of the meat we eat in America today, or would you rather be treated like a pet, cared for and loved, handled and fed as much as you can eat with the freedom to go wherever you want? You're going to get eaten either way. It just makes more sense to love your chickens!