My husband, Jae, comments on it repeatedly: When we’re in town—at the home-improvement store, the shoe store, the feed store, even the bagel shop—people bring their dogs along, even to establishments that post signs prohibiting all but certified service animals.
“One of these days, I’m going to bring one of our chickens,” he grumbles to me. “If they tell me, ‘You can’t brink a chicken in here,’ I’ll tell them it’s as much my pet as that person over there’s dog.”
All grumbling—and laughter—aside, many poultry keepers view their feathered favorites in the same light that pet owners view their dogs and cats. We (yes, I’m guilty, too) call our chickens by their names, pamper them with special treats, fill our iPhones with photos of their antics, and do our best to refrain from talking about them 24/7. My friend Holly would buy little outfits at thrift stores for her late hen, Cheep Cheep. Another friend, Mira, takes her rooster, Sammy, to get photos with Santa every December. Not a single eyebrow would be raised if we were discussing a Labrador. Clarify that we’re talking about poultry, not pups, and the odd looks begin.
This goes a lot deeper. Our birds reside outside in coops, barns and henhouses. There exists a lesser-known community of poultry keepers, however, whose beloved birds share their living spaces. That’s right: The birds live inside the house. A visit to one of these homes might result in chance encounters with your friend’s house bird as it strolls through the kitchen or relaxes with the humans in front of the TV.
The practice includes birds other than chickens. My friend Fitz recently informed me (and the world, via Facebook) that she and her family adopted a special-needs Peking duck. Little Handy’s crippled legs prevent her from experiencing the quality of life a typical farm duck would enjoy. As a house duck, however, she gets lots of love and cuddles and enjoys watching college football and Garth Brooks with her new human family.
If you can’t bear for your favorite hen or rooster (or duck) to live outdoors, follow these steps to help with its transition from the barnyard to the bedroom and beyond.
1. Bathe It
Before bringing your bird into your home, provide a thorough bath. Despite our best efforts at sanitizing them, coops and runs are rampant with bacteria, parasites and other microbes you truly want to avoid having in your home. A water bath is something most chickens have never experienced, so make certain you create as calm an environment as possible. Use a washtub, a bathtub, a utility sink or any receptacle that provides sufficient space. The water should be just a couple of degrees warmer than lukewarm and feel comfortable to the touch. Six to eight inches of water is fine for full-grown standard fowl; three to four inches works best for bantams. Use a gentle-formula shampoo such as a no-tears baby shampoo, and be sure to wash well beneath the wings and around the vent. Have a couple of warm towels standing by, ready for wrapping and drying. A blow dryer works, too, as long as it’s on a cool setting.
If you’re working with a duck, you’ll need a few more towels … for yourself and for the floor, because your duck will happily splash and play in the water.
2. Restrict the Bird’s Access
You’ll need to decide where your house bird can roam. Some owners are fine with giving their house birds full, unrestricted access. Others might want to limit the bird’s territory to one floor or just a few rooms. I strongly recommend restricting access to carpeted rooms; linoleum, laminate and tile clean up much more quickly. Use child/pet safety gates to cordon off no-access areas, move potentially poisonous house plants to other rooms, and take care of hazards such as cords and outlets.
3. Designate Specific Sleeping and Eating Areas
It will take a week or so, but your house bird will learn where its “safe place”—its home within your home—is located. Select an area with little traffic, such as a laundry room or a seldom-used bathroom. For the shelter, a small dog crate, a pet carrier or even a large, sturdy cardboard box will do (although you’ll need to frequently change the latter). Place a doormat-style rug beneath it for stability and to protect your floor. Use shavings, shredded paper, pine pellets or even old towels for bedding, and leave the shelter open so your house bird can access it as desired.
I recommend keeping your bird’s food and water near the shelter, so the bird can associate comfort and safety with this one spot. I also strongly recommend placing your bird’s feeder and waterer on a non-skid pet mat. Years ago, we had a White-Crested Black Polish rooster named Stefanski (pictured below) who was repeatedly picked on by the rest of our flock. To help him recover his self-esteem and to recuperate from his pecking-order injuries, Stefanski joined us as a house chicken for a month. I’m almost positive that little roo entertained himself by kicking his food bowl around the kitchen multiple times a day. He might have enjoyed his soccer-like game, but I quickly grew tired of sweeping up the trails of crumbles.
4. Invest in a Poultry Diaper
One way I minimized Stefanski’s mess was by outfitting him in a Hen Holster. This wrap-around poultry diaper features a leakproof pocket that channels droppings away from your bird. To be honest, the use of a Hen Holster on Stefanski was the only reason I agreed to his house-chicken status. You can find other poultry diapers on Etsy and eBay. You can also use plenty of old towels to clean up after your bird, as Fitz does with Handy.
5. Be Prepared for Naysayers
Your friends and relatives might have a lot to say about your house bird, especially if they don’t understand the basic idea of you keeping poultry. The reactions we got when Stefanski lived with us ranged from eyebrow-quirked amusement to concern for our own health and well-being. (Quite a few family members feared we’d catch avian influenza or get sick from Salmonella.) Some people expressed outright disgust as well as joked about living with our dinner. One friend even questioned whether keeping Stefanski in our home was legal (you might want to check your local ordinances, just to be sure).
Had Stefanski been a German Shepherd or even a cockatiel, he would have been accepted without question. For many, however, there’s a definite line between domestic companion animals and domesticated livestock animals. The keeping of a house chicken or house duck (or even a house goose or house turkey—the latter might be pushing it) is purely personal, however. Only you can decide whether this type of animal situation is right for you. It might not be. On the other hand, it might be a love-filled, rewarding experience for you and your bird. “I’m a proud duck mommy,” Fitz told me. Little Handy is definitely a lucky duck.