Fluffball and Arrow, our two backyard chickens, are pretty much the greatest pets ever.
Chickens are easy. As adult chickens, Fluffball and Arrow have their own coop and yard right next to our house (we use this coop kit, but even with just two chickens, you must also fence in a yard for them or let them free-range–nobody would actually keep a chicken in JUST that coop). My kids keep chicken food and water in their bowls, change their bedding weekly, clean up any uneaten scraps from their yard daily, and collect their eggs every night. Yep, two kids can do every bit of the work needed to maintain two chickens.
My kids are often in the chicken yard, petting or playing with their chickens, and I’m over there tossing toast crumbs or wilted spinach into their yard several times a day, and the chickens are happy to have our attention, but the great thing is that they also don’t *need* that attention. If we’re having a busy day, those chickens are just as content hunting and pecking around their yard and fighting over moths without us there to admire them.
Chickens are useful. They’ll eat not just toast crumbs and wilted lettuce, but potato bugs and ticks and weeds. If you set up a moveable fence for them and change it every day, they’ll pretty much mow your yard for you. If you put them in your garden before you plant it, they’ll eat those weeds and do some tilling and fertilizing for you. When the kids change the chickens’ bedding, have them toss it into the compost to break it down into even better fertilizer.
We’re moving next week, to a run-down old house with a couple of acres of woods and a couple of acres of fields; instead of planting a giant garden in those fields this year, I plan to fence the garden space and let the chickens roam it all summer while I unpack and get settled. By next spring, that space will be all set up and fertile, ready for my giant garden.
Chickens are healthy. Those chickens that hunt and peck and play, eating dandelions and worms and kitchen scraps, give you a present every day: eggs! These eggs are the freshest that you’ll ever get–sometimes we prepare our eggs when they’re still warm from the chicken!–and they’re unpasteurized, and they come from your own happy chickens whom you love, so you know exactly what’s in them, and exactly what’s not.
Chickens are wonderful pets. Even without the eggs every day, they’d still be wonderful pets. They’re gentle but friendly, so you know that they’ll never hurt your kids no matter what, but will instead run up to them to be petted and picked up and carried around the yard like a ridiculous chicken baby. They’re funny just to watch, all caught up in their little chicken lives with its little chicken dramas; we laugh our butts off watching one chicken find a giant beetle and getting super excited about it, but then the other chicken notices this discovery and runs up and steals the beetle, but the first chicken chases her so she drops the beetle, and then that chicken grabs the beetle but before she can swallow it the other chicken starts chasing HER, etc. Good times, let me tell you.
The best part, for me, is watching my kids with their chickens. Before I got chickens, even wanting them, I never realized how much personality a chicken has, and how loveable it is. But eavesdropping out my window into the chicken yard, I am always spying on one of my kids sitting on the ground, a chicken in her lap, just talking up a storm to it. She doesn’t see her chicken as a crucial component in the urban oasis, or as an off-grid source of sustainable calories, or as a safeguard in case of global food shortage. She just sees her sweet Fluffball, who gave her an egg to eat for breakfast, and who is now nesting on her lap, clucking, while hearing all about her day.