BY MARTIN HODSON
Keeping chickens as pets became increasingly popular in the 2000s among both urban and suburban households. Per the 2019 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), eight percent of Americans have backyard chickens and six percent consider these chickens to be pets. Moreover, the USDA anticipates that urban chicken flocks will increase by over 400 percent in the years to come. Many consumers stumble upon the idea of taking on a pet chicken and ask themselves, “How hard could it be?” Like any domestic pet, a pet chicken requires sufficient resources to stay healthy. With the prevalence of keeping chickens on the up and up, pet stores can stay ahead of the trend by stocking products for chicken owners.
Aside from providing pet chickens with a hearty share of commercial feed, they will also need a clean, dry living space. Chickens are social animals and do best when raised in a flock with other chicks, but owners must understand that their henhouse should be roomy, well-insulated and well-ventilated. One of the key items to note when keeping pet chickens is the risk of predators—like foxes, raccoons and coyotes; chicken wire alone is not enough to keep your fowl safe. During the day chickens should be confined to a fenced yard, and at night they should be placed in a secured coop to protect them from harmful pests. An automated chicken coop door opener like ChickenGuard’s can aid in protecting chickens from predators without requiring pet owners to manually operate the door, and the brand’s self-locking door kit prevents predators’ claws from lifting the coop door. Before getting ready to collect their first batch of eggs, consumers must also equip their chickens’ nest with bedding to pad freshly-laid eggs and avoid them from cracking.
Nutrition is critical to the longevity of a chicken, and they must be fed correctly. The basis of any good chicken diet is a high-quality poultry pellet made with ingredients like wheat, salt, maize, sunflower seeds and oats. Chicken feed should be high in protein, organic and ideally milled in the U.S. to ensure that hens are healthy and laying eggs. Beyond that, one must keep in mind that chickens like to eat small portions throughout the day and be sure to provide them with access to clean, fresh water at all times.
The Needs of the Chick
While all chickens should be fed a crumble or pelleted diet, chickens in different life stages require tailored nutrition plans. Chicks consume a diet higher in protein and fat than feeds made for adult birds. Laying hens require a high amount of calcium, protein and vitamins to produce quality eggs. Roosters and hens not laying eggs need much less calcium than their egg-laying counterparts and should be fed a maintenance diet. Regardless of age, chickens should get plenty of fresh feed daily and should be allowed to eat as much as they want.
As the years go by, studies show that consumers are gratifying their pets more and more. APPA notes that Americans spent $72.6 billion on food, vet visits and other pet-related agencies this past year—a number that more than tripled the amount invested two years ago. While keeping general bird supplies in stock is fairly common among retailers of pet products, products specific to chickens are often discarded as a niche market. As the number of backyard chicken keepers grow larger and consumers continue to spend increasingly more each year on pet products, retailers are in a unique position to capitalize on this trend.