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Chickens as Pets for Children
Okay, so hands up if you never thought about hens as pets for kids.
Then just think for a moment. Where else can you get a pet which not only is great fun to look after, can become very tame, costs 'chicken feed' (sorry!) to look after and not only that rewards you with a tasty breakfast treat?
As with any pet you do need suitable housing - a coop (normally triangular in shape such as the one pictured below) and a run is necessary, but did you know, if you let the hens out to roam the garden they will always make their own way back to the coop at nightfall?
The only downside is that they will eat everything green in the garden, and though they cannot fly, they can flap and hop pretty high, so beware if your neighbours grow a nice crop of veg - your hens may find it irresitible too!
One word of warning - we are talking HENS. You do not need a cockerel for hens to be happy and lay eggs - and you certainly don't want to have a cockerel if you value your sleep or the friendship of your neighbours. Cockerels are very noisy, and should only be considered if you live way out in the country, have a large garden (so the coop can be a long way from the house) and have no close neighbours.
Hens are actually happier without the cockerel, and lay better.
How many should you keep together? We always found that 4 was a good number. You don't need too big a coop for this number. Young hens will lay up to an egg a day each during most of the year - older hens will still lay, but perhaps only one or two eggs a week. Children enjoy feeding the hens and also collecting the eggs! And you get a free protein rich food supply for very little.
Hens are fed on Layers Mash or Pellets. You buy these in sacks which are stocked by most pet shops. A daily handful of corn will keep the yolks nice and yellow, and hens will love a lot of household scraps. Keep a bowl of grit in the coop, and give them fresh water daily and a good clean out once a week.
Rhode Island Reds (shown by coop in picture top right) are popular and very good layers. Hybrids (such as the one pictured on Steve's shoulder opposite) can be the friendliest - pure breeds sometimes are more nervous. This one climbed Steve's back and perched happily on his shoulder after he bent over to pick something up!
Hens are soft, and apart from having to watch their scrabbling claws can be happy with a gentle cuddle - we find them much friendlier pets that rabbits.