They might not be as cuddly as cats or as adventurous as dogs, but, according to Phil Clauer, chickens make good pets. That is, if you choose the right type of bird and you're committed for the long haul.
Clauer is a senior instructor at the Penn State Department of Poultry Science, and he recently gave a seminar for Penn State Extension on raising chickens in an urban setting, at the North Park Cabin.
Called "Chicks Night Out," it attracted about 28 people for a discussion of all things fowl and how the urban/suburban dweller can keep these birds for fun and eggs.
There was even a demonstration on the proper way to hold a chicken, thanks to two "loaner" chickens from Eichner's Family Farm in Wexford. (Motto: The Freshest Eggs in the North Hills!)
Who knew there was so much to learn about chickens, and who would have imagined that you could raise them right here in and ?
There are a few caveats, of course.
First of all, if you live in a neighborhood with an association or a covenant that forbids chickens, then no chickens for you. Pine Township requires at least 5 acres to keep chickens. In Richland, it's permitted in areas zoned rural/residential, and with special exceptions on 1 acre in areas zoned 1-acre/low intensity.
If you're going to raise chickens, it's worth finding out if you reside in a properly zoned area before you start building coops.
Perhaps the first step would be to find out how your neighbors feel about chickens. If they don't want to look out their back window and gaze at those coops or they see poultry as a smelly nuisance, you might want to just keep the peace and buy your eggs elsewhere.
The important thing to realize is there's more to chickens than just their cluck. As Clauer and his informative slides point out, raising chickens is a 24/7 job. And, unlike dogs or cats, you can't put them in a kennel for a weekend or just leave a bunch of food and water and a couple of litter boxes. Chickens need daily attention, including fresh water, feed and clean housing.
Housing needs to be made in a very specific manner to keep out rodents and predators while providing the chickens with adequate protection from extreme temperatures, drafts and moisture. There are additional issues of lighting, temperature control, space, nutrition and all kinds of things that you must do if you want healthy chickens and plenty of good eggs.
Chickens live a long time -- egg layers live 8 to 10 years, so raising poultry is a long-term commitment, not an Easter whim. Also, because of the cruel Easter trend some years ago of selling baby chicks colored with food dye that then went on to have a life span of about six hours, there are limits on minimum numbers of chicks that may be purchased. In other words, the number you're allowed to buy might exceed the number that zoning ordinances allow you to have.
As for roosters: No, says Clauer, just no. You don't need them for eggs, and the neighbors don't really appreciate the cock-a-doodle-dooing at the crack of dawn, and every 15 minutes the rest of the day.
As for chickens, if you still think they're for you, Clauer suggests "Reds," which are very social and good layers. He says you can build a real relationship with these chickens, and they won't be fowl-weather friends.
But seriously, folks, if you really want chickens, do your homework. Contact the Penn State Extension office to find out about publications and attend their next seminar.