Aging urban chickens get a second life as pets

07/27/2013 12:00 AM

07/26/2013 1:36 PM

As the urban chicken fad grows up, so do the chickens.

And that has become a snag for some urban farmers who jumped on the bandwagon for their own supply of fresh eggs: Most hens lay eggs regularly for only two or three years.

So what happens to those urban chickens that have become almost part of the family once they’re past their prime laying years?

Yes, some get eaten. But others get traded to other farmers, who may end up doing the eating.

“I cannot eat anything that I’ve made eye contact with,” said Teresa Kelly, a Roeland Park council member who advocated for an ordinance allowing backyard chickens in her city almost three years ago. “I wouldn’t dream of eating one of my own chickens.”

And some chickens hang around as pets.

Susie Arnold says they make great pets.

Arnold raises chickens in her backyard in southeastern Kansas City, Mo., and chickens have been part of her life since she was a little girl raising them with her parents in Merriam.

“Chickens do have personalities like all animals do,” Arnold said.

Some chickens are smart pets, and some, well, not so much. But that’s just like cats, dogs or other more typical pets, said Katie Nixon, a small-farms specialist with Lincoln University’s Cooperative Extension program. She has even seen chickens that come when you call their names.

“It depends on the chicken, but they can be quite good pets,” Nixon said.

Kelly said she has considered her hens as pets, too. She still has pictures of her sons holding their barred rock hen, Phat, who was one of her first chickens. After Phat died, Kelly and her family put some of Phat’s feathers in a glass Christmas ornament with a little red ribbon.

“We still have Phat feathers on our Christmas tree every year,” she said, laughing.

Different rules govern backyard hens in different areas, and some municipalities don’t allow them at all. Wichita residents are allowed to have three hens without a permit; they can have as many as 12 with a $25 permit.

In some spots around the country, animal shelters are dealing with chickens that people either don’t want or can no longer care for.

“If you’re going to get any animals, it doesn’t matter if it’s a goldfish, you have a responsibility to take care of it,” said Sheri McNeil, another Roeland Park council member and chicken owner.

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service