Yes, you did read the title correctly! Whilst not traditionally thought of domesticated pets, there is a minority faction in the poultry keeping community that treat their hens with the same level of care and affection that would usually be reserved for the family cat or dog, and yes, in some cases this even means allowing them to live inside the home of the owner!
Chances are you regard this idea with scepticism and/or you simply find it absurd. If however you like the idea of your favourite feathered friend snuggling up on your lap of an evening, it might just be possible to make it happen.
Clearly there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed before you even entertain the idea, chief of which will likely be how the ‘bathroom’ situation is managed.
Chickens can indeed be ‘potty trained’, although only successfully under specific conditions; the chicken will need to be tame enough to willingly sit on your lap or hand, and you’ll ideally start building its trust from a very early age. Beyond that time and patience is key, as is accepting that accidents do happen.
Working with your chick or juvenile hen from an early age, the aim is to get her to poop when you request that she does so. Whilst this sounds like a tall order, with practice it is more than achievable.
The key is to quickly learn what pre-pooping behaviour your hen exhibits, and anticipate when it is time for her to go. You can then encourage them to go in a designated litter tray by placing them in it initially, and in time they will hopefully make the association themselves.
The next step is to have control over the moment of ‘release’ by devising some sort of audible signal that will signal to the hen that they can now poop. It’s important that this doesn’t involve speech, because this can easily lead to confusion, and accidents! Instead choose an unusual noise, perhaps something emitted by banging a wooden spoon against a pan, blowing through a whistle, anything that cannot be misconstrued as speech.
Routine Is Everything
If you think you’ll be able to house train a chicken without suffering from ‘accidents’ along the way, then you’ll find yourself quickly disappointed. Chickens aren’t as stupid as people perhaps give them credit for, but then again neither are they likely to win any prizes for their intelligence either.
This means it will take time to drill the desired behaviour into them, and while you should definitely get there in the end, ensure you have a stock of cleaning and disinfectant products in the interim!
What is more difficult to determine exactly how long it will take for the hen to get an idea of what to do. As a very rough estimate, you should expect a pretty consistent success rate after about 2 or 3 weeks of hard work and perseverance.
While that might not sound too bad, be warned, when you’re having to clean up chicken poop several times a day for much of this time it can feel like far longer!
Rewarding Correct Behaviour
The key to making the process of potty training your hen a success is to reward the correct behaviour, so that the hen makes the association of doing the ‘deed’ in the right place with a reward.
What this reward should be depends on your hen’s individual preferences, but some ideas to try in advance of your potty training routine include fruit such as watermelon and banana, or carbohydrate rich foods such as pasta, or oatmeal. You’ll soon find out what your hens favourite is by their willingness to gobble up whichever of said foodstuff the quickest.
Whilst going through potty training it’s important to reward the correct behaviour swiftly, so that their is a clear association between one thing and the other. Needless to say you should not provide the treat at any other time, especially following an ‘accident.
Using Chicken Diapers
To maintain a bit more control over the situation as you slowly potty train your hen, you do have the option to use chicken diapers (yes they really do exist!).
Using diapers takes away a fair amount of stress over the pooping situation, especially in the early days. It means you can still enjoy the benefits of having a chicken as free roaming house pet, safe in the knowledge that they won’t leave you any unwanted gifts on the carpet when you aren’t paying attention.
Of course, if you’re serious about potty training you’ll want to ditch the diapers as soon as you can, but as a step in the process of not only potty training your hen, but also getting them accustomed to live indoors, and all that comes with it (such as other pets) they can certainly be a very useful tool.
The Benefits of Potty Training
Potty training your hens isn’t necessarily a prerequisite part of keeping hens indoors, but it certainly helps/makes the whole experience a lot more pleasant for everyone concerned.
If you can get to a stage where your hen is using the ‘bathroom’ more or less automatically, you’ve got one less thing to worry about and can instead reap the benefits of having live in poultry.
As for what those benefits are?
Well, when a chicken lives alongside you, in their eyes you take on the role as one of the flock, rather than as an outsider. This means they’ll want to have you around (and will probably be distressed when you’re not), meaning you get as many cuddles as you want, and a companion to rival a cat certainly, and possibly even a dog.
There are of course many other considerations to keeping a chicken indoors, not least safety around keeping them alongside other animals that would see them as a target under normal circumstances
If having this article you’re still not convinced, consider this; other birds such as parrots and cockatoos and readily kept as household pets and are trained in much the same way. Chickens aren’t all that different, they’re still birds after all, so is it really that much of a stretch to think they won’t be able to adapt to the same environment?
Sure it’s not an exact science, after all these are living creatures we’re talking about and accidents will probably always happen from time to time, but for the enjoyment you’ll get from having house chickens it’s well worth the occasional inconvenience.