Lap chickens: A different kind of pet


Lap chickens tend to be smaller, more striking, and have a gentler temperament than production breeds. Photo: 123rf.com

Lap chickens are an unusual but excellent choice for a companion animal and household pet.

In addition to providing eggs, hens can be friendly, cuddly, and sweet.

In this article, you’ll learn the basics of lap chickens, how to raise them, and the best breeds to choose as your next feathery best friend.

What are lap chickens?

Lap chickens are essentially chickens kept in the home, as emotional support or companion animals, as opposed to livestock chickens kept outside for eggs or meat.

Lap chickens may still lay eggs, but they generally lay very few and they’re often quite small. Instead, a lap chicken is a pet.

The ideal lap chicken is friendly, calm, and sweet, often open to cuddles and quite cute. Some lap chickens can even be trained to perform tricks or recognise their names. Because of their naturally gentler dispositions, most lap chickens will be hens.

Historically, most of the breeds that are now favoured as domestic or lap chickens were bred in the 19th century as ornamental, show, or companion breeds. As such, they tend to be smaller, more striking, and have a gentler temperament than production breeds. In theory, any breed of chicken can become a lap bird, but some are certainly better suited to it than others.

Keeping lap chickens

The key thing to know about raising a lap chicken is that the best way to truly bond with a hen is to raise her from a chick.

Adopting a rescued or “spent” industrial hen, or attempting to transition one of your own livestock hens into the house, will not produce the same gentle bird and companionate relationship, and many hens will not take to the transition well. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t adopt or rescue older hens in need of a home, but they should probably be reserved to being livestock birds.

Once you have a set of chicks, you’ll likely start to notice that some are friendlier and more open to your presence than others. Choose one of these to train and groom as your lap chicken.

In general, all hens will be friendlier and more docile if you spend a lot of time with them when they’re young.

With a future lap chicken, you’ll want to up the amount of time you spend with them and the amount of direct interaction, like talking, petting and holding, that you give them.

This will guarantee that they’re used to your presence and have positive associations with you. If there are other members of the household who will want to pet and hold the chicken, they should also be interacting with it often. Having everyone take turns feeding the chicks will also increase their positive associations with you.

In terms of training, chickens, like dogs, are highly motivated by food. Lots of common household foods make great treats to help your chicken both get used to you and learn to respond to their name or other commands.

Fruits and veggies like bananas, apples, berries, and beets are all good choices, as are occasional protein-rich treats like live crickets or mealworms. Dark greens, like kale and spinach, are another great choice.

Once you find out what your chicken likes best, you can use it as a motivator for training, as well as just a general treat for variety.

It’s important to remember that lap chickens are still chickens. Many of the rules and precautions for cats and dogs also apply to hens – things like keeping them away from toxic, swallowable, or breakable items, and being careful with how you introduce them to new people.

They will also need exercise and love outdoor time – though they will probably not be able to interact with your livestock hens as part of the flock.

Which breeds make good lap chickens?

As mentioned above, any chicken you’ve hand-raised from a chick can, in theory, become a pet. However, some breeds are definitely much better suited to this "career path" than others.

In general, how well a bird will adapt to life as a companion animal will depend on the history of the breed. Birds bred for cockfighting (i.e. game fowl) will tend towards aggressive behaviours, while ornamental breeds are much more likely to be docile and sweet.

Size is also a factor for many people; Jersey Giants, for example, are very sweet and gentle birds that can also weigh more than 10lbs (4.5kg), which may not be ideal for small houses or apartments. Instead, bantam hens are probably the right choice for those spaces.

Some of the most popular breeds for lap chickens include Silkies and Polish hens; in additional to their gentle temperaments, these birds have unusual feathering that makes them both visually striking and liable to bullying in a traditional livestock setting.

Silkies are some of the most popular breeds for lap chickens. Photo: 123rf.comSilkies are some of the most popular breeds for lap chickens. Photo: 123rf.com

Other breeds can work as both production hens or lap chickens, like Faverolles, Easter Eggers, and Orpingtons. These birds may be the perfect choice if you want a friendly companion who also helps fill out the breakfast table.

Alternatives to lap chickens

Lap chickens can be wonderful, but they aren’t for everyone. Their feathers can cause allergic reactions, and they are not ideal for people with small children, dogs, or cats that might be too boisterous or outright aggressive when interacting with an indoor chicken. Some apartment buildings or lease agreements won’t allow them.

Fortunately, there are many alternatives of calming, lower-maintenance pets. Lizards, like leopard geckos and bearded dragons, can be friendly companions even if they aren’t cuddly.

For some, more conventional pet birds, like parakeets, may be ideal. Watching an aquarium has the same calming benefits as stroking a chicken while being contained and allergen-free.

Some people may look at you askance when you tell them you have a chicken instead of a Chihuahua. However, a well-raised lap chicken can be just as much a cuddly, loyal, and joyful addition to a home as a more traditional companion animal.


Chris Lesley is the editor at chickensandmore.com, a fourth-generation poultry keeper and an animal lover.

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