My Pet Chicken: Sweet Tweets
Though not considered the usual pet, chickens make great family members. They're friendly, easy to care for, and fun to have around. They also have surprising amounts of personality and are much more interesting than people expect.
Right now we have several pets, among them a sweet little chicken named Sweet Tweets. Most people when, finding out we have a chicken as a house pet, are very curious and want to know more about her and what she's like. So, I decided to write this article to tell a little about her and share the fun that comes from having a chicken live with you.
Getting Our Pet Chicken
Sweet Tweets originally came from a chick hatchery. Chick hatcheries are places that raise chicks and sell them to the public.
A couple in our area purchased a bunch of hatchery chicks, among them little baby Sweet Tweets. Sweet Tweets lived with the rest of the chicks for a couple of months, growing and maturing. She wasn't doing as well as the other chicks though and was starting to get weak and picked on. The couple who had her thought she might be blind so they decided to get rid of her to a home where there might be less chickens to pick on her and where she could get the care she needed.
They posted her on our local Freecycle site where I saw her. I recently wrote an article about having chickens as house pets (House Chickens) and it had made me miss having a house chicken, so seeing the posting really made me think.
I knew that many chickens of her breed (Silkie, sometimes called Japanese Silkie) were thought to be blind simply because they have so many feathers on their heads and around their faces that they can't see out. Also, many Silkies end up going blind because they get feathers that curl around and poke them in their eyes and cause problems. If that was the cause I could simple cut back her feathered crest and she might be okay, and if that was not the problem and she was truly blind, there was likely no way she would flourish in a normal chicken setting. Even in a small flock she would get picked on and have a hard time finding the food and water.
Blind chickens can survive in a normal flock, I know of several cases where it has happened, but generally the chickens end up wasting away. The owner has to always keep everything in the same place so the chicken can learn where they are and they also need to be watched very closely. Many people just can't devote that much time to one chicken.
Knowing all that, and that Silkies make wonderful house chickens since they are so calm and complacent, I decided to get Sweet Tweets from the lady and try to help her see again or at least give her a good home.
Sweet Tweets After Coming Home
When I picked up Sweet Tweets it was too dark to assess her, so it wasn't until we got back to the apartment that I could check her out to see what the problem was. She had a fairly full crest for her age, so the first thing I decided to do was clip some of it away from her eyes. That made it easier to see the problem.
Assessing Our New Chick
Sweet Tweets had bunches of feathers jabbing her in the eyes, causing fluid to leak and making crusty mats out of the feathers. This was exacerbated by her having a cold, an illness that many chickens catch (no, people can't catch it).
Often chickens become carriers of these chicken colds and show no signs of illness until they are stressed, in which case it exhibits itself. Healthy chickens can shrug it off, but lack of food, getting picked on, and being handled too much (the couple who had Sweet Tweets had many small children who liked to play with the baby chicks) all cause the cold to become worse and it may even kill the chicken eventually.
Since the symptoms of the cold are having a hard time breathing, getting plugged nostrils, and getting crusty mats over the eyes, it can get very serious. The chooks with the cold often can't find food since they go blind, and as they grow weaker and weaker the other chickens turn on them and peck them to death or they die of starvation.
By simply cleaning around the face regularly with a damp cloth to prevent buildup, the chicken almost always gets better as long as it is caught early enough. Most of the time the virus stays in their system though, so they should never be introduced to your flock since they can share the cold easily and they have to be watched so they don't relapse when stressed.
I figure Sweet Tweets started showing symptoms of the cold because she was extremely stressed by being handled too much and not being able to find enough food and water since the feathers were welded to her eyes. She wasn't naturally blind and so there was a chance she could regain her sight, as long as it wasn't too late.
Helping Her Get Better
Since I work at home on the computer, I placed Sweet Tweets in a basket on the desk next to me where I could keep an eye on her.
Knowing the most dangerous part was her not getting enough food and water because she couldn't find it, every hour or so I dipped her beak into some fresh water and some food so she would be forced to eat and drink at least a little. I also kept tissues handy to wipe away any crusts that started forming over her eyes.
Since her crest was cut back and her face kept clean, Sweet Tweets' eyes started healing. As Sweet Tweets' eyes healed she started being able to see again.
She soon didn't need to have food forced on her, she went over and ate it herself and she became curious about what was going on. The more she ate and drank, the better the little chicken got, until she was finally well again.
Sweet Tweets and Cat Friend
Naming Our New House Chicken
As Sweet Tweets got better, we decided that she needed a name.
She was really sweet, and docile, even for a Silkie, and I had been seeing a lot of a certain bird lately, the bird on the Twitter page. Plus, one of the first things I did after we got her was tweet about her, so we decided to call her Sweet Tweets.
Sort of like Tweety Bird, some of like Twitter, and all sorts of sweetness.
Chicken Little - Our Young Hen
Once Sweet Tweets started feeling better she started eating more and growing. She soon doubled in size and was no longer skin and bones and feathers.
Silkies don't get very big. Silkies are a type of bantam chicken, or you could call them mini chickens. Bantam or banty breeds are all smaller than standard chickens, but the different breeds vary. Silkies get only about a foot tall.
Sweet Tweets also fit herself right in with the rest of the pets, while remaining her sweet and docile self.
Though she had her own cage to go to, Sweet Tweets liked to be near me when she went to sleep. Chickens are flock animals, so when you keep one as a house pet you need to be around them all the time since you are their flock and chickens can't stand being alone.
At bedtime, Sweet Tweets would try to leap onto the desk where I work. She couldn't quite make it though, jumping was definitely not her forte, but a quick boost and she'd be up on her spot where she could groom herself a bit then fall to sleep.
Like all chickens, Sweet Tweets liked treats, though it would take quite a bit to convince her that the treat was good. Being shy and without other chickens to show her the way, she refused to touch most things.
To even get her to try watermelon I had to repeatedly tap my finger on the rim of the plate to make her think I was pecking at it, then when she still only gave it a curious stare, I tried making the sound that other chickens make when they eat food, no go. Finally, dipping her beak into the watermelon finally made an impression and she gave it a shot.
Finding out that the treat was tasty, Sweet Tweets then would eat a bunch.
Sweet Tweets, like most chickens, loved mealworms. They are a healthy and yummy treat for chickens.
Walking the Chicken
House Chicken Dustbathing
Dustbathing is important to all chickens, including house chickens.
That means we either need to take them outside to a dustpile or give them dustbathing opportunities inside the house similar to chinchillas.
We tried giving Sweet Tweets plenty of different ways to dustbath, but she only wanted to dustbath on the carpet.
We would put Sweet Tweets in her harness and leash, then take her outside to all sorts of places that might appeal to her. She didn't like deep dirt. She didn't like smooth dirt. She didn't like dirt at all.
Sweet Tweets had absolutely no interest in being outside, being near dirt, or anything of the sort, so we made her a dust box in the house. The little chook decided it was nothing she wanted anything to do with it. The cats thought it was fun though, too fun, lol.
So since Sweet Tweets refused to dustbath we would give her baths with baby wipes and I'd hand pick at her feathers to groom her.
Chickens Like Grass
After the utter failure of the dustbathing in any sort of dirt, we decided to let Sweet Tweets try some grass. Chickens love grass and little miss priss should love it too.
We took Sweet Tweets on a nice long drive in the car and eventually ended up at a pleasant park with nice lush grass and tons of trees, hoping that Sweet Tweets might enjoy it. It didn't work out any better though, and she got very upset when it got a bit breezy and the sun was too bright and the grass tickled her toes.
We kept trying and hoping we could find one day with absolutely no breeze and no distractions and no dirt and no grass and ...well, she never did like the outdoors.
Sweet Tweets grew back her crest and always needs it trimmed back. She also needs to have her beak trimmed, it is ever so slightly twisted and she doesn't wear it down enough, so like fingernails, it keeps growing and growing.
House Chicken Diaper
Since Sweet Tweets was a house chicken, she had a diaper she'd often wear around the house.
Chicken diapers are handy to have to avoid messes on the floor, but since Silkies have really feathery butts the feathers need to regularly be trimmed back to keep poop from sticking to them. Silkies are easier to have wear chicken diapers than some other breeds though because of their more upright body.
Sweet Tweets wasn't a very active chicken though, so most of the time it was just easier to put a cloth where she would regularly hang out and just shake it into the trash a couple times a day.
A Chicken-Cat - Is Sweet Tweets a chicken or a kitten?
Sleeping on the Cat Tree
One of Sweet Tweets favorite places to be was the cat tree. It would sit abutted against my desk and there was even a level at the same height as my desk, so Sweet Tweets could wander back and forth between the two.
She liked to hang out with the cats as well, and often a feline or two would be perched on the cat tree. We covered her favorite level with a piece of towel to keep it clean.
Sweet Tweets would often sleep sort of weird. She liked to lay down, all stretched out, with her neck extended, and look like she was dead. Nope. She was just totally zonked out. Often, she would lay like that with her head hanging over the side, which I think had to give her a headache, but each time I tried to move her back into a more comfortable spot, she would wake up and give me quite a glare, then go back to sleep in the same position as before. Other times she would prefer her butt hanging over the edge, so we learned to position a trash can under that area to catch anything that fell so that area didn't have to be constantly vacuumed.
Perhaps Sweet Tweets got it from the kitties. As the picture to the right shows, my cat Alissandra would often lay the same way. I think they look a bit like a pair of dragons laying like that.
Unlike other chickens, Sweet Tweets never wanted to perch. Too lazy to sit up and roost, she just wanted to kick back and relax.
Is It a Chicken or Cat Cage?
Since chickens like a place to call their own, I gave Sweet Tweets a cage to sleep in. The only problem was, she refused to sleep in it and would only use the cage about 10 minutes a day to eat in.
Since she wasn't using it, the cats claimed the spot as their own. They liked it a lot, but since Sweet Tweets wouldn't use it and we kept tripping on it, it got put away and the kitties had to find a new hideout spot.
Notice anything off in the picture below?
A Flock of Cats
That's right, in the picture above Sweet Tweets is right there in the middle of the cats, eating their food.
Chickens adore cat food and Sweet Tweets was definitely not an exception to the rule. Perhaps because she watched the cats eating it, or maybe it's just because she liked it, but we had a hard time keeping her away from the cat food.
Some cat food is good for chickens. The extra protein helps them grow feathers better, which is great for when they are getting new feathers or molting, such as what Sweet Tweets was doing around this time. But too much protein is bad for them. Chickens can get gout just like people from too rich food, so they should be limited on how much they are allowed to have.
We put a bowl of chicken food right next to the cat food so we could easily redirect her toward the appropriate food. It's also encouraged her to eat her own food since when I refilled the cat food bowl and the cats would come racing up, she would race up to her food dish and gobble down food too. Unlike most chickens, Sweet Tweets wasn't a big foodie though, and she did not really obsess over what she ate. In fact, it was often hard to get her to eat enough.
Chicken and the Cats on My Desk
The cats seemed to think Sweet Tweets was a cat as well. They would give her baths and try to groom her. My cat Trinity, would even hold her down like a kitten while she cleaned her. Though she squawked a little at having to put up with it, Sweet Tweets didn't really mind at all.
Trinity Giving the Chicken a Bath
Cute Pics of Silkie Chicken
Intent Sweet Tweets
A Feather from Sweet Tweets
Sweet Tweets had feathers, like all Silkies, without barbels.
Barbels are little hooks that keep the sections of feather together, sort of like the hooks on Velcro. So, Silkie feathers are missing a key feather ingredient that would help their feathers stay flat.
That means instead of the sections of the feathers laying down flat and smoothly like most bird feathers, all of Sweet Tweets' feathers are more like down and had a furry, fluffy appearance. It made her look like she was furry and not a chicken at all.
Sweet Tweets' Feet
Some chickens have feathers all the way down to their toes, Silkies are one of those breeds.
Silkies are unusual in the chicken world though, they have five toes. Most chicken breeds do not, though there are a couple of other breeds that do.
Not all Silkies have five toes, though all should. It is a breed requirement, but there has been a lot of bad breeding that has caused bad feet to appear. Many Silkies have toes joined together or missing toes altogether.
Sweet Tweets didn't have perfect feet for a Silkie, but had the five toes on both feet at least.
Sweetie Sweet Tweets
Coy Sweet Tweets
What's With You and the Camera?
Learn More About Chickens
Learn more about chickens with this handy book that will teach you all you need to know to raise your own.
What's Up Chicken-Butt?
© 2009 Alisha Vargas